The Overlook Hotel: In Dialogue
The Overlook Hotel, As a Setting
The Overlook Hotel, In Character
In 1951 Stanley Kubrick released Day of Flight, his first feature film as director (LoBrutto 508). Although this film is largely unheard of, it is what started a career that some see as one of the best in film history. Twenty-nine years later, Kubrick released The Shining, a movie that completely changed how a horror film would be seen, shot and perceived from then on. The Shining is famous for its many subplots and details. Specifically, The Shining has at least two major subplots that on a first viewing would not normally be noticed. Only after thinking about the film, and watching it again would one realize that Kubrick had done something special. Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining has one specific subplot that is a symbolic reference to how America was built from the ashes of Native Americans (Ager). The question asked when understanding this subplot would be, how does Kubrick depict said subplot through The Overlook Hotel, the setting and backdrop of this film? Through an argumentative and explanatory essay that has been approached with interpretive methods, a literary analysis will be provided on The Shining, proving that The Overlook Hotel is used by Kubrick as a focal point in dialogue, as a setting and as a character in order to depict that The Shining speaks specifically about how America rose from the ashes of Native Americans. The argumentative style is needed in order to convince the audience of the proposed thesis, and to convince the audience, the audience must first understand the film. The interpretive method, is used through the interpretation of Kubrick’s film. The essay will first provide a context of the film and of Stanley Kubrick, followed suit by the arguments supporting the provided thesis, first analyzing The Overlook Hotel in dialogue, then as a setting and lastly as a character, an objection and counter-objection will then be provided before the essay is completed with a conclusion.
Stanley Kubrick was born July 26, 1928 in the Bronx (LoBrutto 13). In his early life Kubrick did not care much for school and for that reason he attended his district school: William Howard Taft (15). After realizing that a district school did not suit his expectations for education – at the time he produced Eyes Wide Shut it was rumored Kubrick had an IQ of 200 (Acher) – he began skipping class in order to visit the local cinema; from that moment on he began to wonder, how he would be able to make better films than the ones he had been watching (LoBrutto 16). In his last year of high schol, Kubrick encountered a great proffesor, an art teacher then would inspire Kubrick to focus his life on art (31). Kubrick later attended City College, while being a proffesional photographer for Look magazine. His interest in litterature and art helped his progression in his self-education of film, and through this he became a director who is a “self-ordained film historian” (33). He would later go on to direct all-time classics like: Spartacus (1960), Dr.Strangelove (1964), 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), A Clockwork Orange (1971); and after The Shining (1980): Full Metal Jacket (1987) and Eyes Wide Shut (1999) (508-22).
In 1492, Christopher Colombus “sailed the great blue” and is considered the first to colonize the continent known today as North America. Right from the start conflicts between Natives and Caucassians were ignited: Europeans killed off ninety-five percent of Native Americans through war, disease and cultural genocide (Carrier). Years later, when the United States of America were pushing the frontier out west incounters with Natives happened often. To the point that sometime during the California Gold Rush, a policy was inacted. The Indian Removal Policy stated that Natives were simply obstacles in the goal to push the limits of the country. When Natives would try to fight back, US military forces would kill off tribes until others would move out, essentialy claiming land that did not belong to them. As the United States grew, Native numbers dropped (Carrier). This specific information will help the proposed thesis as it focuses on Kubrick’s depiction of the hostile relationship between colonizers and Americans and the Native Americans. Moreover, to understand the thesis one must first understand the relationship that existed between Natives and their opressors.
The Shining is a movie adapted from Stephen King’s novel of the same name. King, at first, did not necessairly enjoy the film as it offered many different aspects, such as specific details (i.e. Room 217 vs Room 237, Red Car vs Yellow Car – that the Torrance’s drive, as well as the focus on Jack by King rather than the focus on the setting by Kubrick) in comparison to the book, including major plot points such as the death of Dick Halloran, the change in room number from 217 to 237 and minor details such as the car driven by the Torrance family (Ascher). The film is centered around Jack Torranc (Jack Nicholson) who is the newly-appointed winter caregiver at The Overlook Hotel, run by Stuart Ullman. Later, Jack drives his wife Wendy and son Danny to the hotel where they will stay for the winter, as he tends to the hotel and attempts to write a novel. During the tour of the hotel, the family meet Dick Halloran (Scatman Crothers), the head chef, who shares supernatural capabilities of telekensis with Danny. Jack quickly descends into maddness and darkness, being possesed by the hotel and eventually murdering Halloran. He later attempts to murder Wendy (Shelley Duval) and Danny (Danny Llyod) before being trapped in the outdoor labryinth of the hotel by his son, causing him to freeze to death. This critically-aclaimed film was directed, written and produced by Oscar winner Stanley Kubrick (2001: A Space Odyssey) and starred Oscar winner Jack Nicholson (One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest). It is the first film that sees Kubrick dabble into the genre of horror, and he does so in trend-setting style. Like Kubrick had done so many times before, he used his litterature and art genius to hide and tangle the simple story of The Shining with multiple subplots, most prominelty the one involving Native Americans (Dirks).
