Stanley Kubrick’s ​The Shining​ and the Parallels and Symmetry Between Danny Torrance and the Grady Sisters

Paper by Lillian Kloubec.

Originally written in 1977 by Stephan King as a gothic horror novel, ​The Shining ​caught the eye of director Stanley Kubrick, who produced the novel into a horror film in 1980. While Kubrick produced the film with the help of Peregrine Production Hawk Films, he co-wrote the script with the help of novelist Diane Johnston. Kubrick realized that he needed a co-writer, and chose Johnston because she was giving a course at University of California at Berkeley on the gothic novel so Kubrick was quoted as saying she was the “ideal collaborator”. (Kubrick, as quoted by Steven Deeble, 2016). Most of ​The Shining​ was filmed in a studio in Hertfordshire, England, where the interior of the hotel was constructed, the exterior of the Overlook Hotel is the “Timberline Lodge, in the Hood River area of Northern Oregon.” (“Filming Locations for Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining (1980), in Oregon.”). Kubrick’s motivation behind choosing to film ​The Shining​ was his deep rooted interest in ESP and the paranormal. In an interview with Michael Ciment, Kubrick spoke on how the “​The Shining​ didn’t originate from any particular desire to do a film about this [ESP/the paranormal]. The manuscript of the novel was sent to me by John Calley, of Warner Bros. I thought it was one of the most ingenious and exciting stories of the genre I had read.” (“The Kubrick Site: Kubrick Speaks in Regard to ‘The Shining’”). Kubrick appreciated ​The Shining​ because it struck a balance between the psychological and the supernatural, and it allowed one to “suspend your doubt of the supernatural until you were so thoroughly into the story that you could accept it almost without noticing.” (“The Kubrick Site: Kubrick Speaks in Regard to ‘The Shining’”). As a novel, ​The Shining ​ is categorized as gothic fiction, or an occult horror, and the film is noted as being a psychological thriller and a classic horror film. Reactions to ​The Shining​ were mixed, especially since Stephen King himself criticized the film because it deviated greatly from his novel. However, since its release in 1980, the film has become more culturally significant and in 2018 was selected “for preservation in the United States ​National Film Registry​ by the Library of Congress as being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant”.” (Library of Congress, 2018, as quoted by Johnathan Landrum Jr., 2018). In ​The Shining​, directed by Stanley Kubrick, 1980, parallels and symmetry can be drawn between Danny Torrance’s character played by Danny Lloyd and the Grady sisters played by Louise and Luisa Burns. By using cinematography and mise-en-scene the film juxtaposes images of the massacred Grady sisters in the hallway with the archetypal image of a child at play – Danny on his tricycle. Through the similarities in the colors of Danny and the Grady girl’s clothing the film foreshadows Danny’s peril at the hands of his father and the hotel. The symmetry due to the mise-en-scene during the tricycle scene provides a mirror between the Grady sisters and Danny and his “friend”, Tony.

