The Shining Symmetries

Stanley Kubrick's sole horror film, The Shining is governed by diabolical symmetry, formal as well as thematic.

In it, the characters have dual personalities (Danny/Tony and Jack), just as the ghosts are in pairs (like the famous twins who do not appear in Stephen King's novel).

The principal setting, the huge, deserted Hotel Overlook, built in the studio but inspired by authentic hotels, thoroughly resembles a labyrinth, this form of maze and infinite symmetry that the camera ceaselessly roams through. The composition of the image is itself achieved through meticulous symmetry in the visions of horror (the bloody lifts), as well as in the real scenes (beginning with Jack's job interview). The geometric patterns of the carpeting, rugs and wall paper invade the frame, with the combination of distinct colours accentuating this mad symmetry, which contributes to the feeling of an unavoidable trap. The play of mirrors further adds to the doubling of the identical (like the famous "REDRUM/MURDER" written in Danny's hand). The haunted hotel, which Kubrick wanted built over an Indian cemetery, is itself a kind of temporal labyrinth (with the massacre perpetrated ten years earlier and the return to the 1920s).

An imposing labyrinth of hedges, a plant maze of "perverse symmetry" (1), serves as an extension of the isolated hotel. This invention of the filmmaker's is present as of the first visit to the hotel and will be the setting for the terrifying final scene. It appears again in plan form, noticed at the entrance, and as a model, observed by Jack from the spacious lounge that serves as his office while Wendy and Danny stroll through it. The scale model suddenly seems to come alive before his eyes, giving way to the true labyrinth in a high-angle shot filling the whole frame. This mysterious higher vision of Jack's, underscored by the music, then reveals the tiny animated silhouettes of Wendy and Danny in the centre of the labyrinth...

(1) To borrow Michel Ciment's expression, in Kubrick: the Definitive Edition, (New York, Faber and Faber, 2003), p. 136.