Film As Language? Kubrick’s “The Shining”


My first year of high school was spent in a Catholic one. I had attended a Catholic middle school and some of my good friends were opting to go to a Romish institution, rather than a public high school (that some other of my friends had chosen to do). I took the entrance exam and was accepted. Most of my classes were in the second-tier strata. The top level classes were called the ‘Honors’ cirriculum. I was only placed in one ‘Honors’ course, called “Literary Arts”.

The course was taught by a white-haired and goateed rotund man called “Allen”. Come to think of it, he looked a bit like Robert Anton Wilson‘s evil twin. He seemed quite pompous and pretentious, too. Our first day in class, he had us write down a speech that started “You are the salt of the earth….” – I wish I could remember the rest and I don’t have my old notebook anymore. It’d be hilarious to read it now….some ghastly prose. Apparently, he had a thing for the young ladies, too. Allegedly, he would get a bit chummy with some of them and there were rumours that he touched the legs of a few (skirts were required uniform for girls – I don’t think trousers were allowed) to make sure they were wearing tights/nylons (I can’t remember if they were required as part of the girl’s uniforms as well). I suspect that was an urban legend amongst the students, though – I can’t imagine that would’ve been tolerated, even in a creepy Catholic school.

I found the course pretty dull, and Allen’s jibes at the counter-culture (though, to be honest, I didn’t know all that much about the late 60s at the time) and his utmost allegiance to “tradition” rankled me at the time, even if I wasn’t quite sure why that bothered me. He would bleat on about people getting married “under porches” (hey???) and jumping out of planes and coruscate them for not following tradition. I got the feeling he didn’t like me much, either. I didn’t raise my hand a lot and didn’t chuckle at a lot of his cheesy put-downs of people not like him. As such, I got a lot of “C”s and “C+”s on assignments. I’m not saying he graded me low because he didn’t like me – if I’m honest, I just didn’t get enthusiastic about a lot of the coursework.

The one part of the course I did really enjoy was the bit about ‘Literary Archetypes‘. I can’t remember if he went into anything about Carl Jung and psychological insights – but I do remember him briefly discussing that there’s only ‘x’-number of stories/myths and they are continually being re-told, but in different ways. If you learn to recognise certain ‘clues’ in a story, you can figure out which original story/myth the new writing alludes to. He then led us through analysing a few different short stories and novels – such as Shirley Jackson‘s The Lottery and John Knowles‘s A Separate Peace.

I can’t quite recall which myth Jackson’s story covers – but it’s definitely on the ‘harvest-sacrifice’ tip. He told us that the colour black almost always signifies death (the black dot found on the ‘chosen one’s card). The names conjure up symbols, too – ‘Mr. Graves’ and ‘Mr. Summers’ and ‘Mr. Warner’ (geddit?). There’s more, but those are all the ones I can recall and I don’t have my notes anymore. “A Separate Peace” ‘is’, according to the archetypal analysis, a re-telling of the Jason & The Golden Fleece myth, set on a boarding-school campus. Some of the clues are a bit obvious (“The Golden Fleece Debating Society”), but there’s loads more that are well-hidden. “Phineas” represents Poseidon (his nickname is “Finny”), or something like that. I’ll really have to see if I’ve kept my notes – I don’t think I have.

That stuff seemed pretty cool – I liked the way the ‘clues’ added up to show the myth buried under Knowles’s novel and Jackson’s short story. As I say, the rest of the course seemed pretty dull – other than when we were learning about poetry rhythms and we read some rock song lyrics as poetry (even old Allen had to admit the rhymes were clever), like Eleanor Rigby and The 59th Street Bridge Song. I left the school at the end of the year, for various reasons, and finished the rest of my high school days at the public one.

Where is all this leading, you ask? I’ll tell ya’s! A friend posted a link on FaceBook about a cinema in New York City showing Stanley Kubrick‘s The Shining, both forwards and backwards at the same time. The cinema staff decided to do so based on a comment from a site run by someone called The Mastermind. The comment was that “The Shining” should be viewed both forward and backward. The Mastermind studied the film and picked out ‘clues’ to it’s hidden narrative – in a similar way to Archetypal Literary Criticism, with dollops of Jungian symbolism thrown in. The theory is that written language is coming to an end, and a visual language, particularly via film and video games, “is” the future of communication. Now, I’m not quite sure about that, but who knows? He or she may be correct.

You can read the original post here. It is quite long, but fascinating. Each scene is inspected, with possible motives for camera angles and placements of objects. “Is” it what Kubrick had in mind? I don’t really know and I don’t think Stanley ever revealed his true intention for the film. Still, as an interpretation, The Mastermind certainly did his/her research!

Here’s a clip of the forwards/backwards showing of “The Shining” – pretty trippy:

The Shining Forwards And Backwards, Simultaneously, Superimposed (Excerpt) from KDK12 on Vimeo.

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