The tricycle scene begins with Danny riding his tricycle through the empty, yet suspiciously benign halls of the hotel in which the film is set. Despite this innocuous setup, almost as soon as the scene begins, the viewers feel a growing sense of suspense. A medium shot is used, and the viewer is transported right behind Danny’s tricycle as he rolls through the halls. In the beginning of this scene there is no music. There are no sounds emanating from the various rooms of the hotel at all, apart from the clatter of the tricycle’s plastic wheels. The framing is very subtle and leaves the viewer with a feeling of dread, however this source of the anticipation is not identified by the visual content of the trike scene, so its effect is amplified and punctuated by the brief moments of even greater silence when Danny rides his bike over carpet providing disturbing moments of sensory deprivation. When music begins, it is a low and quiet melody, accompanied by a ringing, that is slowly overtaken by a wave of the cacophonous noise of violins, which sound like a swarm of flies. When Danny stops his tricycle in front of Room 237, there is nothing apparent to make the viewers fearful, however the dips and changes of the music make the viewers feel panicked. The music swells and grows louder, and the audience finally meets a source of the dread- the Grady sisters. Careening around the halls of the Overlook once more, Danny is again confronted by the creepy imagery of the Grady sisters, and Danny is left cowering and covering his face. The music fades, and then we are left listening to the dialogue between Danny and his friend, Tony, while he tries to comfort himself, and bring himself back to reality. The tricycle scene holds a lot of symbolism and importance, most of which can be observed through the scenery and the action with the actors. The Overlook Hotel appears very uninviting and is rather callous and cold. Asides from the hallway in which Danny’s family is staying, most of the lighting in the Overlook Hotel is harsh white, sterile, and unforgiving, with a feeling similar to that of a hospital. The colors present in the scenery inside of the hotel are muted, dull, earthy tones, and are not friendly nor inviting either. It is important to note that there is the repeated use of the color red, which could symbolize the hotel’s bloody past, or what will happen in the future with the Torrance family. While the shots of the Grady sisters compromise a mere 31 seconds of this entire scene, they hold a great deal of significance. When examining the shots of the Grady sisters in this scene, it is important to focus on the idea of using a mirrored image of a single character. In the tricycle scene the Grady sisters are presented to the viewer using a symmetrical framing, with the hallway in which the sisters stand also being symbolically mirrored along the center. The dialogue of the sisters is also identical, and the girls speak in sync as well. When the viewer observes the shots of the mangled bodies of the Grady sisters, the sisters are still seen mirrored. One of the sisters is face down, while the other is face up, with both girls heads and feet on opposite sides of the screen, and their extremities are arranged identically within the frame. While the girls are mirrored, the background is not this time because the viewer observes an exit sign on the right side of the frame and a connecting hallway on the left side of the frame. Earlier in this scene the idea of a mirror concept can also be observed. Most of the doorways in the hall that contains Room 237 are single doors, however Room 237 contains a double door, implying a mirror. The doors in this hallway are also very reflective and highly polished and reflect similar to a mirror. When Danny turns the door handle of Room 237 he is facing the polished door, thus facing his own reflection (a mirror). It is at this point that Kubrick uses a cut shot to direct the viewers to a shot of the Grady sisters, a reflection of Danny. On one level, the Grady sisters are a representation of Danny, who is perhaps accompanied by his friend, “Tony”. Rather than seeing his own past with the “shining”, Danny is anticipating his own (potential) murder and abuse. Another supporting detail of this parallel with the Grady sisters is Danny’s clothing. In this tricycle scene, Danny is wearing a red jacket over a blue sweater and a blue jumper, just like how the dead sisters wear a blue dress smeared in blood (red). When Kubrick uses the medium shot as he follows Danny and the back of his tricycle is blue, and it gives Danny the appearance of wearing a blue dress, like the girls. Once the viewer is introduced to the shots of Danny riding outside his family’s living space, it is worth noting that Danny is riding “in anti-clockwise circles”. (“THE SHINING: Danny’s Tricycle Route Map”, Rob Ager, 1981). Because of this direction, Danny will be playing with twins “forever and ever” (The Shining, Kubrick, 1980) because as he cycles around this unending hallway each cycle takes him closer and closer to the twins. The way that the camera shots steadily move closer to the twins could also be suggesting the continuous movement of Danny’s tricycle, forever stuck in a loop and unable to escape the horrifying vision. In between each of the shots in this scene Kubrick relies on a cut shot. This gives the viewer a sense of fast-paced action, as Kubrick is constantly cutting between shots in the scene and because he is cutting between shots of the same character(s), either Danny or the Grady sisters, Kubrick is able to utilize continuous editing, so the shots all blend together and the viewer understands that the action they see on-screen is a continual interaction between Danny and the hotel. By taking advantage of a variety of different shot types; medium shot, long (full) shot, close up shot, and over-the-shoulder shot, Kubrick is able to convey a variety of information about both Danny and the hotel itself. Throughout this entire scene the viewer is able to characterize Danny as incredibly innocent, a little carefree but still cautious, and the viewer is able to see Danny at play as a child. Through the careful use of the steadicam, Kubrick is able to give the viewers the experience of what Danny is feeling while he zooms throughout the halls of the Overlook, while still instilling a sense of fear of what is to come. The use of over-the-shoulder and close up shots allows the viewer to experience a sort of POV of Danny Torrance, and the viewer is able to feel what Danny is feeling. The close-up shot is especially important in this scene because the background is blurred and the camera focuses on Danny’s face ingraining his fear and terrified emotions on the viewers. With the medium shot and the longshot, Kubrick is able to give the reader a clearer picture of the inside of the Overlook Hotel. The full shot becomes especially important in this scene when the viewer is introduced to the Grady sisters. The full shot allows the viewer to immerse themselves in the brutal murder scene of the Grady sisters, as well as become just as fearful as Danny Torrance himself. All the shots allow the viewer to experience Danny’s emotions as well as collect information on the setting of the Overlook Hotel. When the viewer directs their attention to the background and scenery inside the hotel, they would notice that the path in which Danny is taking through the hotel makes no sense. Danny chose a winding path through the foyer and the kitchen and then magically appears upstairs close to his living quarters- a journey that would not be realistically possible. This provides development to another idea presented in the film, the symbolism behind the maze that is the Overlook. There is a physical maze built from hedges outside, but within the Overlook Hotel there is another maze, a maze that is compromised from the walls of the Overlook Hotel that provides the labyrinth for pulling Danny deeper into its bowels.

