The Shining is about Jack Torrance (Jack Nicholson), an aspiring writer and recovering alcoholic, who accepts a position as the off-season caretaker of the isolated historic Overlook Hotel in the Colorado Rockies. Wintering over with Jack are his wife Wendy Torrance (Shelley Duvall) and young son Danny Torrance (Danny Lloyd). Danny possesses “the shining”, psychic abilities that enable him to see into the hotel’s horrific past. The hotel’s cook, Dick Hallorann (Scatman Crothers), also has this and is able to telepathically communicate with Danny. The hotel had a previous winter caretaker who went crazy and killed his family and himself. After a winter storm leaves the Torrances snowbound, Jack’s sanity deteriorates due to the influence of the supernatural forces that inhabit the hotel, placing his wife and son in danger.
Production took place almost exclusively at EMI Elstree Studios with sets strongly based on real locations. Kubrick often worked with a small crew which allowed him to do many takes, sometimes to the exhaustion of the actors and staff. The new Steadicam was used in several scenes giving it an innovative and immersive look and feel. Because of inconsistencies, ambiguities, symbolism, and differences from the book, there has been much speculation into the meanings and actions in the movie.
There were several versions for theatrical releases, each being shorter than the prior, with about 27 minutes cut. Although contemporary responses from critics were mixed, assessment became more favorable in following decades, and it is now widely regarded as one of the greatest horror films ever made. The Shining is widely acclaimed by today’s critics, and has become a staple of pop culture.
Jack Torrance arrives at the mountain-isolated Overlook Hotel, far from town, to be interviewed for the position of winter caretaker. Once hired, former teacher Jack plans to use the hotel’s solitude to write. The hotel, built on the site of a Native American burial ground, closes during the snowed-in months. Manager Stuart Ullman tells Jack about the hotel’s history since its 1907 construction, but he also warns him about its deceiving reputation from a tragedy in the winter of 1970, where a previous caretaker, Charles Grady, supposedly developed cabin fever and killed his family (wife and two daughters) and himself. Despite the creepy story, Jack is impressed with the hotel and is excited when he gets the job. In Boulder, Jack’s son, Danny Torrance, has a terrifying premonition about the hotel, viewing a cascade of blood emerging from an elevator door, and then falls into a trance. Jack’s wife, Wendy, tells a doctor that Danny has an imaginary friend named Tony, and that Jack has given up drinking because he dislocated Danny’s shoulder following a binge.
The family moves in the hotel on closing day and is given a tour. Head chef Dick Hallorann surprises Danny by telepathically offering him ice cream. Hallorann explains to Danny that he and his grandmother shared this telepathic ability, which he calls “shining”. Danny asks if there is anything to be afraid of in the hotel, particularly room 237. Hallorann tells Danny that the hotel has a “shine” to it along with many memories, not all of which are good. He also tells Danny to stay away from room 237.
A month passes; while Jack’s writing goes nowhere, Danny and Wendy explore the hotel’s hedge maze, and Hallorann goes to Florida. Wendy learns that the phone lines are out due to the heavy snowfall, and Danny has frightening visions. Jack, increasingly frustrated, starts behaving strangely and becomes prone to violent outbursts. Danny’s curiosity about room 237 overcomes him when he sees the room’s door open. Later, Wendy finds Jack screaming during a nightmare while asleep at his typewriter. After she awakens him, Jack says he dreamed that he killed her and Danny. Danny arrives and is visibly traumatized with a bruise on his neck, causing Wendy to accuse Jack of abusing him.
Jack wanders into the hotel’s Gold Room and meets a ghostly bartender named Lloyd. Lloyd serves him bourbon whiskey while Jack complains about his marriage. Wendy later tells Jack that Danny told her a “crazy woman in one of the rooms” attempted to strangle him. Jack investigates room 237, and stumbles upon the ghost of a dead naked zombie-like woman, but tells Wendy that he saw nothing. Wendy and Jack argue over whether Danny should be removed from the hotel and a furious Jack returns to the Gold Room, now filled with ghosts attending a ball. While attending the ball, a waiter spills a tray of drinks on him and offers to take him to the wash room to clean off his jacket as it will stain. While in the bathroom, the waiter reveals himself to be the ghost of Grady. After an awkward post-introductory argument about whether Grady was or was not the caretaker of the hotel, Grady tells Jack that he must “correct” his wife and child and that Danny has reached out to Hallorann using his “talent”. Meanwhile, Hallorann grows concerned about what’s going on at the hotel and flies back to Colorado. Danny starts calling out “redrum” and goes into another trance, referring to himself as “Tony”.
While searching for Jack, Wendy discovers he has been typing pages of a repetitive manuscript: “all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy“. She begs Jack to leave the hotel with Danny, but he threatens her before she knocks him unconscious with a baseball bat. She drags him into the kitchen and locks him in the pantry, but she and Danny are both trapped at the hotel: Jack has disabled the hotel’s two-way radio and snowcat. Later, Jack converses through the pantry door with Grady, who unlocks the door.
Danny writes “REDRUM” on the outside of the bathroom door in the family’s living quarters. When Wendy sees the word reversed in the bedroom mirror, the word is revealed to be “MURDER”. Jack begins hacking through the quarters’ main door with a firefighter’s axe. Wendy sends Danny through the bathroom window, but it will not open sufficiently for her to pass. Jack breaks through the bathroom door, shouting “Here’s Johnny!”, but retreats after Wendy slashes his hand with a butcher’s knife. Hearing Hallorann arriving in a snowcat, Jack leaves the room. He murders Hallorann with the axe in the lobby and pursues Danny into the hedge maze. Wendy runs through the hotel looking for Danny, encountering ghosts and the cascade of blood Danny envisioned in Boulder. She also finds Hallorann’s corpse in the lobby.
Danny lays a false trail to mislead Jack, who is following his footprints, before hiding behind a snowdrift. Danny escapes from the maze and reunites with Wendy; they escape in Hallorann’s snowcat, while Jack freezes to death in the snow.
In a photograph in the hotel hallway, Jack Torrance smiles front and center amid a crowd of party revelers at the Overlook’s July 4 Ball, 1921.
- Jack Nicholson as Jack Torrance
- Shelley Duvall as Wendy Torrance
- Danny Lloyd as Danny Torrance
- Lloyd portrays Tony, Danny’s imaginary friend, with his finger. He gives Tony a sore-throated voice.
- Scatman Crothers as Dick Hallorann
- Barry Nelson as Stuart Ullman
- Philip Stone as (Delbert) Grady
- Joe Turkel as Lloyd
- Anne Jackson as Doctor
- Tony Burton as Larry Durkin
- Lia Beldam as Young Woman in Bath
- Billie Gibson as Old Woman in Bath
- Barry Dennen as Bill Watson
- David Baxt as Forest Ranger #1
- Manning Redwood as Forest Ranger #2
- Lisa Burns as Grady Daughter (#1)
- Louise Burns as Grady Daughter (#2)
- Robin Pappas as Nurse
- Alison Coleridge as Secretary (Susie)
- Burnell Tucker as Policeman
- Jana Sheldon as Stewardess
- Kate Phelps as Receptionist
- Norman Gay as Injured guest