A Haunted House Divided: "The Shining," COVID, and the Mutilated Body Politic

  1. 1. TODAY
  3. 3. TOMORROW
  5. 5. **Bonus: Ray Pride Interview**


I'm writing this on May 23, 2020. Forty years ago today, Stanley Kubrick's film adaptation of the Stephen King novel The Shining debuted in U.S. theaters. Audiences watched Wendy, Danny, and Jack Torrance embark on a long winter holed up inside the Overlook Hotel, where the family fended off attacks from:

  • *natural forces, by way of a massive snowfall,
  • *supernatural forces, by way of ghosts, and
  • *their own minds.

As summer 2020 approaches, we leave behind a long winter holed up inside our homes, where we fended off attacks from nature by way of COVID-19. The supernatural forces in the Overlook are terrifying by virtue of their depraved appearances: a naked woman whose flesh rots in Jack's arms; a tuxedoed man who raises a toast as blood falls down his face; some guy in an animal costume giving a blowjob. Unlike these visible ghosts, COVID remains unseen. It is therefore potentially omnipresent, a malevolent god that hovers above us like a bird tracking a tiny yellow bug. We sought refuge indoors, but safety came at a price, personally and socially. Our suspicions about each other have been heating up for years. Now the cabin fever of quarantine has boiled our brains into delirium. We all imagine ourselves as Wendy trying to save Danny from Jack.


Weeks ago, in violation of stay-at-home orders, people packed a Colorado restaurant to capacity. In Michigan, armed militia guarded a defiant barber against law enforcement. Now law-abiding businesses are reopening, while summer weather is luring Americans out into the open. This afternoon, video emerged of white kids partying asses-to-elbows inside a massive pool at Lake of the Ozarks. While those kids worked on their tans, African Americans continued to die from COVID in disproportionately large numbers, as did other communities of color, the elderly, and the immunocompromised. But we have to reopen. We must sacrifice the weak. Americans need to get back to work. You think maybe he should be taken to a doctor. You believe his health might be at stake. You're concerned about him. And are you concerned about me? ...  Have you ever thought for a single, solitary moment about my responsibilities to my employers? As we reopen, we need to wear masks in public to protect everyone around us, but my freedom doesn't end at your fear. COVID originated in bats and most likely infected humans via an intermediary animal, possibly the pangolin; COVID was developed by New World Order scientists in a Chinese lab funded by Bill Gates. Our telephones don't seem to be doing too well. Are the lines down by any chance? John Bolton eliminated the pandemic-response team established under Obama, but Obama left the Trump administration high and dry, completely unprepared for the outbreak. You son of a bitch! You did this to him. 

Our reactions to the COVID outbreak and quarantine illustrate the essential irony of our time: As technological platforms have proliferated to create the most diverse network of communication tools in history, our ability to relate to one another has inversely decreased and currently approaches nil. Go check out the Snowcat and the radio and see what I mean. Go check it out! 




      ... The only thing that can get
     a bit trying up here during the winter
     is eh... the tremendous sense of isolation.

     Well, that just happens to be exactly
     what I'm looking for.  

SARAH CROWLEY, photographer, Chicago
I'm very momentum-based. If someone's giving me feedback, I can work with that. The feedback was coming from my job, from clients, other people. I can still shoot photos in the house or walk around and shoot photos, but everything that I'm doing just feels more insular. You don't have the feedback that used to inform who you are. You're in the dark. So much of our self-worth is generated by the next thing we're going to buy, the next thing we're going to do, and this is stripping that away.  That's why people work―you know, to buy shit―and now people are left with themselves. I don't want to sit in a room and think. I don't want to be up for hours in the middle of the night with my own head. We need so many distractions to get away from those things. 

LINDSEY GRADOLPH, aka LINDZEANNE, textiles artist, Tokyo
I can’t sit still. I’m always doing something, and if I can’t be doing something my brain is running a million miles a minute on like 10 different topics. People who practice mindfulness and meditation blow my mind. I’m almost pathologically incapable of “being in the moment.” If anything, [in terms of] having the virus affect my life, my lifestyle has exploded exponentially because now I am socially sanctioned to indulge in my compulsive, introverted art practices and I’m getting so much work done. I’ve really enjoyed my time so far; I’m going to have a hard time reintegrating back into “normal life,” I think, actually.