The Shining​ holds true to a three-act structure. The first act starts at the beginning of the film and ends when Danny enters the Colorado Lounge with bruises on his neck; the second act starts when Jack enters the Gold Room in anger and ends when Grady releases him from the pantry; the third act occupies the remaining part of the film until the closing credits start. Additionally, people like Ilaria Franciotti, author of ​Shining: King vs Kubrick​ argues that the 12 stages of a hero’s journey can be found in the film as well. (Shining: King vs Kubrick, Franciotti, 2012). The protagonist, who is one of the heroes is Jack, since the majority of scenes and shots describe his actions which determine the development of the plot. On a basic level, Jack’s desire concerns completing his tasks, namely writing his novel and being the caretaker. On a psychological level, Jack’s fatal flaw (part of the hero’s journey) pertains both to the fear of failure and to alcoholism. Finally, on a relational level, he has to face his wife and his son, who seem to be an obstacle to all his tasks, and the Overlook Hotel as well. As a character Jack has an overall fairy-tale-like quality, since the intent of ​The Shining​ is to emphasize his symbolic meaning. In the first act we have a situation of balance for Jack and his family. His goal of writing a novel, works well with spending five months of peace and quiet in the isolated hotel. Jack is not even worried about the tragedy that had occurred, but this functions as foreshadowing for the viewers. The tricycle scene appears in the first act of ​The Shining​ right away associating Danny with the ability to see and understand the paranormal. Additionally, by placing the tricycle scene towards the beginning of the film, the viewer is able to pick up on the foreshadowing, and see that this scene represents the beginning of Danny’s journey, his fight to eventually save his and his mother’s life from Jack. There is the comparison of the death of the Grady sisters to what will potentially befall Danny in the end of the film, so the inclusion of this scene in the first act sets up the narrative story to Danny and allows the viewer to see what Danny will be battling during ​his​ ​hero journey. In the second act Jack goes to the Gold Room, and begins drinking, a sign of decline for his character. The act continues with Jack and Wendy arguing, as well as Jack being tested as part of his hero’s journey by the shapeshifting woman who turns to an old hag and mocks him. By the third act “Jack takes the road back to his hero’s journey because in the third act he severs his ties with the paranormal” (Shining: King vs Kubrick, Franciotti, 2012) after escaping the pantry. Following Hallorann’s murder, Danny runs and makes his father follow him in the maze. Here, the stage of resurrection takes place, a crucial part of the hero’s journey according to Franciotti. Jack tries to kill Danny, but he does not succeed because Danny entraps him in the maze by erasing his footprints. When he kills his father by trapping him in the maze and letting him die of hypothermia, Danny is “resurrected” since he survives his most dangerous and almost certain meeting with death, finalizing his hero journey as well as his goal of surviving the hotel. In addition to following a three-act structure, ​The Shining​ does follow a classic Hollywood narrative structure because at the end of the film, our main protagonist, Jack, does not attain his goals of finishing his book, or killing his family because he ends up dead. Danny, another one of the film’s heroes also attains his goal of not dying on the Overlook’s grounds. While both the explicit and implicit meaning of ​The Shining​ is often contested and even discussed in great detail in the documentary Room 237, there are several main meanings that one can pull from the film. The Shining​ focuses on families and the way various forms of dysfunction: such as jealousy, insanity, abuse, and addiction, can rip them apart. At the center of the novel is the Torrance family and they are fighting considerable odds. Jack is a recovering alcoholic with a history of abuse, and he has recently lost his job, bringing the additional stress of financial insecurity to his already-struggling family. When Jack gets the job at the Overlook Hotel, he is hoping that the steady income and time together is just what his family needs to get back on track, but the evil hotel has a different plan. Explicitly Kubrick wants the viewers to see the weaknesses and the vulnerabilities of families, however, implicitly looking at the Torrance family one could see the ultimate assertion that the connection within a family can never be completely broken. Also found in the film is the meaning around “the shining” and the paranormal. On the surface Kubrick allows his viewers to be afraid of the paranormal and the unexplained occurrences just like the Torrances. The explicit meaning shows us how the Torrances’ fear over the Overlook Hotel itself pales in comparison to their fear of what the hotel is doing to them, and to Jack in particular. Throughout ​The Shining,​ Kubrick juxtaposes the menacing paranormal activity and the Overlook Hotel against the terror that Jack imposes on his family, ultimately arguing that while the paranormal is terrifying, reality Jack and his murderous rage is much more frightening.

