My wife and I took a road trip from Seattle to Colorado and up into Wyoming to attend a conference and see Yellowstone National Park. With a rented Mustang convertible and over 9 hours of classic rock inspired by the television show Supernatural courtesy of our friend Dean (not THAT Dean), we found a cinema inspired stop along the way that hearkens back to a classic 1980 Kubrick movie, a 1997 miniseries, and – naturally – the Stephen King novel that inspired both.
The stately Stanley Hotel in Colorado was an inspiration for King’s memorable fiction, which the stately Stanley Kubrick would adapt into the frightful film with Jack Nicholson. The later miniseries of the same name, starring Steven Weber, boasts the actual hotel as a shooting location and the interiors indeed evoked memories as Kat and I explored the allegedly ghostly lodgings. We had drinks at the bar, took the ghost tour, and wandered the exterior at night, but for better or worse experienced nothing abnormal except a a few odd dreams. Maybe we should have stayed in room 217…
The hotel boasts a channel that plays the Kubrick film 24 hours a day, and I found myself revisiting the theatrical haunt that morning and musing on it’s plot, particularly the central character of Jack Torrance. From a Cinemagogue perspective, this film is a classic case of identity crisis which runs far deeper than the depths of psychology. While a simple synopsis might suggest that “a recovering alcoholic, aspiring writer becomes a hotel caretaker and – provoked by the spirits of the hotel – begins to deteriorate and break down mentally” the three insufficient sources of identity inherent make for scintillating conversation, especially when you consider the three different sources that reinforce those affiliations.
Jack has poured his identity into being a writer, and the inability to write is a major influence on his identity crisis. He’s also chafing at the identity the world has given him – alcoholic. While he’s guilty of drunkenness and abuse, the label does nothing but further frustrate him in wrestling with who he is. Finally, the dark, devilish forces of the hotel offer him a new identity. “You’ve always been the caretaker,” the ghoulish Grady speaks, offering Jack more than a self-appointed persona or the world’s pigeonholing stigma; they offer him an eternal identity which is undeniably appealing.
It’s fascinating yet simple to me that Jack loses his mind, torn between identities given to him by his own aspirations, the world’s label, and a supernatural offer. The common Christian prayer – against “the world, the flesh, and the devil” is rarely demonstrated so simply. Like everyone, Jack is seeking identity, but his spiritual ship is wrecked on the rocks due to his own course heading, false maps, and a beguiling siren song. The film certainly never suggests where true identity comes from (realizing we are image-bearers of our Creator – “for in Him we live and move and have our being” – and called to seek identity in Christ the perfect image-bearer) but the cursed trifecta of flesh, world and devil is illustrated quite succinctly through Torrance’s torments.
The Kubrick film is unquestionably superior in tone and cinematography, but the 1997 mini-series, shot at the actual hotel, should not be overlooked. In classic 90s miniseries style it’s a bit padded, but boasts quality acting, a gorgeous locale, (no nudity) and a story more faithful to King’s original novel. Torrance begins on a more even keel (my wife complains Nicholson is crazy from Act 1); Weber’s descent is thus more pronounced, and different decisions at the end also dramatically impact thoughts on damnation and redemption. On a long, wintery weekend night, it’s worth the narrative journey.
The story deals with ESP, lingering spirits, and other elements I’m not suggesting fit a real-world view of how our existence is ordered, but the internal struggle of Jack and his spiral into madness is a poignant portrait of an understandable downward arc when one has no tether to our true, shared, objective identity. As our trip continued from the hotel, witnessing the age-old geological features of Yellowstone and imminent lightning storms over Wyoming countryside, I thank God a shining light lifted me out of that confusing miasma years ago, and that every aspect of life can wonder and astonish me instead of terrify.