FEAR CONFRONTED THROUGH THE MONSTER OF JACK TORRENCE
Stanley Kubrick's adaptation of Stephen King's The Shining expands upon the theme of man as monster. The monster, Jack Torrence, is an example of the standard American male who provides for and protects his son and wife (Bingham 138). He has chosen to work at the Overlook Hotel in order to support his family because as a writer employment has been difficult. The family has to care for the hotel for the winter, but they cannot leave the mountainous area. In this isolation every day becomes the same for Jack as his writer's block becomes quotidian. The combination of isolation, monotony, creative frustration, and supernatural forces extract Jack's insanity. As the insanity sinks in he strays from his male roles as provider and attempts to murder his wife and son. His insanity demonstrates the idea of the doppelganger: a monster that can be normal but has a separate, insane personality. The depiction of Jack in The Shining displays fears of this Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde condition as it posits the potential for evil that can exist in any human being. The film also brings up fears of breaking family security and trust, isolation both from society in all and other individuals, insanity, and violence.
The opening scene presents Jack as a normal man at a job interview while foreshadowing several of the fears that Jack will soon exhibit. Physically Jack looks normal, but he occasionally releases raised eyebrows and wide eyes that express his covert insanity. Then when his future employer asks whether Jack's wife and son will like being isolated in a hotel for months, he replies affirmatively, showing little concern for their feelings. This reaction introduces the fear of family neglect. Next Jack is told the story of Grady who "seemed like a completely normal individual." Jack becomes nervous as he fears the possibility that he, as a normal individual, might have the capacity to do something as horrific as kill his family. At this point Jack has not realized his potential for evil. The audience sees Jack in a public context that is very different from the Jack they will get to know privately.
Jack's isolation allows the "public Jack" to fade away and the "private Jack" to emerge. It is the private Jack that embodies the audience's fears. We see the public Jack interact with his employer, but eventually the private Jack becomes synonymous with Grady. In the scene in the bathroom with Grady as a servant the camera frames them symmetrically to emphasize their duality. They are both men who publicly were perceived to be normal, but privately behaved against social norms. At the end Jack attempts to allude to his "normal" self when he says, "Wendy, I'm home" as he clutches an axe. The irony of this statement refers to Jack as a doppelganger.
The Torrence family's dysfunction, beyond that of Jack being an axe-murderer, stems from Jack's introversion and insanity. We learn an important fact from Wendy when the child psychologist delves into the Torrence family's past: five months ago Jack, in an drunken rage, dislocated Danny's shoulder and ever since Danny has had an "imaginary friend." Wendy says with a smile that it was "just one of those things…purely an accident." She makes excuses for her husband, not wanting to consciously accept the potential for evil that the private Jack possesses.
This and the next examples exemplify the audience's fears of the absence of mental intimacy with loved ones. We soon see that Jack has no patience with his son when Danny asks him questions on the ride up the mountain. Then when they tour the hotel, Wendy is enthusiastic, but Jack mumbles with annoyance. It is thus clear that Jack is self-absorbed and distanced from his wife and son.
Part of his distance must be attributed to the deep resentment he feels towards his family for being the provider (Bingham 139). One morning Wendy asks Jack how the writing is going and Jack becomes agitated by Wendy's lack of understanding the difficulty and frustration of writer's block. He tells her not to come in while he is working probably because he knows that he is not accomplishing his duties as the provider. His "white man's burden" that he speaks of when drinking at the bar represents the resentment Jack feels for being expected to fulfill certain duties. "All work and no play make Jack a dull boy," is the key phrase for this theme. When Wendy finds this sentence typed on Jack's "manuscript" Jack screams, "have you ever thought about my responsibilities?" His resentment develops the fear that the audience has for the damage of the patriarchal structure of the American family.
On the most basic level Jack threatens his family physically. Dislocating Danny's shoulder was just the beginning. After Danny is hurt from supernatural forces and Jack is blamed for it, he violently yells, "I never laid a hand on him. I love the little son of a bitch. I'd do anything for him-any f-in' thing." His public self, that of the father who loves his son, is battling with the isolated Jack who is a swearing murderer. Ultimately he attempts to murder his family with an axe in the style of Grady.
In the end, Jack is tired, wounded, cold, and lost inside the hedge maze that symbolizes Jack's loss of himself within his dual identity. His isolation drove him to such insanity that he cannot survive and dies in the cold. He has challenged his role as the primary provider for his family and in doing so has frightened the audience. The fears he embodies come from his threats to male roles within the family and to family security, intimacy, and trust. Insanity and violence are also primary fears that personally hit the audience in addition to endangering their ideas of a normal American family. Jack Torrence is frightening because his character is indirectly telling the audience, "You could be me, and I could be you," just like Grady suggested to him. Jack might also be a trusted loved one because the evil that can exist in people can be hidden. Thus Jack Torrence suggests that anyone contains the ability to be a human monster, including ourselves and the people in our lives.
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