The Grady sisters are presented as a mirrored image of one character. The girls are dressed in the same fashion, have identical facial expressions and haircuts, and even speak the same words in similar monotone voices. The sisters are also presented in a symmetrical fashion, and the symmetry combined with the idea of the girls being a mirrored image allows the viewer see how the sisters serve as a representation of Danny Torrance. Danny and the Grady sisters are dressed in similar colors, both are adorned in blue and red, albeit Danny’s source is red is his jacket, while the girls were splattered with blood. This allows the viewer to foreshadow the potential death of Danny later in the film. While this scene does not represent a major turning point in the film, it is still a vital part of the narrative because the viewer now realizes that Danny is in trouble, and may fear for his life later in the film. In analyzing the tricycle scene with Danny, one is able to draw parallels between the Grady sisters and Danny’s situation, as well as make connections to a theme of mirroring and symmetry within the film. This scene presents some of the most obvious examples of symmetry, with the positioning of the Grady sisters in the apartment hallway, the medium shots of the Room 237 hallway, where each door is so polished that it is like a mirror, and then the parallels and symbolism of the Grady sisters themselves. In examining the clothing of Danny and the Grady sisters, the viewer would find similarities, indicating that Danny may be on his way to suffer a similar fate at the hands of his own father, much like the Grady girls. As a whole, the tricycle scene provides a steady drip of anticipation and foreshadowing for Danny, as well as an explanation of one of the film’s main themes of symmetry and mirroring.

● “The Kubrick Site: Kubrick Speaks in Regard to ‘The Shining.’” ​​, 2020, Accessed 10 Nov. 2020.
● ​“Filming Locations for Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining (1980), in Oregon.” ​The Worldwide Guide to Movie Locations,​ 2020, Accessed 10 Nov. 2020.
● ​Deeble, Steven. “Diane Johnson | Steven Deeble.” ​,​ 10 Oct. 2016, Accessed 10 Nov. 2020.
● Jonathan Landrum Jr. “‘Jurassic Park,’ ‘Shining’ Added to the National Film Registry.” AP NEWS,​ Associated Press, 12 Dec. 2018, Accessed 10 Nov. 2020.
● “THE SHINING: Danny’s Tricycle Route Map” by Rob Ager.” ​,​ 2020, Accessed 11 Nov. 2020.
● Ilaria ​Franciotti​. “King vs. Kubrick: The Origins of Evil – Senses of Cinema.”​, 25 July 2020, Accessed 12 Nov. 2020.

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