October 7th, 2018

“The tears that heal are also the tears that scald and scourge.”
― Stephen King, The Shining

Karin and I watched a movie on Monday night. Just in time for Halloween, Netflix decided to offer “The Shining” from Stanley Kubrick. I hadn’t seen the movie since the early 1980’s. It freaked me out then, and the film’s power has not diminished since that time. The only difference is that I am now twice as old as I was when I first saw the film, and my perspective has changed. The movie is no longer just scary. It is also profoundly sad.

I read the book many years ago, before I ever saw the motion picture. The book is better than the film, although both Jack Nicholson and Shelly Duvall are excellent in the movie. The book has much more detail, and it maintains the suspense far longer. Stephen King manages to keep both the main character, Jack Torrance, and the reader unsure about what is real and what is not. That is terrifying and tragic.

In the story, Jack Torrance is a recovering alcoholic, and he is never quite sure if he is actually seeing ghosts or if he is hallucinating. His inability to recognize the truth is the thing that is most frightening. He really doesn’t know. In a way, it is a letdown when the book and the movie make it clear that the hotel is really haunted. The tension is more powerful when nobody knows for sure what is going on.

Drugs are a bitch. It is always scary to wake up in an unknown location, not remembering what happened earlier, and not wanting to know. There is a sickening sort of panic. There is also a deep feeling of shame. King writes from experience, and his description of Torrance is dead on. Jack Torrance is frightened and guilt-ridden and angry and fatally confused. He is going mad.

It’s a sad book/film because the Jack Nicholson character doesn’t want to be bad. He doesn’t want to hurt others. Well, I guess the fact that he is trying to slice up his family with an ax indicates that he does want to hurt them. However, even then, Jack is convinced that he is somehow helping his wife and son by turning them into hamburger. It’s the notion of “tough love” taken to its logical (or illogical) conclusion. In the book, before the end, Jack Torrance has a moment of lucidity and tells his little boy to flee for his life. That scene doesn’t happen in the movie, but even there, at the end, Jack begs for help. He seems to finally understand what he’s done. Then he dies alone and deserted.

It may be easy for someone to read the book, or to watch the movie, and say, “Thank God I’m not like that!”

We are like that, to some degree. am like that.

Maybe we don’t try to murder people. Maybe we don’t struggle with alcohol or with smack or with coke. Maybe we don’t gamble all our money away. Maybe we don’t have promiscuous sex. But we are all hooked on something, and that something twists our minds and hearts. That something can make us into monsters.

Hitler was a teetotaler. He was a vegetarian. He was monogamous. By most standards, he should have been a model of moral rectitude. But he was a ruthless killer. What was he hooked on? Was it hate? Was it resentment? Was it power? Was it fear?

Do I see what is real? Do I recognize my ghosts and my demons?

I don’t know.





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