A FEMINIST VIEW OF THE SHINING?!

SPOILERS AHEAD- The Shining. As I was watching The Shining for the second time with my new pair of eyes (see my last post about the documentary Room 237) I started to get some feminist ‘vibes’ from the film. And by that I don’t mean subliminal messaging telling me to go burn my bra, I mean I kind of got the feeling that this film was trying to say something about misogyny, gender conventions and Hollywood film stereotypes…even if not intentionally, I still picked up on it. Let me try and explain.

At the start of the film (after the opening helicopter shot complete with creepy music) after Jack has his interview, he calls Wendy from a phone in the hotel lobby. This is the first time they interact with each other in the film, and well, I’m not sure if it was just the tone of Jack’s voice but, something just didn’t seem right to me. Then when the whole family is together in the car driving up to the hotel, Jack just seems…angry. He openly tells Danny about cannibalism (as one does) and then when Wendy kind of tells him to stop, he says bitterly “see, he saw it on the television” as if this is somehow her fault.

Maybe I’m just reading into things. Maybe it’s just part of Jacks character, and anyway, I bet your asking ‘What does any of this have to do with feminism?’ Well, it doesn’t really. Or at least, not yet. It at least hints to whats bubbling under the surface,  Jack’s resentment towards Wendy. All we really saw her doing was being a ‘good’ wife, a good mother, doing work around the hotel (which Jack should have been doing), cooking for them, playing with Danny in the snow, and checking on Jack. Yet throughout the whole film, I felt this deep sense of resentment and hatred from Jack towards Wendy, throughout the film he refers to her in horrible ways such as a “sperm bank” (excuse me while I throw up), a “bitch” and expresses his anger towards the fact she apparently wont let him forget about what he did to Danny in the past, ” As long as I live, she’ll never let me forget what happened.” This anger seems to have been building for a long time (like since the dawn of time maybe? Interesting how he mentions the “white mans burden” ) until it eventually boils over and spills out of his every pore,  like how the blood from the elevator scene does.

Now lets talk about Wendy. Like I said before, she seems kind, caring and loving to both Danny and Jack. She seems “resourceful” and together, looking at the hotel heating and using the two way radio when the phone lines go down to contact the outside world. And then when Jack goes crazy. His rant to her on the stairs is very revealing, he shouts “do you have the SLIGHTEST IDEA, what a MORAL AND ETHICAL PRINCIPLE IS, DO YOU? Has it ever occurred to you what would happen to my future, if I were to fail to live up to my responsibilities? Has it ever occurred to you? HAS IT?” He’s pretty scary in this scene to say the least, everything that seems to be his fault he puts onto her, and even though yes, Wendy is crying and visibly frightened (wouldn’t you be?), being brave does not mean you can’t also be scared.
BAM, she whacks him in the head and he falls down the stairs. At this point I am cheering, but Wendy is a braver person than I. I would have ran as quick as I could out into the snow, screaming hysterically, but instead, Wendy drags Jacks unconscious body into the kitchen, into the store room and locks the door. Then she takes a knife and runs to get Danny, and helps him to escape even if she cannot.

So what do I think is so feminist about this? Well firstly, we assume Wendy and Danny survive, or at least, Jack doesn’t kill them. That is a victory in it’s self because if you think about it, not many films allow the female characters to save themselves without the help of a male hero or at least, a man. For me, the fact that we see Jack frozen, trapped in the maze, is also a victory. Throughout the film, and one has to assume, throughout his life, Jack seems like the ‘poor me’ type. He seems like the type to blame other people, specifically Wendy, for his own actions (like hurting Danny) and issues (drinking?) he has. He even agrees with Delbert Grady, the last caretaker (or maybe not) who killed his wife and kids, that Wendy needs to be “corrected,” which to me sounds like something you’d hear from a sitcom in the 20’s where violence against your wife just wasn’t that serious. Yet in the end, it is Jack who is corrected. It is Jack who suffers, it is Jack who is dealt with in “the harshest way possible” and like Grady says, it turns out Wendy is really “stronger than we imagined.”

