Room 237

(or, ‘Why Kubrick’s The Shining is a critique of OPPRESSIVE STRUCTURES! – for example patriarchy’).

SO….I watched Kubrick’s ‘The Shining’ at some point, and then read a lot about how, amongst many others, Stephen King disliked it on account of it being misogynistic…

What. The. Actual…?!


OK, see, I have seen this criticism of The Shining’s Wendy-portrayal all over in feminist space. You know, about how it makes her ‘shrill and weak’ and so on as opposed to the novel.
So, the movie’s Wendy ‘is just there to scream and be stupid’, huh Mr. King? You know, my momma told me: when you point to someone, always be aware of the three fingers pointing back at you. Now, I haven’t read the novel, so maybe this gives me an advantage, in the form of a mind without preconceptions about what I expected of Wendy Torrance, when I watched the movie. But here is how I hear you guys (Stephen King + assorted self-proclaimed and no doubt genuinely well-meaning feminists) :

What is basically complained about, is that Kubrick’s Wendy is a character in stead of being the usual Strong Woman(TM).


You know… men in movies get to be neurotic, weird, flawed, antiheroic and so on.

Women get to be ‘strong’….


So, do I get this right, Wendy can’t be terrified? She can’t scream or cry when people – such as, oh, her husband – come after her with a fireaxe? She can’t be distraught, clumsy, dealing with a deeply abnormal situation with less than supreme elegance, because then she is ‘screamy and stupid’?! Come ON! How the hell is putting that kind of expectations on a female character in any way ‘feminist’??
The relationship of the Movie-Torrances, even upon arrival to the Overlook, is so obviously that of an already unhealthy and abusive relationship. Wendy, in keeping with the survival instinct of any abused spouse, is overcompensating, trying to keep everything nice, smoothing things out constantly. She is so obviously an abused (psychologically or otherwise) woman who is afraid of her husband. True to usual form, Kubrick highlights the horror with awkward humor and charicature. The scene wherein she rehearses, stuttering, how to break the news to her husband, that she wants to take their child to a doctor is just about one of hte most heartbreaking things I have seen. This is HORROR, people, not a director abusing a female character. In my opinion, people who bash (!!) Shelley Duvall’s Wendy Torrance for being too infuriatingly self-effacing and skittish, should read up on survival-strategy and the dynamics of abusive relationships. And oh, just flat out check their victim-blaming, plz thnx!

The Shining is so much about a woman and a child leaving an abusive husband/father – and the whole abusive structure of a society which has cast Wendy in the role as helpless victim. Namely, the all-seeing but dispassionate structure of the Overlook.
Nonetheless, while being terrified, scared out of her wits, she manages to protect herself and her son. She manages to lock up the violent husband and if not for the Overlook so clearly being on his side and setting him free, she’d have won right then and there. In the end, she manages to flee the entire place with her kid. No male hero comes and saves her in Kubrick’s ‘Shining’. Halloran dies, contributing a diversion and the presence of a working snowcat. It is, however, the agency of Wendy herself, which saves her and her child from not only the crazed husband, but the horrific structure of Overlook (which, if one chooses, could be read as patriarchy itself!). I think that is a pretty heroic achievement, but then I am apparently less stuck on form than some.

Meanwhile, Danny escapes the fate of his father by retraching his steps in the labyrinth, that is, realising the history of oppression, and escaping the labyrinth of its madness (I’m not the only one who sees it this way. The ‘Room 237‘ documentary will tell you the same thing, adding cool takes on the whole labyrinth-theme).

I think Wendys slight strangeness, her neurotic attempts at smoothing things over to protect herself and her child, are much more believable and much more terrifying, much more visceral, especially because her slight charicature is opposed by the charicature of Jack, the selfpitying bully-husband. I think Kubrick’s approach is very concerned with the structure of the Overlook and what it represents. The slight misanthropic detachment is that of the structure’s POV. It’s part of the horror, not Kubrick’s casual contempt for the characters.
When we aren’t seeing Wendy through the impersonal structure that is Overlook Hotel, we see her through the eyes of a way WAY too perceptive only child of a rather dysfunctional family. Surely, when you are a small kid in an abusive family, both mommy and daddys behaviour are equally scary. Viewed in this way – why wouldn’t Wendy be as odd, unnatural and offputting as Jack?
Wendy is a a real human and a terrified heroine. She acts like a person does, like a character, and she actually succeeds, completely on her own, to save herself and her child. If the portraying of it doesn’t look cool or heroic enough, maybe it is because there is nothing cool and aesthetically pleasing about real family abuse.

How exactly that is supposed to be misogynist, eludes me. I mean, come on.

Kubrick’s Wendy Torrance fucking escaped not only an abusive husband, but patriarchy itself, with her child. She doesn’t have to prove shit to you by looking like Catwoman while she does it.


(Above: Strong Woman(TM). Not at all sexualized. Honest!)

So there.

(Apart from that, try to watch The Shining as a parable on the Holocaust (the WWII one, or that of the Native Americans) or patriarchal society in general. It is a deeply scary and rewarding way to watch it.)

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