GOTHIC CODIFICATION – THE BOOK/ THE MOVIE
The visual medium of film is the ideal showcase to exhibit those traditional tropes of Gothic literature that are so conventional to the reader. Although imagination is a powerful tool – as King’s writing proves – the addition of quality illumination, professional cosmetology and a score that would make an exorcist quail, are not without their place. It’s the Gothic that’s Chorus to so many great films including “The Shining” and it’s undoubtedly one of the reasons for its immense popularity. The visualization of the unheimlich is a powerful attraction; ominous locations, other worldly situations, uncanny, dark and brooding moments, strange characters and the inevitable parataxis that wrong foots an audience are all part of the well-fingered apparatus of cinematic satisfaction used to excite pliable minds. By using different methodologies to exhibit horror with brilliantly rendered imagery King and Kubrik both succeed in painting imaginations.
The Gothic Trope of location is paramount to any horror setting and has been astutely applied, although with subtle difference, in both the novel and the film. The image of a ruined dilapidated castle in a remote landscape – as epitomized by Walpole – can take any form. In Bronte’s book it was Wuthering Heights; in King’s it’s the Outlook Hotel. Therefore the rule of thumb to great horror is equivocal to great real estate deals; location, location, location! Prolific use is made by Kubrik of the corridors within an isolated, abandoned, snowbound hotel that lead the viewer down blind cornered passages along a succession of locked doors. His locations are quotidian although because of the tense situations he creates quickly metamorphose into the unheimlich. Coupled with his porosity of time and the fine line between the real and surreal he very quickly invokes the atmosphere of the supernatural. King does exactly the same thing and although not using the maze paradigm as Kubrick does -particularly at the end of the film – constantly takes us down into the bowels of the hotel to the gigantic wheezing boiler that is central to both the life and the death of the Outlook. His use of the ancient elevator is so finessed that that to even imagine looking through its diamond shaped portholes is enough to cause chills to run up and down the reader’s spine. Add to this the dramatic chase sequence across America – think Planes, Trains and Automobiles -of Hallorann who is thwarted at every turn in his efforts to reach Danny. The winding snow filled roads encountered by the cook become the snow drifted maze experienced by the boy that Kubrick so brilliantly captures with the steady-cam at the climax.
The hero is the split personality of Danny which in the book is far better implied than in Kubrik’s production. The imagination in this particular instance is a more capable tool for creating the elusive figure of Tony who we perceive to be a shadowy figure at the edge of peripheral vision, as opposed to the finger puppet association used in the movie. Halloran also exhibits aspects of heroism and in the book is a more determined, dynamic personality than the actor portrayal in the movie. Wendy of course is stereotypically cast as the Gothic heroine. King portrays much stronger characters in the book than Kubrik does in the film; his fight scene between Wendy and Jack on the lobby stairs evokes far more terror, although Kubrik does a fine job with an axe and a bathroom door. Wendy is determined to save her son and despite multiple injuries is able to fend off her crazed husband who – in spite of a knife wound that would kill any mortal man – continues on his quest to hunt and kill Danny. The idea that Jack is in fact the embodiment of the Hotel is better defined in the book than the movie. One could be forgiven for believing that the director’s representation of Jack is of a man suffering from cabin fever – in the book we are continuously referred to the legend of the Donner party– when in fact he’s been possessed by the hotel. Jack according to Grady has always been the caretaker as they were both hired by the same person; the Outlook.
Clearly the anti-hero is Jack Torrance. Rather than Byronic he’s simply a flawed character; a man who has trouble controlling both his appetites and his demons. Although we want to believe fervently that it wasn’t his fault that he was sacked from his teaching post nor that he consciously broke Danny’s arm, we know that Jack is his own worst enemy and that ultimately he will fail. King constantly alludes to childhood and continuously presses all the buttons of nature and nurture, implying that no matter how hard Jack tries – despite the hotel’s influence – he’s the embodiment of his father. From the second he accepts the Ullman’s offer of employment at the Outlook his family are doomed. Despite not drinking and his efforts to finish his play his mind is constantly on alcohol. King describes how he is manically wipes his lips and there’s hardly a moment when he isn’t thinking about booze or the memories associated with it. His obsession with the hotel’s history and the time he spends in the cellar pouring over documentation accurately portray an addictive personality. In the film we see the physical change in Jack as he becomes more and more obsessive and disheveled and Kubrik takes his failures a step further when he reveals exactly what it is he’s been spending his hours writing at the typewriter, “ All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.”
King’s use of the supernatural is sublime. His book paints a realistic picture of animated topiaries, independently operated confetti filled elevators, ghostly inhabitants in the presidential suite and an eternally occupied bathtub in room 217. The constant allusion to the sounds of the ages reverberating through the hotel and the allusion that all time is framed within the walls of the hotel; masks off at the midnight hour and all will be revealed! King writes his book in layer cake fashion by reiterating earlier subjects, adding details and then later compounding them. How it is that Wendy suddenly knows about a masked ball and how does the passenger on the plane know Hallorann’s name? Kubrik on the other hand in visual brilliance shows us what King can only describe. The Grady girls who were murdered by their father, the elevators filled with blood and of course the opulent Gold Room in constant use by the Hotel’s eternal guests. The Gold Room scenes are truly breath taking and the moment when Jack sits at the bar suddenly to be confronted by the mysterious Lloyd – who he apparently has always known – who is either a ghost – as King describes – or simply a figment of an alcoholic brain magnified by cabin fever is beyond brilliant. Kubrik’s use of period music and costume to extenuate the overlapping layers of history adds to the drama of the plot. King attempts this in his writing by adding lyrics – “I see a pale moon rising” – to his scenes but unless the reader is familiar, unfortunately remain simply words on a page. If anything, this is the epitomic difference between the written word and the medium of film. A director manifests that which an author can only describe.