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!