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Is Jack Trapped in the Overlook Hotel?

The Big Picture

  • The ending of Stanley Kubrick’s film The Shining is heavily discussed and theorized, with the final shot of Jack in the Overlook Hotel in 1921 sparking ongoing theories.
  • The film adaptation of Stephen King’s novel differs from the source material, with Kubrick making changes that alter the core themes of the story.
  • Kubrick’s ambiguous ending suggests that Jack is trapped in the Overlook Hotel, possibly as a reincarnation of a former guest or staff member.

Stanley Kubrick‘s 1980 film The Shining is widely considered one of the greatest horror films of all time by fans and critics alike. Famous for its ambiguity, The Shining has one of the most heavily discussed and theorized endings in cinematic history. Based on the book of the same name by Stephen King, The Shining follows Jack Torrance (Jack Nicholson), a writer who has been hired as the winter caretaker at the isolated Overlook Hotel in snowy Colorado. Jack, struggling with writer’s block, thinks this is an excellent opportunity to free himself of distractions and finish writing his book. Jack brings along his wife Wendy (Shelley Duvall) and their 5-year-old son Danny (Danny Lloyd), and the three of them quickly discover that the Overlook Hotel has a disturbing history that jeopardizes Jack’s sanity and threatens Wendy and Danny’s lives.

King famously despised Kubrick’s film adaptation of his novel, which does differ in major ways from its source material. When Kubrick signed on to direct the film, he requested to make some changes to King’s original story, many of which completely alter the core themes of the novel. The famous final shot of Jack in the Overlook Hotel in 1921 is essential to Kubrick’s vision for his adaptation of King’s novel that has spawned theories that still continue to this day.

The Shining

Release Date
May 23, 1980

Stanley Kubrick

Jack Nicholson, Shelley Duvall, Danny Lloyd, Scatman Crothers, Barry Nelson, Philip Stone


What Is ‘The Shining’ About?

Once the Torrance family arrives at the Overlook Hotel, The Shining becomes one continuous spiral into madness, but the ending of the movie perhaps starts when Jack once again enters the gold room where an elaborate party is in full swing. Jack once again sits down at the bar and strikes up a conversation with the bartender Lloyd (Joe Turkel), who tells him that his money is no good here, cryptically explaining it is “orders from the house.”

As Jack is holding his drink, a server accidentally bumps into him, causing his drink to spill on his jacket. Apologizing profusely, the server (“Jeevesy old boy”) offers to clean his jacket. He tells Jack that his name is Delbert Grady (Philip Stone), which Jack recognizes as Charles Grady, the name of the old caretaker of the Overlook Hotel. When Jack tells Grady that he chopped his wife and daughters “into little bits” before shooting himself in the head, Grady looks at him strangely and says that he has no recollection of such a thing. He tells Jack he is mistaken. He was never the caretaker here — Jack is the caretaker. He cryptically informs him, “I’m sorry to differ with you, sir. But you are the caretaker. You’ve always been the caretaker. I should know, sir. I’ve always been here.”

What Does “The Shine” Mean?

Dick Hallorann (Scatman Crothers) explains
Image via Warner Bros.

Grady warns Jack that his son Danny has a special gift — the “Shine,” which in Stephen King’s universe is a form of psychic ability that allows people to communicate with others using the mind, and gives people the ability to see things that have happened in the past, or will happen in the future. Danny is using his gift to contact Dick Hallorann (Scatman Crothers), the Overlook Hotel’s head chef who also possesses the “Shine.” Grady’s message to Jack is clear: Danny and Wendy must be “corrected,” just as he corrected his wife and daughters.

The next day, Wendy leaves Danny (who, according to “Tony,” has checked out) in their room while she goes to confront Jack. Clutching a bat in her hand in trepidation, Wendy carefully walks toward Jack’s usual writing table only to find he isn’t there. She finds instead Jack’s manuscript he’s been slaving away over, which to her horror, is hundreds of pages with only one sentence repeated over and over again: “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.”

Jack creeps up behind her to ask how she likes his book. They then partake in what is not the most productive conversation, in which Jack, of course, tells Wendy he is going to, “bash her fucking brains in.” She knocks him unconscious with the bat and locks him in the kitchen pantry. Later, there is a knock on the pantry door and Jack hears Grady’s voice on the other side. Grady tells him that he and “the others” have started to think he doesn’t have the stomach to do what he needs to do and deal with Danny and Wendy in the harshest way possible. There is the distinct click of a lock, and we can assume Grady has unlocked it.

What Happens at the End of ‘The Shining’?

Jack Nicholson in The Shining
Image Via Warner Bros

Upstairs, Wendy is sleeping, not yet aware that Jack has broken free of his confinement. Danny/Tony is repeatedly croaking out his unsettling mantra for the evening — “REDRUM” — waking a terrified Wendy, who sees through the mirror that he has written “REDRUM” on the door, which spells out “MURDER” backward. Right on cue, Jack starts to hack through their door with an ax while Wendy and Danny attempt to escape through the window. Only Danny can fit, so Wendy sends him out and tells him to run. Jack starts to hack his way through the bathroom door (“Hereeeeee’s Johnny!”) when Wendy manages to cut his hand with a knife.

Meanwhile, Hallorann, who has been communicating with Danny via the Shine, arrives at the Overlook Hotel. Just as Jack is limping through the hotel, clutching his ax, Hollarann calls out to see if anyone is home. It’s too late for Hollarann, unfortunately, as Jack comes up behind him and slices right through him. Wendy is running through the hotel looking for Danny and she sees through an open doorway someone dressed up in a bear costume performing fellatio on a hotel guest. Horrified, she turns and runs downstairs where she sees Hallorann dead, covered in blood in the lobby. Suddenly, she sees hotel guests all around her as decaying skeletons. A wave of crimson blood starts to burst and pour through the red doors.

Danny is sprinting for his little life through the snowy garden maze outside the hotel while Jack chases after him. Danny manages to escape and find Wendy, and the two of them flee the hotel on a Snowcat while Jack continues to hobble through the winding maze, wailing and bellowing out in hysteria for Wendy not to leave him. The camera quickly cuts to the next scene. It is morning, and Jack is dead, frozen in the maze, trapped in the Overlook Hotel forever. The final shot of The Shining is the real kicker as the camera zooms in on a photo hanging in the Overlook Hotel. The photo shows the 4th of July ball in 1921, and who do we see smack dab in the center? Jack Torrance.

Why Is Jack in That Photo at the End of ‘The Shining’?

The Shining is full of ambiguity from start to finish. Was Lloyd ever really there? Who was the lady in room 237? What did she do to Danny? Why does Grady tell Jack that he is the caretaker? But the greatest mystery of all is that final shot of Jack at the Overlook Hotel in the year 1921. One of the more popular theories is that the Overlook absorbed Jack’s soul after he died, claiming him as it did with the guests whose spirits are trapped in the hotel. Surprisingly, in a film where so much is left to interpretation, Kubrick actually explained that ambiguous ending.

In an interview with French film critic Michel Ciment, Kubrick said that the ballroom photograph suggests the reincarnation of Jack. We can assume then that Jack was originally a guest, or possibly a staff member, at the Overlook Hotel, which explains how Lloyd the bartender greeted him like an old friend and why Delbert Grady claimed that Jack was “always the caretaker.” This would also explain that Charles Grady, the old caretaker who infamously murdered his wife and little girls, was a reincarnation of Delbert Grady, or “Jeevesy.” It seems then that Jack has been, and will always be, trapped in the Overlook Hotel.

The Shining is available to stream on Max in the U.S.

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