Directed by: Philip Kaufman (Quills, Rising Sun)
Written by: Philip Kaufman, Ana´s Nin
Company: Universal Pictures
Starring: Jack Nicholson, Shelley Duvall
Director: Stanley Kubrick
Awards: AFI Winner
Under the question: What are some alternatives to staring at a blank
page? I suggest that there is only one alternative to staring at a blank
page and that is to write -- if you want to be a writer. And in the
The Writer's Mentor Suggests section, Exercise #2, I write: "If
your mind seems to freeze up during this exercise, try writing down
words at random, not necessarily having anything to do with your topic
at hand. Or jot down words placing them arbitrarily on your paper or
screen (although, obviously this is quicker by hand on paper)."
Someone who takes this idea to the ultimate extreme is Jack Torrance
in The Shining, Stanley Kubrick's cinematic version of the Stephen
Jack (played by Jack Nicholson at his maniacal best) already seems on
the brink and exhibits an edgy irritation with both his wife Wendy (Shelley
Duvall) and his son Danny as they drive to their new winter job as caretakers
of an isolated mountain resort, the Overlook Hotel, in the Colorado
Rocky Mountains. There are hints of past problems (and portents of future
ones) -- Jack may have been fired from his teaching position, he definitely
has had a drinking problem, his relationship with his wife appears lethargic,
because Danny clearly fears his father, we suspect Jack of physically
abusing him, and, in addition, Jack has illusions of writing the Great
American Novel. This does not bode well. But, perhaps, exorcising his
demons on paper is exactly what he needs.
Under strict orders to remain quiet and stay clear of Jack when he is
"working" in his enviable study -- the lodge's cavernous
wood-paneled, picture-windowed lobby -- we see Wendy and Danny virtually
walking around on tiptoe to appease him. There are sounds of a clacking
typewriter and Wendy thinks that all is going splendidly with Jack's
writing, until he begins to sleep through most days, remains in his
robe and pajamas, stops shaving, and surpasses his level of perpetual
cantankerousness -- all signs of depression and probably cabin fever,
if not downright page fright.
Of course, since this is a Stephen King story, there must be an element
of horror as part of the plot, but here we are only concerned with a
far more gruesome nightmare that haunts many scribes -- that of a failed
writer who's going off the deep end.
The story offers us vague possibilities. Are there really ghosts in
room 237? Are Danny's visions of the past or the future? Is Jack
a reincarnation of an axe-murderer? Is all this happening in Jack's
imagination -- and if only he could write it down it would disappear?
Is Wendy enough to push Jack (or anyone else for that matter) over the
edge? Are Jack's financial and familial responsibilities driving
him to the brink? Or is page fright the true culprit here, the roadway
Before Jack does his Ed McMahon imitation in the devilishly funny, yet
hair-raising, "Heeer's Johnny!" scene, Wendy stealthily
has made her way over to his now silent typewriter (while he is probably
looking for a weapon with which to murder her). It would appear that
Jack has actually completed a manuscript of several hundred pages, until
she looks more closely, and, in disbelief, she sees that he has repeatedly
written, ad infinitum, the children's verse: "All work and
no play make Jack a dull boy."
So, like I said before, if your mind freezes up, write down words at
random that may not necessarily have anything to do with your topic
at hand. I guess, "All work and no play make Jack a dull boy,"
is as good a place as any to begin.
Copyright by Cathleen Rountree July 2002