Madness and hallucination in The Shining

Roger Ebert’s 2006 review of Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining turns out to be a brilliant exploration of hallucination, madness and unreliable witnessing in a film he describes as “not about ghosts but about madness and the energies it sets loose”.

Kubrick is telling a story with ghosts (the two girls, the former caretaker and a bartender), but it isn’t a “ghost story,” because the ghosts may not be present in any sense at all except as visions experienced by Jack or Danny.

The movie is not about ghosts but about madness and the energies it sets loose in an isolated situation primed to magnify them. Jack is an alcoholic and child abuser who has reportedly not had a drink for five months but is anything but a “recovering alcoholic.” When he imagines he drinks with the imaginary bartender, he is as drunk as if he were really drinking, and the imaginary booze triggers all his alcoholic demons, including an erotic vision that turns into a nightmare. We believe Hallorann when he senses Danny has psychic powers, but it’s clear Danny is not their master; as he picks up his father’s madness and the story of the murdered girls, he conflates it into his fears of another attack by Jack. Wendy, who is terrified by her enraged husband, perhaps also receives versions of this psychic output. They all lose reality together.

A psychologically insightful piece on one of the classics of psychological horror.

Link to Roger Ebert’s 2006 review of The Shining.

5 thoughts on “Madness and hallucination in The Shining”

  1. Never even considered this interpretation. Brilliant, thank you. It’s sad that Ebert met with such an awful fate at the end of his life.

    “Danny” was great, I wonder if child actors in horror movies ever get to see (or enjoy seeing) the film after it’s done.

  2. “The little boy who lives in my mouth”??

    Ha! Wonder how Mr K was doing mentally besides OCD and what kind of drugs he was doing during the filming? It should be evident just by looking at the film to ppl who are familiar with drug taking and the results. How well did Kubrick sleep, if he slept at all? Sleep deprivation and disruption seem to play a big roll in both brain washing, drug induced and naturally occurring mental illness and hallucinations. Both insomnia and fake hallucination can now be induced to the point where it is impossible to tell the difference…naturally occurring or not.

    Stephen King hated the film. I thought it was
    a waste of time and not even an interesting one. I would like King to write a book version of Kubrick’s film using another story line. I gave up on Stephen King a long time ago but since reading 11/22/63 I came to see that he has kept his brains in tact and is better than he was earlier.

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