DOMINIC, history instructor, San Francisco
I do online dating. Well, that's all stopped. People are swiping on me. One woman was just like, "Do you want to have a video date?" I'm like, "I guess?" You're taking an experience that's already awkward and you're going to add another layer of awkwardness with Zoom. I'm talking to three or four women on dating apps and I'm at that stage where I would meet them in person, but we can't. People are thirsty out here. It's palpable. The other thing is the fear of missing out. People are posting their fucking baking projects, or how much they're painting, or fixing something. I can't fix shit. I'm terrible at that. Everyone's baking, and I'm like, "Should I be baking?" And everyone's going on hikes. I'm just doing walks, but I've been feeling so down that I don't want to leave the house. I probably need to unplug from social media more often.


          INT. HOTEL - LOBBY - DAY - M.L.S.
     JACK back to camera bounces ball on floor and catches it.
     Then he throws it away to b.g. He walks away to model of
     Maze on table by window. CAMERA TRACKS FORWARD after
     him. He stops by model and leans on table.
     High Angle shooting down on Maze. WENDY &
     DANNY move through it.

I took pictures of our space to go on the Apartment Therapy website.¹ I noticed that our door knobs are beautiful, and the different types of wood on the closets, and how the ceiling moves. I'm also looking at all the little things that you kind of hoard. I'm looking at something, like, "What is that? Why did I bring that back here?" It's weird how we bring things into our house and never really sit with them because we're always moving. I have been looking more at the things I own. Sometimes you just stare at things because there's nothing else.

I share a 72 square-meter (775 square feet) space with my partner of 12 years. Four of those square meters include our balcony. Luckily we’re both neat freaks and cut from a similar cloth, and while we have had a few more arguments than average, things have been pretty normal. We’re both the kind of person where we can put in earbuds in front of each other and that constitutes individual space. But I suppose that is learned, having spent 10 years of our relationship in very tiny spaces. (We lived in Hiroshima for five years, Tokyo for six.)

My house is different when I have the kids. When they're not here, I'm finding it really hard. Before COVID, I would still see them because I teach at the school they go to. So for me this is a very different experience. I'm not going to see them until Wednesday, when regularly I would see them Monday and Tuesday at school. There's only a couple Saturdays a month when they go with their mom when I don't see them. They're with me a lot. When they aren't here, this house just gets really quiet in a way that's uncomfortable for me. 


Kubrick divided The Shining into 10 chapters. Each chapter is demarcated by a title card, which includes a black background and white Helvetica type in all-caps. 

  • 4. TUESDAY
  • 7. MONDAY
  • 9. 8am
  • 10. 4pm

The first two chapters (The Interview and Closing Day) clearly denote specific occurrences. From there, we jump to A Month Later, followed by five title cards that simply list days of the week without any apparent order. The last two chapters list times of day, which are even less specific, and therefore more disorienting. We are lost in time.

It's like a weird version of reality. Friends who are working from home are like, "Thank God it's Friday." There's no distinction of it being Friday for me. When people remind me that it's Saturday, I'm like, "Jeff, should we go for a drive?" He's like, "Why?" He doesn't feel the same pressure to do something because someone told him what day it is. I used to wake up at 8:00 and went to bed at like midnight, but now I've been sleeping until noon. Sometimes I force myself to try to sleep. There's nothing to wake up for. It's like, maybe I'll just hopefully not be around for half the day, which is depressing. I do find that I've slowed down a lot with things. I usually was rushing for something. Now there's nothing to rush for because you want things to take longer, in a weird way.

When the kids are here, we've lost all sense of time. There is no bedtime. They're not up until two in the morning or anything―I am―but they're up until 11. I can't tell you what day it is, and not in a good way―not like in summer when you're a kid.  




Mr. Halloran, what is in Room 237?

Nothing. There ain't nothing in Room 237 ...

Two weeks ago in a Newcity magazine, film critic Ray Pride revisited the 2006 film Children of Men.² The article includes passages from Pride's interview with Children co-writer / director Alfonso Cuarón. Pride quotes Cuarón as saying, "A lot of reviewers nowadays fall into that vice: they want stories. They want explanations, they want exposition." Cuarón opposes such literal-mindedness. He says, "There’s nothing more beautiful than elusiveness in cinema." The Shining has become famous for its elusiveness in terms of story. The documentary Room 237 features The Shining enthusiasts who explain the movie as an allegory for a variety of histories, including:

  • *the Holocaust,
  • *the genocide of Native Americans,
  • *the staging of moon-landing footage by the U.S. government with help from a remorseful Kubrick, who encoded The Shining with his confession, and
  • *something to do with a minotaur.

