A Game-Changing Theory About 'The Shining'
When reduced to a bare-bones synopsis, the plot of The Shining is pretty straightforward. Jack Torrance is driven insane by an evil presence at the Overlook Hotel, which compels him to try to kill his innocent wife and child and to repeatedly ax an innocent door. The details of how he gets there, however, are so weird that the Internet has created a miniature cottage industry of fan theories about the movie.
Well, brace yourselves, because I'm about to spring yet another fan theory on you: The "evil presence" in the Overlook Hotel was in fact young Danny Torrance.
That's right, Jack's not-so-innocent son orchestrated the entire plot of the film, spurred on by one of the oldest motivators in murder history: revenge. Please note that I'm just talking about the movie here, not the book. Stephen King himself has said repeatedly that the two might as well be completely different things.
Now, here are a few reasons Danny Torrance was the real villain of The Shining.
Danny Had Motive, Means, And Opportunity
We're explicitly told in the movie that Jack broke Danny's arm once, and it's implied that wasn't the only time he was physically abusive. How so? Glad you asked!
-- Wendy Torrance's initial explanation of this to a skeptical nurse at the start of the film carries every hallmark of the abused spouse "I ran into a door" cover-up speech.
-- Jack initially denies that he ever hurt Danny, before reluctantly admitting that he did once (and he gets the chronology wrong -- Wendy says it happened five months ago, while Jack says three years ago), which establishes him as a liar and implies he could be lying about more instances of abuse.
-- Danny shows almost every sign of the psychological impact of child abuse: severe anxiety, hypervigilance, academic problems (dropped out of school), problems connecting with others (he says he has no friends), and flashbacks/visions.
-- When Danny shows up with bruises later on in the film, Wendy immediately accuses Jack of hurting him, despite the fact that kids can get hurt in a million different ways on their own.
-- Also, check out Danny's body language in the one scene where Jack tries to hug him:
As far as motive goes, Danny wanting to get revenge on his serial abuser father makes way more sense than the Overlook Hotel just wanting to ruin a random occupant's life for shits and giggles.
We're also shown early on that Danny has superpowers -- specifically, the ability to communicate psychically. My contention is that Danny's powers were far more advanced than he let on, and in fact extended to actual mind control, and that the seclusion of the Overlook Hotel provided him with the perfect opportunity to use these powers to enact his grisly plan, free from the interference of any third party. I'll have more evidence for both of these points later on, but I just wanted to establish them as cornerstone ideas immediately -- the delicious flaky crust covering the homicidal croissant that is this theory.
Like All Psychopaths, Danny Really Loves His Mother
In contrast to Jack, Danny and his mother Wendy have genuine affection for one another. They spend lots of time together and have fun, playful interactions. Accordingly, our little Norman Bates is not going to let her come to harm. This is actually the main pillar of my "Danny's psychic powers include mind control" argument. Wendy's continued survival makes no sense unless Danny had mind-controlled Jack to be unable to actually hurt her.
Think about it. Wendy is a rail-thin hysteric who thinks that you hold a baseball bat in the middle ...
... and yet Jack doesn't lay a single scratch on her during the entire movie. In fact, Wendy manages to actually physically overpower Jack with the aforementioned bat and knock him unconscious -- a feat so unbelievable that the only explanation is supernatural forces. It's like lining up for a bunt and hitting a home run anyway. Even more unbelievable is the ax scene. Sure, it's famous, but do you remember how it ends? Wendy gives Jack a tiny cut on his hand, whereupon he -- having cornered her in a bathroom with no exits, the door already half gone, and still in full possession of the ax -- just decides to wander away, allowing her to escape.
Danny implants this "You can't hurt Wendy" command in Jack in an early scene. Under the pretext of getting a toy, Danny leaves Wendy watching TV and goes to their room, where he knows his dad is sleeping. That moment resulted in the awkward hug shown above. Then, apropos of nothing, Danny asks ...
... while he turns that from a question to a command in Jack's mind. Danny's frozen staring straight ahead in this scene. This is important, as the film often intercuts terrifying scenes with shots of Danny staring straight ahead, frozen.
The implication we're supposed to take is that Danny is psychically "reacting" to the terror, but my contention is that he's actually causing it. That's the face he makes when he's controlling people. Like all kids, doing something he thinks is important requires intense concentration. He'd probably make the same face when completing a coloring book, if he wasn't so preoccupied with turning real life into various shades of red.
Tony Calls The Shots
Throughout the movie, Danny speaks to his imaginary friend Tony who "lives in his mouth" -- a warped aspect of his own personality brought into existence by Jack's abuse.
