Disclaimer: I usually write about one film. However, because of the grand scope of The Shining universe, I will be discussing content from the book, and both films. (Say what you will about the miniseries, there is some good stuff in there and I've always loved it.) Each piece is unique, but fits into a larger picture that makes up the full understanding of what The Shining really means.
I had the pleasure of visiting The Stanley hotel in Estes Park last week, and I was in awe of the place. It has a weight of history and cultural significance that you can feel. I've been aware of The Shining as long as I can remember, and visiting the birthplace of it's origin was pretty significant for me. Much like Jack Torrance, I could almost feel all those who have come before me - walking through the front door, standing on the stairs, sitting at the bar. It's with this great sense of place fresh in my mind that I wrote this entry. There are A LOT of insightful things to be found in the storytelling of The Shining, and I'm sure this won't be the last time I write about it. But this time, I've chosen to focus specifically on the location of the story.
Because if there's is one thing that makes The Shining so hauntingly effective, it's the setting.
The Overlook Hotel is situated among the the great Rocky Mountains, and the psychological landscape of the hotel is a reflection of it's surroundings. There are peaks, there are valleys, there are dark places, and there are sharp edges.
This makes The Overlook a powerful place, capable of both inspiration and a desperation that can crush the mind and the spirit - especially in the winter. It's a warm and beautiful retreat from the elements, but it's hard to imagine that anyone could ever feel completely secure in this isolated location, surrounded by such harsh possibility. And the people who work there know this.
In all versions of The Shining, the staff (with the exception of Mr. Ullman) are gracious and friendly with the Torrance family, but they definitely aren't wasting any time getting out of there before the snow starts to fall. Some have heard stories, some have seen things, but all can sense the darkness that lurks in the place. Horrific things have happened here, and you don't have to know all the details in order to feel the danger.
We all have demons that plague our lives. These weaknesses haunt us, hiding in the dark until stress and vulnerability bring them to light. It's no secret that The Shining is a metaphor for the horror and abuse that accompanies addiction, but it goes further than that.
It's also a warning about the monsters that live in each of us, and the terrible things we are all capable of.
In Jack Torrance's case, addiction and past failure make him a beacon to the presence that lies dormant in this dark place.
Mr. Ullman: Alcoholics never really part company with the bottle, correct? They just go to their meetings and hope that nothing pushes them over the edge. But in the winter, The Overlook is full of edges. - The Shining (1997)
Jack struggles desperately to hang onto his sanity, but his own personal demons prevent him from being able to do so. He eventually gives into his need to drink and lets his temper take over. And like many before him, Jack slips and falls into the deep dark madness of The Overlook.
Jack: I'd give anything for a drink. I'd give my goddamn soul for just a glass of beer. - The Shining, 1980
Sure, Danny and Jack both have "the shining", the second sight that causes them to be more perceptive of the things that live in The Overlook. But mostly, the Torrances are just a normal family with normal problems. Like you and me, they want to overcome their past mistakes and make their way in this world. Unfortunately they chose to make their way in the worst place possible.
Because bad things don't happen to The Overlook, The Overlook happens to them. It happens over and over and over again. It brings out the worst in people because it's evil. Because it's haunted. It was haunted the day they broke ground on it. It was haunted the moment they hammered the first nail into place. It was haunted when Horace Derwent signed the check to buy it. And it was haunted the day Jack Torrance walked through the door for his interview. He never even had a chance.
You're the caretaker, sir," Grady said mildly. "You've always been the caretaker. I should know sir. I've always been here." - The Shining (1977)