Now I’m aware I’ve rambled on and there’s much more I could say about the feminist themes I get from The Shining, but I think I should stop while I’m ahead. When you type in The Shining and feminism, not much comes up in my favor, in fact, even Stephen King claims the movie is misogynistic, but you know, I like that about the film. I like that it is not obviously feminist, I like that it is a horror/thriller film that lets the woman survive, I like that Jack embodies the misogynistic male hatred that has always been since well, the dawn of time.

What do you think? The Shining, secretly a feminist film, or completely misogynistic? Or am I looking into things maybe a bit too much like the people from Room 237? Whatever you think, I wouldn’t want to be trapped in the middle of nowhere with him, would you?
“Wendy? Darling? Light, of my life. I’m not gonna hurt ya. You didn’t let me finish my sentence. I said, I’m not gonna hurt ya. I’m just going to bash your brains in.”

PS- You can buy The Shining here!

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psychocinderella

"Simultaneously enchanted and repelled by the inexhaustible variety of life..."

17 thoughts on “A FEMINIST VIEW OF THE SHINING?!”

  1. Your insights are valid. The greater obstacle to me is wasting insight on such a bloated indulgence as The Shining. It’s one of the least “faithful” adaptations I can cite, and I’ve seen thousands. (I spent 23 years restoring and remixing movies for re-release.) The film lacks kinetic energy, the performances are out of balance, and worst of all for a horror movie – it isn’t scary. When I saw it in the theater on first release, the audience was so irritated and impatient by the time Jack went nuts they actually cheered when he FINALLY went after Wendy. Dread, schmead, it’s not a movie if things don’t move along.

    1. Thanks. I probably would have agreed with you the first time I watched it, but I have a completely different opinion on it now I’ve watched it again. I’m not saying it’s a perfect film, but the tense atmosphere throughout was what kind of stood out for me even if not much necessarily happens throughout the film.

  2. I think that technically speaking the film needed a bit of improvement, some re-editing could go a long way. I personally haven’t read the source material but when looking at the feminist views in the film that doesn’t matter. I often find that some people don’t quite get the full grasp of feminism. A feminist film doesn’t have to feature a female wearing trousers, short hair and kicking ass. It just has to show that women are people, whether they are physically strong or weak, wear skirts or shorts, it goes on. I think you’re right. Wendy does fit in to the housewife trope but the film doesn’t make that her ‘shining’ feature (ha, see what I did there?) Wendy is brave and selfless and that she has an inner strength and will that makes her a real person a true character. I’ve only seen the film once myself but you’ve made me think about things.

    1. I completely agree, people assume to be a strong feminist character they cannot show any weakness or vulnerability. Haha, I agree! The film really takes time to show her qualities, like you mentioned she is brave and selfless, whereas with Jack all we really see is his anger and hatred.
      Thanks for your comment, I really appreciate it!

  3. Never hold back or apologize for talking about a feminist view of a film – its very important to look at the way that gender is represented in film history, the way that the male gaze has (Laura Mulvey and Judith Butler say a lot of interesting things about this topic, if you haven’t read them, I recommend it!)

    Also, though The Shining it is not representative of the book, the one that Steven King directed was awful. Kubrick’s The Shining was a BRILLIANT film. Was it the scariest film I have ever seen? Not by far. But I didn’t watch it to become terrified. Its smart, its deep, its cerebral, and I love it! I don’t know if Kubrick was thinking about it as a feminist film, but its quite possible, he was the sort of director who thought about so many layers of details, you can never get through it all.

    Thanks for your thoughts!

    1. I agree I shouldn’t be apologizing for talking about feminism, I have read a lot of Laura Mulvey but I’ve not heard of Judith Butler so thanks I’ll check her out!

      Stephen King directed a version of The Shining? I didn’t know that! I agree, who knows if Kubrick intentionally put those feminist aspects in, but whether he did or not the fact that people can pick up on it is pretty cool.

      Thanks for your comment! I really appreciate it.

  4. Really good job writing this. I think Stephen King said that he hated the movie because it was misogynistic towards Wendy, but as you said that’s just not true. She is definitely submissive but she is fights back when needed. Anyway, I think thats him grasping at straws because he hated Kubrick. Like you said, Wendy does all the work Jack is paid to do, feeds them, and makes sure they are all doing ok. But she is an apologist that is clearly afraid of her husband. I’ve read a few reviews saying that The Shining is misogynistic because Wendy is so weak and useless. Some even said she wished that she died! Maybe if she was conventionally attractive people wouldn’t be saying these things smh. I don’t think the film cuts any corners to show that Jack is an abusive asshole that would jump on any chance to cheat on his wife. Wendy is triumphant in the end too so thats a win for her!