These interpretations include both real and imagined histories, but they are all histories, related to things that happened in the past. But The Shining is, after all, about the shining, the combined capabilities of telepathy and clairvoyance shared by Danny and Dick Halloran (and possibly Jack, depending on your theory). Danny's supernatural visions almost exclusively focus on past events, but he can divine the future in detail (e.g., Jack got the job and will call Wendy in 10 minutes). What would it mean for a movie to shine and tell us the future? Our ideas around future-telling usually pertain to knowledge of specific data. Imagine if you could travel back in time and wager on unlikely sporting event outcomes, like Marty in Back to the Future II. If you knew the result of the first Tyson-Douglas boxing match beforehand, you could bet the farm and retire! Otherwise: Will I ever meet someone? Will I ever have children? When will I die? Will it rain next week?

What if instead of predicting the future we tried to understand it? With that understanding, we could plot the path from here to there and look for alternate routes, if need be. And right now, need most definitely be. The Shining has never been more timely. As individuals, we are coping with isolation and concomitant anxiety and depression. As members of social groups, we are, like Jack, on the business end of a disinformation shit storm. (Try to tell me Delbert Grady's blockheadedness, both in terms of physiognomy and philosophy, doesn't eerily presage Roger Ailes.) Jack's waywardness from the shared norms and value of his family ends in madness and his own destruction. The Overlook is a house whose division severs body parts. This is the America of tomorrow, the inevitable destination of a people who disagree over the reality of daily events, such that facts cannot be established. The future is known with certainty, based on our bigotry and biases, while everything that happens, even the stuff documented with recording devices, splinter with infinite possibilities of meaning. Pick your own reality.

I wish Kubrick would have revised Halloran's reply to Danny. A simple "Nothing" would have been better. Nothing is in Room 237. That is to say, in Room 237 you will find Nothing. Inside its unlocked door, you encounter the abyss. But when you look at the abyss, it does not look back because, to amend Gertrude Stein, there is no it there. So, where do the ghosts come from? Room 237 intercepts our anxiety and beams them back to us as slobbering, rapist, ultraviolent boogeymen. This ensures that we get exactly what we expected, only worse. Yes, it's torment, but we were right all along! Praise god, we were right! Nothing else matters. None of us are Wendy. We are each the demented innkeeper Procrustes, obsessed with making incoming guests fit perfectly onto our one, preestablished bed. If a guest's arms and legs are too short, we rip them out of the sockets to stretch. If their limbs hang over the matress, we abbreviate them with our axe. The body parts are piling up alongside Halloran and the Grady twins. So be it. We must not be prevented from doing our duty. We are the caretaker. We've always been the caretaker.




The Stanley Hotel doesn't appear in Kubrick's The Shining. The interior shots were filmed at a sound stage in London. For the exteriors, Kubrick filmed the Timberline Lodge in Oregon. In King's book, Room 217 is the nexus of spiritual activity in the Overlook, and the movie script followed suit. However, the managers of the Timberline were concerned that prospective guests would be too scared to stay in Room 217 after seeing the movie. The Timberline did not have a Room 237, so the managers asked Kubrick to replace Room 217 with the nonexistent Room 237. Kubrick agreed. Today, the Stanley charges $450 per night for Room 217. The room is excluded from all promotions and discounts. I happily paid the fee, as do hundreds of other The Shining fans every year.

The Stephen King suite is not a suite by any current standard. The space is unremarkable and small. If you request a rollaway bed or refrigerator, the item entails a surcharge. The hotel prides itself on its history, and I'm sure that during the 1920s the bathroom accomodations struck guests as state-of-the-art.

All of that for $450.

It might be the best money I've ever spent.


Discussions about The Shining tend to omit comparisons to Raising Helen, a 2004 romantic comedy that stars Kate Hudson and includes no fewer than two Cusacks. In the movie, two sisters build their own private culture around the Devo song "Whip It." My childhood best friend Damien and I did much the same thing during high school, via weekly viewings of The Shining.

