The Shining (1980) and the Impossible Window

Jack (Jack Nicholson) enters the grand lobby of the Overlook Hotel, located in the secluded mountains of Colorado. He is ready to interview for the caretaker position that is required during the winter months when the hotel must close and evacuate due to the severe storms that are common in the area. After checking in with the receptionist he is directed to the manager’s office and we are introduced to Stanley Kubrick’s first and perhaps most interesting manipulation of the viewer’s orientation in the film The Shining. There is a window behind Mr. Ullman that cannot exist.

Kubrick uses extended tracking shots at several points in The Shining to help the viewer understand the dimensions and structure of the hotel. The most salient example is Danny’s frequent peddling on his bike around the common areas and hallways. As Jack (and later Wendy) enters the manager’s office we see the hall in the background that stretches perpendicular to the direction he is facing when he is interviewed. The anomaly is that as Jack speaks with Mr. Ullman the window is clearly facing out toward a sunny day, though the viewer is subliminally led to believe through multiple visuals that the window must lead directly into a wall or possibly the dark hallway itself.

Many would challenge the idea of the Impossible Window as poor film continuity, but they would be wrong. Stanley Kubrick was perhaps the most meticulous mainstream film director in history, tirelessly reviewing and perfecting each take. He has used structural confusion in the Overlook Hotel to create discomfort in the viewer. The maze is not only a good representation of this confusion that Kubrick seeks to create, but is itself a conundrum. As Jack begins to unravel into what can most accurately be described as some serious mental health issues he stares down at a model of the winding hedges that his wife and child are currently walking through. The actual maze, however, does not match the elaborate model. When the climactic finale through the hedges inevitably begins the viewer is unsettled not only by the murderous Jack, but by their perception that the maze and all structures at the Overlook are not what they seem.

What can you see in the deep layers of The Shining? Can you make any connections in the events and behaviors of the characters? What really happened in room 237? Remember to pay attention to structure and expect many more posts on this film.

1 thought on “The Shining (1980) and the Impossible Window

  1. Pingback: It's impossible to be unhappy in a poncho. | Movie Monday: featuring Conspiracy Theories About The Shining

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