    1. Thanks for the great comment! I agree, maybe if she was more conventionally attractive or more attractive by Hollywood’s standards they might have a different opinion on her. Exactly! Whatever you think, the fact that she actually survives at the end and saves Danny is definitely a great victory!

  5. My Girlfriend watched this with me the other night and when I saw the scene where you describe Jack blaming everything on Wendy, I too immediately thought the same thing, that this movie was about feminism. I explained my thinking to my girlfriend and she agree. Later as the movie ended and the shot zooms in on the photo of Jack in 1921, I was a bit confused, but knew there was a reason for it. Again my girlfriend point out that this was to represent the cyclical nature of Jack. The cyclical nature of Jack is oppressing the weak. This idea is further solidified by the caretaker scene in the red bathroom.

    If you’ve watched or read anything thing about the movie you know there are various illusions to native americans and even the holocaust. There were some silly theories in the Room 237 documentary, but the one I agree with and think is important because a feminist narrative is key in this film – I actually think it is the backbone – is that Kubrick was telling the story of HISTORY through the lens of the cyclical nature of oppression. The oldest form of human oppression is of women. The terrible relationship dynamics between Jack and Wendy is the backbone to Kubrick’s greater parable of the cycles of oppression. Wendy was not a weak or dumb character as you pointed out, what makes her seem pathetic, is not her person, but the completely unfair horrors that are thrust upon her because of Jack. I too read Steven King thought the movie was misogynistic and I think he was right, that is the point.

    1. Thanks for your great comment! I love your analysis of the film and the commentary of the cyclical nature of oppression. I completely agree, Jack is meant to be a misogynistic character to perhaps represent the oppression of women that still continues today, and like you said, through the various illusions to Native Americans and the Holocaust.

      Thanks for your insight!

  6. So I’m two whole years late in posting to this thread, but The Shining endures as one of the finest movies ever made, and commentary is hopefully still relevant. Kubrick chose to articulate an interpretation in which distinctly American patriarchal forces are the antagonist from which Danny and Wendy must flee (and to which Jack succumbs), making this film important from a feminist perspective, and also elevating its social commentary above its lighter Stephen King source material. The Overlook Hotel, built on Indian burial grounds in the film and not just haunted by a history of arbitrary violence, is explicitly a monument to the patriarchy of colonialism, and a thematically-relevant setting for the film’s action. The concept of white male privilege is personified in the racist and domineering resident apparition Grady, who is revealed to be not merely the impotent construct of a fevered psyche but a real force to be reckoned with, a force that literally opens the door to further violence. “White man’s burden,” “the sperm bank upstairs,” “the little bitch,” “women, can’t live with ’em, can’t live without ’em” and similar pronouncements from Jack himself clarify that, in this movie, his ailment is not mere cabin fever per King’s story, but patriarchal ideologies that are hardly rare in everyday American life. The resident of room 237 is also tellingly repurposed by Kubrick as a succubus of Jack’s imagination, the empowered female to whom he feels fatally vulnerable. Indeed, as foreshadowed, the movie concludes with Wendy prevailing against Jack’s rampage, “stronger and more resourceful” than we had imagined from the waifish caricature we’re given early on. And finally, of course, the film touches on “moral and ethical principles.” For me, the highlight of The Shining is Kubrick’s darkly-humorous parody of impersonal (and male-identified) duty ethics, in opposition to the mother’s will to love and care for her child (maybe he should be taken to a doctor). This movie is open to many interpretive perspectives, but chiefly, it is a tale of escape from the American patriarchal cycle of violence.

    1. Thanks for your comment, you’ve got some really great insight! It’s definitely much more than just a simple horror/thriller film, that’s for sure. In the documentary about the film (Room 237) they do mention a lot about the white male privilege and the violence against the Native Americans. Like you said, the hotel was built on Native American burial grounds and there was also a lot of Native American art around throughout the film.

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