Tony is the Gollum to Danny's Smeagol. They're both unpleasant dicks, but Tony is much more openly homicidal. He's the one who comes up with the plan to kill Jack (revealing this to Danny at the start of the film sends him into a fainting spell), and he takes over direct control of Danny's body shortly after the "Room 237" scene (more on this later) and doesn't relinquish it until Jack is doomed.
He's also responsible for the sudden appearance of the twins. Very early on in the movie, Danny sees two creepy girls a couple of times ...
... the second time scaring him so badly that he asks Tony what's going on. Tony reassures him that they're "only pictures."
This is his way of showing Danny how he can use his powers to plant hallucinations, as well as bracing him for the real violence he's going to see (and cause).
The twins never appear again in the movie, as their purpose in providing the training wheels for our murderous Professor X is now complete.
Halloran Is The Fall Guy
There's only one problem: Dick Halloran, the Overlook's cook who immediately identifies Danny as a fellow psychic. Danny reacts with shock when Halloran first telepathically communicates with him, and then stonewalls him (and refuses to eat even a bite of the proffered ice cream) when he tries to have an out-loud conversation.
As well he should, because Halloran is asking more probing questions than a jealous spouse after a late night at work, openly interrogating Danny to try to find out the extent of his powers. Halloran represents a real problem to Danny. If his powers equal or surpass Danny's, then he might be able to figure out what really happened to Jack, or even prevent it. Plus, he's the only person who knows what Danny might be capable of.
In other words, Halloran's gotta die. Thinking quickly, Danny sets in motion an elaborate gambit by staring blankly ahead and asking Halloran about Room 237. Halloran reacts with confusion -- as he should, because Danny is just making this up -- but Danny's already planted the suggestion that something's wrong with that room. Why? Because ...
Related: Folks, Fall TV Is Gonna Suuuuuuuck
Room 237 Is An Elaborate Double Trap
Despite everything I've just said, Danny isn't 100-percent sold on his revenge plan at first. When the film begins, he has mixed feelings about going to the Overlook, which are the result of his glimmers of conscience. He therefore devises a demented test to see if his father is worth killing while also baiting Halloran to his death.
It starts with Danny walking into Room 237 ...
... and deliberately injuring himself. He then tells Wendy that a strange woman hurt him there, which makes her send Jack to the room. Danny makes Jack see a hallucination of a beautiful naked woman. Jack immediately kisses her, betraying his wife / Danny's beloved mother and providing Danny with all the pretext he needs to carry out the rest of his plan with no further moral twinges.
They never get beyond nudity and kissing because Danny has a child's notion of sex (well, a pre-Internet-porn-era child's notion of sex) and that's all he thinks it is. If you're wondering how a little kid knows what a naked woman looks like: He got it from Jack's brain. The only other hallucinations Jack interacts with are people he's seen before -- Lloyd, the bartender he "always liked," and Delbert Grady, whose picture Jack saw in the paper.
So it stands to reason that bathroom lady also sprang from his head. At the same time, Halloran wakes in his bed, looking terrified ...
... while we also see Danny staring straight ahead blankly and foaming at the mouth ...
... no doubt a result of the mental effort needed to create Jack's hallucination while simultaneously contacting Halloran in Florida. In order to avoid raising suspicion, Danny gives Halloran just enough of the truth -- the fact that he was hurt in Room 237 along with a "live feed" of Jack's experience in the room -- to allay any suspicions Halloran might have (this is why Danny had to actually injure himself within the room) and to trigger the suggestion he planted earlier. Halloran is now compelled to return to the Overlook, to his doom.
We've talked previously about how Halloran's death is stupid because he doesn't spend any of the six-hour-plus transit time coming up with a plan or bringing allies. My theory closes this plot hole by explaining that Halloran was compelled to come immediately by Danny and so couldn't respond logically. It also explains why Halloran, when asking to borrow a snowcat, says that there's been a problem with "the people who are taking care of the place" and that ...
Instead of this being a pointless, weird lie (why not just say there was an emergency?), it's actually the truth: Halloran, compelled though he is, still suspects Danny is responsible. The "assholes" he's talking about here include both Jack and Danny.
Danny Lets Jack Out Of The Pantry
Now Danny's plan is in full swing and he's committed to destroying Jack, but he runs into another problem: As previously mentioned, Wendy manages to overpower Jack and lock him in the pantry. This messes everything up for Danny, as at this point, Jack hasn't done enough to damn himself. He's just written a bunch of nonsense and been mean to his wife, which is probably just how he spends his average Tuesday.
