CG Arts & Animation Unit 3: Environment Simon J. Bloyce


Table of Contents Page 3: Introduction Page 4: Book List Pages 5-10 : Essay Body Page 11 : Bibliography Page 11 : Image List


Introduction The purpose of this introduction is to give the reader an understanding of The Uncanny (ger: Unheimlich). This is the principal which defines objects, places, persons or circumstances that when experienced, either remotely (by reading a book or watching a film) or directly (by being in the presence of said objects, places, persons or circumstances) give the observer a sense of unease. This principal is described and researched in great depth by Sigmund Freud in his paper, ‘The Uncanny’. Here he relates the experience of Unheimlich (unhomely) to items, people and places that would be familiar but for their uncanny. ‘Starting from the homely and the domestic, there is a further development towards the notion of something removed from the eyes of strangers, hidden, secret...’ (Freud S., p133 point 4) A dictionary definition of uncanny is, ‘strange or mysterious, esp. in an unsettling way: an uncanny feeling that she was being watched.’ What Freud does state however is, ‘Unheimlich is clearly the opposite of heimlich, heimisch, vertraut, and it seems obvious that something should be frightening precisely because it is unknown and unfamiliar. But of course the converse is not true: not everything new and unfamiliar is frightening. All one can say is that what is novel may well prove frightening and uncanny; some things that are novel are indeed frightening, but by no means all. Something must be added to the novel and the unfamiliar if it is to become uncanny.’ , (Freud S., p124-5 para 4). From the examples and definitions above it may become clear to the reader that the idea of the uncanny is a delicate one, and possibly deeply personal. What scares one will not necessarily scare another, even in the same circumstances.


The uncanny principles have been employed and manipulated by storytellers since ever stories were first told. The purpose of this essay is to relate the principles in the introduction to a particular piece of media. In this case Stanley Kubrick’s, ‘The Shining’, (1980). The film is an adaptation of Stephen King’s novel and is regarded by many to be a masterwork of horror and suspense, and Stanley Kubrick’s finest film.

Figure 1

The following is a list of books used in this essay.

Rorty R., ‘Philosophy and the Mirror of nature’, (1980) Arendt H., ‘The Human Condition’, (1958) Bergan R., ‘filmisms... UNDERSTANDING CINEMA’ , (pub. date unknown) Stevenson J., ‘The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Philosophy’, (2005) Grant M. and Hazel J., ‘Who’s Who In Classical Mythology’ (1973)


In order to be more concise regarding Kubrick’s inclusion of the uncanny in his film it is easier to concentrate on certain aspects of Freud’s paper and relate how these observations fit into Kubrick’s work

Repetition Whilst coincidence may cause a feeling of unease in a subject it is the repeating of certain circumstances that many find uncanny. Kubrick uses this principal to good effect. Throughout the film the audience is taken on very private tours through the Overlook Hotel where the film is set. Mostly with the young character ‘Danny’.

Figure 2

As shown in the image above Danny can be seen riding his trike through the fairly inconspicuous corridors of the Overlook. The symmetry of the scene is useful, not only to disorient the viewer, but also establish the vast plainness of the environment. Kubrick takes care to lull the audience into a false sense of security before eluding to the story or providing a shock. Notably with the twin girls who, killed by their father in a mad rage stalk the young Danny with alarming effects.


Figure 3

Perhaps the very appearance of two girls of such similar age, appearance and dress also contributes to the peculiar feelings experienced when watching this scene. The principal of repetition in a very basic form. In a pivotal part of the film where actor Jack Nicholson reveals his madness to actress Shelley Duvall the very essence of the repetition theory is displayed with the words, ‘All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy’ as Duvall’s wife discovers the words written over and over on page after page. This, relatively simple device repeated in different typesets has an extremely discomforting effect and acts as the catalyst for the turbulent third act of the film.

Figure 4


Figure 5

Nicholson is able to play his character with such great effect because of the core element of the uncanny theory, that being the familiar, unfamiliar. As the film progresses the already emotionally distant Nicholson becomes further removed from the husband and father he was before the Overlook Hotel took effect. In an interesting scene between Nicholson and his young co-star the boy is made uncomfortable by the absence of his father despite his patriarch's presence. As the scene progresses the boy comes to the realisation that the man on who’s knee he sits is no longer his father. Whilst this knowledge would no doubt distress a child of that age in any circumstances, Kubrick is playing to the audience. With an eighteen certificate Kubrick knows that his vision is being seen by those who can truly appreciate the horror of a man who may abandon his duty of care with dangerous consequences. Those who have children may be shocked, but since we have all been children we have the potential to identify with and relate to the danger the child and his mother are in.

