The Shining has been regarded as one of the most critically praised and horrifying horror films ever created for over four decades. The adaptation of Stephen King’s story about a haunted hotel and a youngster with a terrifying power by Stanley Kubrick has never lost its allure. So interesting, in fact, that it prompted a completely different film — the documentary Room 237 — dedicated to breaking out its myriad nuances and apparently hidden meanings.
However, for many fans, it all boils down to that jarring, perplexing, and interesting conclusion. What does that famous last scene actually signify, and what do the film’s unsolved issues say about the individuals who survived? It’s time to discuss those issues and, maybe, come up with some answers. This is how The Shining’s finale is described… or as near as we can get without creating our own documentary.
The Shining Trailer
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The tale of Wendy
Wendy Torrance (Shelley Duvall) is the heart of The Shining, but she may not appear so at first look because she spends so much of the movie in a condition of dread or sheer horror. She is the one keeping her family unit together as Jack (Jack Nicholson) begins his fall into madness, checking on the Overlook’s heating systems and contacting the forest service when the phone lines go down. Even when Jack’s emotional abuse escalates, she maintains her composure for her son’s sake. Wendy eventually gathers enough strength to withstand Jack’s physical assaults and escape in the snowcat with Danny (Danny Lloyd) towards the conclusion of the film.
We don’t know what Danny and Wendy will do now that they’re out of Jack’s grasp, or even whether they’ll make it back to civilization safely. We have no idea where Wendy’s life will go from here, but Jack does say early on in the movie that she’s a “proven ghost tale and horror film fanatic.” Wendy may want to tell her experience publicly now that she has lived through her own horror movie.
Danny’s bleak prospects
Danny’s future is likely to be even hazier, as he is still a young lad who is unprepared to make his own decisions. Having to imprison his own father in a freezing hedge labyrinth to avoid murder, then leave a haunted hotel where he’d just witnessed so many horrible things, is certain to have a profound effect on him.
Danny’s future is at least largely written if you believe Stephen King’s interpretation of events. He, like his father, struggles with drinking and eventually finds work at a hospital, where he may assist the dying in transitioning to the next dimension. He comes into another person who has the ability to shine, this time a little girl and struggles to defend her from a horde of psychic vampires roaming the United States.
Doctor Sleep, King’s official sequel to The Shining, covers all of this (which will be getting a film of its own in 2020). The movie’s Danny isn’t necessarily doomed to the same destiny as the real Danny, because of Kubrick’s adaption of the original narrative. Still, he’ll keep looking for the rest of his life, even if he never finds anybody else who can shine.
A better system of nannies
Because Jack fails to maintain the Overlook’s boiler, it bursts at the end of King’s novel, destroying the hotel while he is still inside. In Kubrick’s film, that does not happen. The Overlook is still standing, and despite the gruesome murder, its owners are likely to wish to keep it open after thawing Jack’s body and cleaning up the damage he left behind. This begs the question of what to do about the caretaker job now that two of the previous occupants had gone insane and murdered people in less than a decade.
Of course, someone needs to stay and look after the home, but Ullman (Barry Nelson) could be amenable to a different sort of caretaker arrangement. Perhaps the hotel will purchase additional snowcats and have employees rotate through the work during the off-season. Rather than one man and his family, perhaps a group of individuals will take the work. Maybe the Forest Service might be convinced to conduct routine inspections. Whatever the reason may be, the hotel’s management must make a change now that a trend is beginning to emerge.
A fascinating piece of journalism
The altering media landscape in 1980, when the film was released and (supposedly) set, is one reason why Overlook’s administration will most likely have to make modifications. As the protagonists listen in for news from the outside world, television and radio bulletins appear throughout the film. Wendy and Danny are highly likely to recount their narrative in such a way that some astute journalists will grab on to it when they get in Sidewinder.
We don’t know if Wendy would dare to tell the press about the story’s more supernatural details, but anyone looking into Jack Torrance’s rampage will almost certainly come across the Grady story from a decade ago, and the Overlook will be the center of the kind of media frenzy that would make Ullman and his cronies very nervous. There’s no way of knowing how long or how severe the media barrage would be, but it’s difficult to picture Jack Torrance’s atrocities going unnoticed in the same year CNN was founded.
Management with a veil
Another, more ominous element of how the Overlook’s employees may or may not react to what occurred to the Torrance family over the winter has long been explored among Shining aficionados. Though he first appears hesitant to discuss the Grady incident, Ullman eventually becomes far too casual when it is brought up, and accepts Jack’s word for it that he would be alright. During the tour, he casually, almost showily, notes the Indian burial site on which the hotel is built.
Every shot in The Shining is tinged with a terrible undercurrent. Ullman’s appearances are no exception to the film’s goal of consistently unsettling us. As a result, we’re left to wonder if Ullman is aware that his hotel is haunted. Is he aware that the place has to let its demons out every now and again, and that the caretaker would go insane and murder his family if he doesn’t? Is it a blood sacrifice to placate the old demons that wander the land so that they might have a pleasant and lucrative business season each year? We can’t be sure about the Overlook’s mythology because it’s kept obscure, but it’s plausible that Ullman isn’t giving Jack everything he knows about the location.
A picture with significance
The reveal in the last scene that Jack is there is a photograph of the Overlook’s Fourth of July celebration in 1921 is the most contentious aspect of The Shining’s climax. This might indicate a number of different things. It’s possible that after communing with the Overlook’s numerous ghosts, Jack was simply absorbed in death into the Overlook’s past, and now wanders the haunting realm where all ages appear to be unfolding at the same time. It’s also possible that Jack was at the Overlook to fulfill some sort of twisted destiny, and the hotel reflects this.
The majority of fans seem to agree on one perspective. Jack was a reborn soul who was always supposed to return to the hotel, and he was locked in a cycle of violence and death that pervades the Overlook and many of its visitors and inhabitants. This is supported by Grady telling him he’s “always been the caregiver” in the red bathroom, and it appears to be the most plausible reason. Deaths of caretakers, Indian burial places, and all of the film’s cycles and mirror images imply that An Overlook is a place where history repeats itself, and Jack was destined to be a part of it.
Jack Torrance makes an appearance once more.
Mike Flanagan’s Doctor Sleep, based on Stephen King’s novel The Shining, received a much-anticipated big-screen sequel in 2019. Despite the fact that the film was based on Stephen King’s novel of the same name, Flanagan understood he had to pay homage to both the literary and cinematic versions of the Torrance family saga. To accomplish so, he rewrote sections of King’s story so that the Overlook Hotel could still exist in Kubrick’s reality. Dan Torrance, now an adult, was able to return and witness what had happened to his grandfather.
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When Dan goes to an Overlook that was allowed to rot after his father went crazy in Doctor Sleep, he discovers that the ancient ghosts have returned and that his father has joined them. When Dan sits down in the hotel’s gilded ballroom, he realizes that the bartender has become a spiteful, manipulative, and malicious replica of his father, attempting to pull Dan back into the self-destructive, drunken cycle to which he once succumbed. Dan eventually triumphs over his father, and the hotel is permanently destroyed at the end of the film. That doesn’t rule out the possibility that the ghosts can still track down the persons who visited them if they are given enough time.