The Overlook Hotel: In Dialogue
 As mentioned, The Shining is written on an adapted screenplay, which was done jointly by Stanley Kubrick and Diane Johnson (a satirical novelist, this was her only film). In any film, TV show, theatre performance or even commercial, writing is the foundation for the production. In film it belongs to the four main aspects of film: acting, directing, writing and cinematography. Kubrick’s screenplays were often written by Kubrick himself, giving the director more leeway to create the film he wanted, in his image, as stated by Mario Falsetto in the overview section of his book, Stanley Kubrick: A Narrative and Stylistic Analysis.
When analyzing how The Shining is a symbolic reference to the exploitation of Natives by Americans through The Overlook Hotel, one must examine the screenplay, more commonly known as the script. At the beginning of the second act of the film, named “Closing Day”, the Torrance family is “en route” to the hotel, when Danny asks a question about something that occurred in the area where the hotel is situated (Kubrick 24. 9-14):
Hey, wasn't it around here that the Donner party got snowbound?
I think that was farther west in the Sierras.
What was the Donner party?
There were a party of settlers in the covered wagon times. They got snowbound one winter in the mountains. They had to resort to cannabilism in order to stay alive.
You mean they ate each other up?
They had to, in order to survive.
Although there are no references to Native Americans in this piece of dialogue, Kubrick is attempting to point something out to the audience. The Donner Party Tragedy is a real life, historical event that will forever be infamous to American Frontier history. In 1846, a group of ninety settlers traveled west, and on Christmas day were snowbound, in order to survive they turned to cannibalism before being rescued some time later (Limburg 28-9). Why it is relevant to the argument proposed is that Jack seems to be okay with the fact that people killed, and subsequently, ate each other to survive. It is a seed of greed being planted by someone who will be important to the hotel’s well being throughout the winter. With this response, it seems as though Jack has already begun his descent into madness. His short relationship with The Overlook Hotel, which is subsequently symbolized as the United States, has already corrupted his humane mindset, turning him into a seeker of dominance (like the “country” he works for) rather than a compassionate father. Moreover, it is a way for the hotel to tell that greed is what is important; it is greed for land that caused the Americans to kill so many aboriginals.
Later in the same act, as Jack and Wendy are getting a tour of the hotel by Ullman, Wendy asks about the hotel’s history and when it was built. Ullman, who is leading the tour, says something quite particular: “construction started in 1907, finished in 1909. The site is supposed to be located on an Indian burial ground, and I believe they actually had to repel a few Indian attacks as they were building it.” (Kubrick 30.4). In general, when symbolically comparing The Shining, and more specifically The Overlook Hotel, to the treatment of Natives by Americans, the scene where Ullman provides a tour of the hotel to the Torrance’s, contains the majority of the evidence that will eventually support the thesis. What is important to point out by this comment made by Ullman is that The Overlook Hotel itself is an obvious reference, by Kubrick, to the United States. It is a grand building that boasts its beauty through its extravagant artwork and powerful employees, such as Stuart Ullman. This is also shown earlier in the film, during the interview between Jack and Ullman. An American flag appears on Ullman’s desk, symbolizing the pride of the country. There is also an eagle statuette in the frame, a symbol for freedom, something the Americans, as a country, value. Lastly, Ullman is wearing the colors of the American flag, symbolizing how the country becomes the person who works for it (Rice 121). Like the United States, the hotel is built from the ruins and ashes of the Native Americans.
Before this though, Ullman introduces Jack and Wendy to the main lobby of the hotel, The Colorado Lounge, where Wendy asks about all the Indian designs that are seen, like the carpets and paintings and if they are “authentic”. Ullman replies, “Yes, I believe they are based mainly on Navajo and Apache motifs” (Kubrick 27.5). This is even more particular than the location of the hotel, as it exemplifies how Amerindian culture really had to be assimilated into the larger and more grand European culture during the times of colonization, as mentioned in the “perspective” section when Columbus was accused of “cultural genocide”. The “cultural genocide”, though, did not end with Columbus and early European explorers. Instead it continued with the aforementioned Indian Removal Policy, which forced Natives to blend in with the growing American society, or flee. This is what is truly represented by the décor in The Colorado Lounge, the forced and awkward Native assimilation that occurred due to American expansion. It is also important to note that Jack spend the majority of his time at the hotel in The Colorado Lounge. This represents the American presence in aboriginal affairs, even though assimilation had occurred.
Furthermore, through the dialogue that involves The Overlook Hotel, Kubrick points the audience in the direction of the subplot. The Overlook Hotel, through dialogue can be seen as a symbol for an America that was built, quite literally, from the ashes of Native Americans.
The Overlook Hotel, As a Setting
In order for any sort of story to be told, a setting must be involved. The setting for The Shining is The Overlook Hotel. The large and grand, secluded hotel on the outskirts of Colorado is the place where Jack Torrance loses his sanity and subsequently tries to murder his family. It is also the place where Native Americans were killed and where on top of those ruins, an American, profiting hotel was built (Kubrick 30.4). It must be mentioned, though, that when talking about setting in this essay, the focus will not be on the location of the area, as mentioned in the above argument. Rather a focus will be put on the subliminal backdrop that outlines the inside and outside of the hotel in order to further the thesis proposed, in that The Overlook Hotel was Stanley Kubrick’s key piece in referencing Native American mistreatment through The Shining.
1 Note that all quotations from the screenplay of The Shining is provided by: http://www.imsdb.com/scripts/Shining,-The.html