Figure 6


Secrecy Kubrick embraces this principle in several ways. Firstly there is the titular theme of the shining. The means of communicating telepathically, explained to the young Danny by Scatman Crowthers. This is something which Danny keeps from both his mother and father, confiding in his imaginary friend ‘Tommy’ .

Figure 7

This is also very disconcerting to watch as Tommy portrays more than just an extension of the young boys mind. Kubrick’s direction has us feel that the boy is inhabited by two separate consciousnesses as Tommy seems much wiser than the boy and advises him in a way that a guardian might. In retrospect Tommy becomes more active as Nicholson’s father departs. Whether Kubrick is implying that Danny recognises the withdrawal of his father and the danger is unclear. If that is the case then possibly Tommy is a defence mechanism triggered by the boys instincts, or even an extension of the boys ability to communicate telepathically, a soothing persona his psyche has employed to ease him into the gift he has. Certainly Nicholson also has his secrets. As Danny has dialogue with the ether Nicholson communicates beyond the grave, firstly with Lloyd, bartender at the Overlook.


Figure 8

Figure 9

At first it is just Lloyd and Jack Torrance (Nicholson). Passing the time as customer and dedicated Barman do, exchanging pleasantries. From the beginning of the scene it is clear that we are locked into a figment of Nicholson’s imagination. Sharp editing and a little filmic illusion changes the bar from an empty space inhabited by dust to a fully stocked bar inhabited by Lloyd. The sudden change is startling, but not entirely unexpected. What does unnerve however is the familiarity with which they speak to each other. Both staff and client interact as if they have ever been. Again, concerns can be allayed if one believes that Kubrick is allowing his audience to believe that this is an extension of Nicholson’s psyche. Certainly as Nicholson’s insanity increases so does his susceptibility to his visions


and as in Fig. 9 his immersion in them. In this scene he is no longer alone with the ever faithful Lloyd but in the Overlook ballroom, in the Hotels heyday. Kubrick uses the ideas of secrecy and hiding less subtly in other ways. When the young Danny hides in the kitchen the audience hides with him, holding their breath and clutching to their arm rests.

Figure 10

Figure 10 depicts one of Kubrick’s less subtle forays into the uncanny, but both the figure in the mask and his well dressed playmate have been caught out, their secret laid bare. Whilst not a particularly successful scene in uncanny terms, it still obeys the basic rules.

Conclusion Kubrick has stood by many of the principals outlined in Freud’s paper. Whether he has direct knowledge of these is unclear, but between them King and Kubrick have created and displayed a story which provides the viewer with a sense of the uncanny throughout. Using repetition, secrecy and the plain bizarre at times he grips his audience tight, wrong footing and disturbing them at every turn, to the extend that debate still rages over the nuances of the film. Is Jack Torrance the caretaker, has he always been? Is this a ghost story set in a spooky castle or is this a tale of emotional distance and cruelty? Are we


simply seeing a man driven mad by cabin fever? Whatever the answer, one fact remains clear. Kubrick’s 1980 classic will continue to thrill and disturb audiences for a long time to come.


Arendt H. (1958). The Human Condition. USA: The University of Chicago Press

Bergan R. (pub. date unknown). filmisms... UNDERSTANDING CINEMA. USA: Universe Publishing

Grant M. and Hazel J. (1973). Who’s Who In Classical Mythology. UK: Michael Grant Publications Limited

Stevenson J. (2005). The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Philosophy. USA: Penguin Group

Rorty R. (1980). Philosophy and the Mirror of nature. UK: Blackwell Publishers

Image List Fig 1: dvdbeaver.com Fig 2: free-extras.com Fig 3: free-extras.com Fig 4: allstarpics.net Fig 5: timemachinego.com Fig 6: fanpop.com Fig 7: furishnie.blogspot.com Fig 8: brianvsmovies.blogspot.com Fig 9: allstarpics.net Fig 10: horrorfanzine.com


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