Jack, locked in, receives a stern talking-to from "Delbert Grady" and then the door unlocks. This is the only part of the movie that proves it can't all be in Jack's head, and it ostensibly shows that the Overlook's spirits are real.
This makes no sense whatsoever. At no other point in the movie are there any physical interactions caused by non-humans, and if the Overlook's "ghosts" are able to do this, then the rest of the movie becomes completely inexplicable.
Case in point: The very next thing we see is the "Here's Johnny!" scene, in which Jack is presented with a locked door and has to bust through it manually instead of having the ghosts just unlock it for him, resulting in enough time for Danny to escape. Jack's inability to get through that door quickly is what singlehandedly saved Wendy and Danny's lives.
If the "ghosts" were that concerned with making sure Jack annihilated his entire family, a little help with that door certainly would have been in order.
Unrelated side note: "Here's Johnny" was actually Johnny Carson's catchphrase. (For younger readers: Carson was the late-night guy before Letterman.) (For even younger readers: Letterman was the late-night guy before Conan.) (For older readers: The inexorable passage of time will make everything you love slowly irrelevant.) If The Shining ever gets remade, they'll have to update that to a more recent pop culture catchphrase to ensure it stays relevant.
Anyway, back on topic: My theory neatly closes that plot hole by simply asserting that Danny himself unlocked the pantry door in person. The next scene (the "REDRUM" scene) shows Wendy sleeping deeply, so he could have easily snuck down while she was unaware. Also, the chase at the end of the movie shows that he's much faster than Jack (who was hobbled in a fall) and could have easily outrun him back to their room, or simply mentally commanded Jack to wait there for a few minutes while he got back. The fact that he (in-character as Delbert Grady) gets to berate Jack for getting beat up by his sentient scarecrow of a wife is icing on the cake.
From this point on, everything goes to plan. Jack terrifies Wendy with the ax and shows his murderous intent. Then Jack kills Halloran as soon as he shows up, eliminating a potential threat. (During this bit, Danny hides in a cupboard. He's not hiding from Jack, but rather from Halloran.) Danny then lures Jack outside by running out of his hiding spot. At the same time, he plagues Wendy with the only hallucinations she sees in the whole movie.
This serves two purposes. First, it compels Wendy to run out of the hotel so that Jack has no reason to go back inside. Second, it ensures that Wendy sees Halloran's corpse so she knows that Jack killed him. Incidentally, since I've already established that Danny is pulling these hallucinations from his victims' minds, that dogman scene says some really uncomfortable things about Wendy's personal life.
Once outside, Danny leads Jack into the hedge maze and then does a little hopscotch maneuver ...
... buying him just enough time to lay one final command (which he does with his usual blank stare), forcing Jack to remain in the maze and freeze solid.
Now Wendy thinks Jack is a murderer, Jack's writing project has been turned into an insane echo of the same line over and over, and the only man who could have figured all this out is dead. The final scene with the mysterious photo, rather than being a ridiculous last-second twist, now adds one final terrible fate on top of all the rest. It reveals that Jack isn't actually dead -- just trapped comatose in his own mind in the terrifying delusion of the Overlook that Danny has created, transfixed like his own photogenic smile, and presumably forced to live a thousand mental torments every day.
In conclusion: Don't mess with Danny Torrance.
What do Chuck Norris, Liam Neeson in Taken, and the Dos Equis guy have in common? They're all losers compared to some of the actual badasses from history whom you know nothing about. Come out to the UCB Sunset for another LIVE podcast, April 9 at 7:00 p.m., where Jack O'Brien, Michael Swaim, and more will get together for an epic competition to find out who was the most hardcore tough guy or tough gal unfairly relegated to the footnotes of history. Get your tickets here!
Psst ... want to give us feedback on the super-secret beta launch of the upcoming Cracked spin-off site, Braindrop? Well, simply follow us behind this curtain. Or, you know, click here: Braindrop.
See how Stanley Kubrick got all the blood in 'The Shining' past the censors in 6 Brilliant Ways Movies & TV Shows Stuck It To The Censors. And learn which Pixar movie is basically an ode to 'The Shining' in 6 Mind-Blowing Easter Eggs Hidden in Famous Movies.
Subscribe to our YouTube channel to see the blood-curdling lengths Kubrick put his crew through in 7 Movies that Put Insane Amounts of Work Into Small Details, and watch other videos you won't see on the site!
Also follow us on Facebook! Now with 35 percent more filling!