Stanley Kubrick’s The Shinning (1980) can be seen as a straightforward horror film, it follows classic generic tropes that are so often employed by many a scary movie. The Torrence family is entrusted with the care of the Overlook Hotel for the winter where they find themselves cut off from the world, a standard horror/suspense device; there is a creepy/cute kid who has a strange connection to the supernatural (The Exorcist, The Omen); ghosts torment and haunt the characters (The Haunting); the film even includes the gimmicky notion of the hotel being built on an ancient Indian burial ground (Poltergeist). But of course, The Shinning is much more than just your average, standard scary flick; Kubrick’s adaptation of Stephen King’s novel is a subversive take on the typical horror show. He takes these horror clichés that audiences are all too familiar with and presents them in an almost satirical way. Jack Nicholson’s portrayal of the troubled patriarch is so crazed at times, that it becomes comical, a parody of the archetype ‘crazy killer’. Kubrick is not the average director, certainly not your average horror genre filmmaker, so everything on the screen is intended and present because Kubrick wants it to be there. Kubrick was a notorious control freak, paying strict attention to detail and monitoring not just every detail that wound up on screen, but even the way some of his films were screened. Knowing the great care he gave to executing his films, it comes to no surprise that his filmography is actually quite brief; Kubrick produced thirteen feature films in his forty-six year career.
As it is in any film, the clothing worn by the characters is a crucial part of not only the look of the film, but also the characterization of the people that inhabit the film’s universe. While Kubrick worked in a rigorous and controlling way, he knew when to leave creative agency to the people who contributed to his films. Milena Canonero was costume designer for three consecutive Kubrick films, A Clockwork Orange, Barry Lyndon, and The Shining; by the time it came to produce The Shining they had established a successful professional relationship. Canonero’s designs meld seamlessly into the world that Kubrick created and adds a great amount of subtext and nuance to the narrative.
Jack Torrence arrives at the Overlook Hotel for his job interview, he wears pretty standard ‘interview attire’, and he is presenting himself as a professional. We learn that Jack is a writer and his jacket is a grey, tweedy-ish material, which evokes a kind of professorial quality to him, I think of tweed, especially the tweed jacket, as a kind of signature piece of clothing for intellectuals and like English professors, its almost like a uniform for them and I think that it is an interesting association to make with Jack’s character because of the course he make in the narrative. Also, I love how Jack’s tie evokes nature and is plantlike; it literally looks like grass or moss, much like the hedge maze at the Overlook. Foreshadowing, maybe?
The first time we see Wendy she wears a slightly juvenile outfit, the bright colors and schoolgirl vibes dress make her look childish; the red and blue color scheme corresponds to Danny’s clothing drawing a deliberate connection between the characters. Shelly Duvall’s almost uncanny portrayal adds to Wendy’s childlike quality, she speaks to Danny, not in an overly maternal way, but more as if he were an equal.
When the pediatrician comes over to check up on Danny, Wendy’s childishness is emphasized by mere contrast. Here comes a woman who asserts her maturity, knowledge, and authority, it is directly contrasted with Wendy’s meek and docile nature. Their dynamic is similar to that of an adult talking to a child. The doctor’s serious appearance in neutral and muted colors clashes with Wendy’s bright and young attire, accentuating their differences visually.
Wendy transitions into a more mature look when the family arrives at the Overlook; she even dresses in a similar color palette to the one the doctor wears previously. This is Wendy’s ‘adult’ outfit, in great contrast to the one she wore when we see her for the first time. Wendy and Jack, in these scenes, dress in similar colors (neutral browns and tans) and it is probably the only time in the film when they correspond visually. Jack and Wendy are at their most amicable and “couple-y” in these scenes, of course there is always something slightly off in their behavior and its like they are ‘performing’ marriage for the people around them. Wendy seems to really be ‘playing’ the role of the wife, its almost as if she waited to see what he was wearing in order to match her outfit with his.
Danny is contrasted with his parents and wears his signature colors of red and blue, which as mentioned before could mean to emphasize his childishness and innocence. As his parents are given the tour of the hotel he goes off to the game room and entertains himself with a game of darts. This moment of juvenile diversion is interrupted by the supernatural elements that inhabit the Overlook. The Grady sisters appear in the game room wearing matching baby blue dresses, again the color blue marks their innocence and age, it also aligns them with the character, Danny. Like him, they became victims of their father’s insanity, but Danny ultimately managed to escape. Still, their experiences in the Overlook were definitely similar.
Another character whose connection with Danny is supported by the costuming in the film is Dick Halloran. Dick is dressed in an almost ‘grown up’ version of what Danny wears, they are both clad in light blue button-down shirts, and darker blue jacket, Halloran’s is a more mature navy blazer. The characters share the gift of ‘the shinning’ and are able to communicate telepathically; their clothing supports this connection and their similarities.
This is one of the few moments in the film when Wendy and Danny are at odds. While Wendy is preoccupied with playing the perfect wife, Danny is left to seek for a replacement paternal/maternal figure, which he finds in Halloran.
A month into their stay in the Overlook, Wendy is almost starting to blend into the look of the hotel. Her yellow and blue plaid robe match the hotel’s hallway right outside the small apartment they stay in. The soft colors of the robe also communicate submissiveness and passivity in the character. She is serving Jack breakfast; she’s being a caretaker and acting out her domestic chores, as she is expected to.
As Wendy and Danny explore the maze, they revert to dressing similarly (again in primary colors). This time Wendy wears the more infantile, bright red jacket, and as they go through the maze it is, again, like they are equals, instead of mother and son. Like I said previously, Wendy is definitely characterized as and infantilized adult, which reflects the way Jack probably thinks of her. Jack often treats her as a hindrance; like she’s just another kid he has to deal with and repeatedly talks down to her as if she were a child that needs scolding.