When the Raising Helen sisters implore each other to "crack that whip," it's code for, "Remember what we've been through together. This is just another challenge. Go forward. Move ahead. It's not too late."  The understanding is exclusive; a third sister expresses her frustration at being excluded from the "Whip It" entente. The exclusivity fosters an intimacy, and the medium becomes the message. The appearance of a  sign (e.g., one sister saying, "Crack that whip!") has an explicit meaning ("Go forward. Move ahead, etc.), but the mere transmission of the sign carries additional, secondary meanings, which are perhaps even more important:

  • *I understand.
  • *I'm thinking about you.
  • *You aren't alone.
  • *Don't give up.

The lunch line at Alexander High School wound through the cafeteria, along the front of the stage and through wide doorways to the kitchen. To get to the kitchen, you had to walk by a small, private table reserved for the three most popular kids in the school: Liz Robb, her boyfriend Vince Kish, and Vince's football teammate Joey Vincent. These three were a trinity of effortless cool. Every time I passed them, I took the opportunity to ruthlessly judge myself in comparison. Liz's smooth face was bronze. My pale skin was raw with picked-at cysts of acne. Vince's torso was a sleek, toned V that narrowed from broad shoulders into the elastic waistband of striped Zubaz pants. Joey was bulkier and shorter than Vince. His bowed muscles were the boards of a powder keg, perpetually swollen during the milisecond before explosion. Either of the these popular Adonises could have picked me up and eaten me without so much as getting detention.

During any given lunch period, as I self-piteously shuffled by the cool kids, a voice, lowered into a raspy impersonation of Dick Halloran, might sound directly behind me at my shoulder. With a few words, Damien transmuted the white heat of teenage anxiety into a comforting, familiar warmth:

How'd you like some ice cream, Doc?

I understand. I'm thinking about you.

Years later, after high school and college, Damien moved to Columbus to pursue a career. I moved to Chicago to pursue dreams of being a writer. I quickly got distracted, and then consumed, by the lifestyle that I thought went along with being a writer. Damien and I might go a year or two without seeing each other, or even speaking. Our weekly viewings of The Shining were cobwebs and bones inside an ancient senior-prom ballroom. But even then, on any given night, I might be sprawled on a soiled couch with busted cushions in a darkened basement apartment, nodding off on heroin as my youthful dreams faded just that little bit more, when an incoming text would cause my cell phone to vibrate and start shining:

Great party, isn't it?


Words of wisdom, Lloyd. Words. Of. Wisdom.

You aren't alone. Don't give up.


**Bonus: Ray Pride Interview**

The first time I came across a Ray Pride film review, I immediately knew I was reading about life. Ray recognizes that moving images are inseparable from the beating hearts in which they are conceived and received. His reviews are elusive, in the manner of Cuarón's cinema. Ray doesn't rate movies with stars or digits. Life isn't that tidy. His expansive, unflinching prose would never lose a staring contest, but joy abides in all his work. 

I was delighted when Ray agreed to talk The Shining via email. 


¹ Crowley, Sarah. “Fans of Vintage Bathrooms Will Love the Pink One in This Warm Chicago Rental Apartment.” Apartment Therapy. April 15, 2020. 

² Pride, Ray. “Brutal Symbols: We're Living Alfonso Cuarón's Children Of Men.” Newcity Film, April 16, 2020. 

³ Pride, Ray. “Shadow In The Shadow: A Review Of Kubrick Doc ‘Filmworker.’” Newcity Film, June 19, 2018. 

⁴ Rosen, Miss. “Stanley Kubrick's Early Years as a Photographer at Look Magazine.” Feature Shoot, December 11, 2019.

⁵ *Siskel and Ebert, "Roundtable on Eyes Wide Shut," At The Movies," part 1.
  *Siskel and Ebert, "Roundtable on Eyes Wide Shut," At The Movies," part 2.

⁶ Pride, Ray. “‘Unbreakable.’” Salon. Salon.com, September 25, 2011.

* Ray Pride knows something about ghosts. You can follow his Chicago Ghost Signs project here. For updates on Ray's writing, follow him on Twitter.
* Sarah Crowley is a Chicago-based photographer. You can view her portfolio and follow her on Instagram.
* Lindzeanne is an Atlanta native who has lived in Japan for more than 10 years. She is my favorite textiles artist. I own two of her brooches with two more spoken for. Do check out her website and Instagram.
* Samuel Lucas Gove is a photographer based in Los Angeles. You can view his portfolio and follow him on Instagram.