An adaptation of the Stephen King novel, Stanley Kubrick’s Shining takes on its own telling of King’s story in ways that bring the supporting characters to a higher calling that subtly lies under the surface. For the characters of Wendy Torrance (Shelly Duvall), Danny (Danny Lloyd), and Dick Halloran (Scatman Crothers), this higher calling can be identified by the intention of each character that is slowly revealed throughout the story’s development. While Jack Torrance arguably grabs our attention by the horns with an eerily captivating performance by Jack Nicholson, upon rewatching the film for the umpteenth time recently, I aim to argue that Jack’s character serves as an element upon which Wendy, Danny, and Hallorann build off of in establishing their own status of importance within the narrative.
After agreeing to be the off-season caretaker of The Overlook Hotel, writer Jack Torrance slowly succumbs to a dark force that lives within the walls of the historic property. Having moved in with his wife, Wendy, and son, Danny, Jack’s development as a character runs a course that inevitably parallels the character development of his wife and son. Jack remains the central protagonist through the entirety of the story’s narrative, but as the omniscient audience, we spend a generous amount of time with Wendy and Danny, both together and individually, giving us access to their own unique experiences at The Overlook Hotel.
From the start, Jack and his family are introduced as two distinct and separate entities. We meet Jack, alone, at the hotel where he sits for his interview. He is established to the audience as inextricably bound to the position of the “caretaker,” and therefore is confined to the sinister history of The Overlook Hotel and it’s identity. Of all the primary characters in The Shining, Jack is the only one who is never seen off the hotel property with the exception of his car, bringing his family over to the hotel.
Wendy and Danny are introduced to us, together, on the family’s dining room table in their home, establishing them within the sphere of domesticity as their roles would suggest as mother and child, which is echoed a few scenes later when Wendy is sent off with Danny to tour the hotel kitchen with the hotel’s head chef Dick Halloran. Throughout the rest of the film, we watch as Wendy takes care of both Danny and Jack, keeping up with the domestic chores of cooking and cleaning. In turn, she ends up taking on the role of caretaker of both her family and the hotel itself. We see her actively checking the phone lines, communicating with the Forest Service, and doing other general maintenance while her husband tries to work and her son explores the property. As the narrative approaches it’s climax, Wendy is the only character within this nuclear family who takes any action to ensure the well-being of her son and her abusive husband. Her frustration, fear, and determination are all cumulatively palpable through Duvall’s fervent performance, transitioning her character from a position that is oppressed and marginalized to one of agency and power that ultimately protects and saves Danny’s life and that of her own.
Before arriving at the hotel, we meet Danny with his friend Tony, a little boy that lives in his mouth. In his bathroom, we watch as the two communicate, with Danny changing his voice and using his index finger as a puppet to personify Tony. Showing Danny talking to his reflection in the mirror, this shot not only sets Danny apart from the other characters, most notably his parents, but it also establishes his individual perspective and unique identity as someone who can exist both in the natural and supernatural realms. Once at the hotel, we enter the shining realm with a tracking shot that slowly zooms to a close-up of Danny’s face, underlined by a high-pitched ring. In this shot, we are invited into the private communication between Danny and Hallorann through the pair’s ability to “shine.” Beyond Tony, now Danny is able to communicate with others outside of himself, thanks to his gift, with Hallorann becoming a mentor-like figure for him to rely on.
Since Danny is a child, his agency and his power are relatively limited. But that doesn’t take away from the agency he does possess that contributes to the importance of his character within the greater narrative of The Shining. Danny’s ability to shine makes him the only character actively present at the hotel who can see and interact with the dark energy that lives among them. The link between the natural and the supernatural, Danny’s mind and body become the point for the two to meet. It isn’t until Danny is seen with bruises around his neck when things begin to change and turn for the worst at The Overlook Hotel, and all of Tony’s violent predictions come true.
Hallorann, like Danny, connects the realms of natural and supernatural. However, contrary to Danny, Hallorann is not present at the hotel to see for himself. But because of his ability to shine, Hallorann is still able to communicate telepathically with Danny, which prompts him to return to The Overlook Hotel out of concern for the well-being of the Torrance family. As the only outsider, Hallorann embodies a similar agency to that of Danny’s. Although it is within limits, it is enough agency to provoke action to be taken in an attempt to save the Torrances. It is important to address the problematic nature of the death of Dick Hallorann in Kubrick’s rendering of King’s novel (in which he survives), especially given the value of his character to the story’s greater narrative. It’s hard to not assume that Kubrick’s decision to have Hallorann be axed down for the first and only kill in The Shining is to add some sort of climactic catharsis for the fully evolved evil Jack on screen for the viewer’s satisfied pleasure. But when it comes down to the only character of color being murdered for the audience’s cinematic pleasure, it’s hard not to feel queasy about it.
What these three characters have in common is that they each belong to different oppressed and marginalized groups as a woman, a child, and a black man. The three of them together were pushed off to the side from the start, but we, the audience, are placed with them through the entirety of the film, making Wendy, Danny, and Hallorann make up the driving underbelly of The Shining, standing out as the story’s strongest heroes.