As Wendy and Danny play in the maze, Jack distracts himself from his writing; his green sweater is in contrast to Wendy’s and Danny’s reds and blues. Again, his green, mossy sweater echoes the texture and color of the hedge maze, as he looks at the model all godlike and menacing.
Another ridiculously ugly and infantile dress for Wendy in the usual blue, she wears bright red stockings underneath, similar to what she wears in the beginning of the film. Again, Jack wears a forest green shirt, in contrast to his wife’s blue. This is a scene in which Jack is incredibly harsh on Wendy and speaks to her in a condescending and hurtful way, their dynamic is enforced by the costuming and I just love the way Wendy’s dress just makes her look like such a child. The extreme silhouette rids her of any womanly shape and any sex appeal and all that’s left is a kid being scolded by her elder.
Wendy sticks with the bright primary color trend, this time it is a bright yellow, which is certainly a departure from what we have previously seen her wear. The jacket has a cartoony-Navajo-y Native American motif that might be a nod to the hotel’s history and setting. This is a more serious look for the character and she carries out more serious or grown-up errands during these scenes. She takes an active role in the care of the hotel and because of that her clothing is more serious than what we’ve previously seen
Again Wendy wears a more serious outfit, this is a more practical look, almost menswear inspired because of the overalls and the button down shirt. The colors are muted, much like her outfit when they first arrive at the hotel. She is again seen working on the caretaking of the hotel. As Jack is busy working on his writing, Wendy has to carry the load of the hotel’s care and it seems that she has taken over what is supposed to be his responsibility. When Wendy goes to Jack’s aid, it is like their roles are reversed. In this case it is Jack who dresses in red and blue, colors that have been tied to childhood and immaturity throughout the film and associated mostly with Danny and Wendy. This scene shows Wendy caring for him as if he were a child, she handles him almost exactly as she treats Danny afterwards. She is maternal with both of them and, in a way, is pushed or forced into becoming this authority figure because of the state the two men/boys in her life are in.
Jack is now showing more overt signs of his mental breakdown and when he goes to the ballroom manifestations of his insanity and/or the hotel’s supernatural forces begin to appear. The bartender’s jacket is the same color as Jack’s, which suggests a link between them. The bartender could be a figment of Jack’s imagination, a subconscious projection of his inner turmoil, so he is dressed in the same color as his own clothing. Jack might think of him as part of his own personality, the bartender, who gladly serves him free of charge, indulges his alcoholic urges. The bartender could also be explained as one of the hotel’s many ghostly inhabitants who interact with the Torrence family. The way he is shot and the color red he wears encodes him as a malevolent figure, a kind of demonic even devilish character who pulls Jack further into his insanity and madness.
The color red both Jack and the bartender wear is considerably darker than what has previously been shown in Wendy’s and Danny’s clothing, suggesting a sinister and threatening connotation and contrasting their nature to the ‘innocents’ in the film.
Jack meets the ghost of Mr. Grady and talk in the bathroom. There is not much to elaborate on here, Grady tells Jack that he has been at the Overlook for longer than he thinks and is echoed by the closing shot of the film, which shows a picture of Jack as an employee of the hotel in the 1920s. The suggestion that Jack is another being of the hotel is one of those twisty horror clichés that Kubrick plays with. Grady is dressed just like Jack is in the old picture which tells us that they probably had the same position as employees of the Overlook and further links them and their experiences in the hotel.
Shit is really hitting the fan and Jack is full on crazy, again Wendy’s more muted outfit reflects her new position as the adult and trying to control the impish and impulsive Jack. The moment when she locks him in the walk in fridge is reminiscent of a mother punishing her child; she literally gives him a ‘time-out’ and locks him away so he could calm down.
Wendy wears a blue robe previously worn by Jack when Jack escapes from the walk in and goes apeshit and hacks away at the apartment door. I love the comparison drawn between the two parents with the simple use of an item of clothing. When we first see the robe, Jack wears it during an off-putting moment between him and Danny. Jack tells Danny how much he loves and cares for him and how he would never harm him. Nicholson’s execution is eerily uncanny; the way he speaks makes Danny visibly uncomfortable and scared. We, as an audience, are put off by this supposed outpouring of emotion or affection from Jack, he has previously given off weird vibes in which we sense that there is something psychologically wrong with him. This moment with Jack asserting his patriarchal dominance and attempting to display paternal love and care is subverted by Nicholson’s delivery, it makes what could have been a heartwarming moment of father-son bonding to a creepy and tense moment.
Jack’s parental fail is further emphasized when Wendy asserts her maternal dominance successfully. When Wendy wears the blue robe, she is forced to exert her survival agency and is protective of her son. She, for the moment, successfully protects Danny from the menacing Jack who relentlessly hacks away at the apartment door. In the sequence Wendy manages to get Danny out of harms way making him escape out the bathroom window, she is then successful in driving Jack away from the bathroom by striking him with a knife. Wendy is pushed into becoming a more active character and is able to perform under the intense pressure and also becomes the more apt parent in the process.
The clothing stays the same through to the end of the film. Jack is thwarted ultimately by Danny, who manages to trick him into getting lost in the maze. So, Danny, who conquered over his father’s homicidal actions is now free to live happily with his mother, Oedipal much??? Regardless of Freudian subtext, Danny and Wendy are again able to reinstate the status quo with their color-coordinated outfits and live contentedly without Jack’s creepy presence all up in their ‘bidness’.