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Open Collection of Student Writing (OCSW)

The Shining

The Shining is a movie about a family made up of Jack, Wendy, and their son Danny. Jack is hired to be the winter caretaker at the Overlook Hotel. The hotel has a wild history, including an incident where a previous caretaker murdered his family before killing himself. The locals write it off as “cabin fever.” Danny just so happens to be telepathic and receives multiple warnings from his imaginary friend, Tony, in the form of visions. At the hotel Danny encounters another person that possess the same powers, the cook Dick Halloran. He explains that some people, like the two of them, “shine,” meaning they have telepathic powers. Dick also tells Danny that certain places can shine too, places like the Overlook hotel.

At first, everything seems to be going well, but when the snows come (preventing them from leaving the hotel) everything changes. Jack grows angry and distant toward his family. Eventually the hotel convinces Jack, through hallucinations, that he should murder his family so that they can remain in the hotel forever. Luckily, with some help from Tony, Wendy catches wind of Jacks intentions and manages to escape with Danny from the hotel in a snow cat brought to the hotel by a concerned Dick. Unfortunately, Dick does not make it out alive, upon entering the hotel Jack skewers him. They leave Jack to freeze to death in the maze on the hotel grounds. He joins the hotel forever in death, just like he wanted.

I have chosen to focus on Jack for this paper. There isn’t much of Jack’s backstory to go on in the movie version of The Shining. There is mention of an incident where Jack dislocated Danny’s arm while drunk. After the incident, Jack stopped drinking and had been sober for five months before we meet the family. In the book, there is much more to learn about Jack’s past. His father was an alcoholic who was abusive towards his family. Jack himself is an alcoholic, he was actively dependent on alcohol for years while he was a private school English teacher. The reason he lost his job was that he lost his temper with a student. He beat him within an inch of his life. This, along with the incident with Danny, sets off a ton of red flags that he might be unstable. This also caused friction between Jack and Wendy; if he hadn’t stopped drinking she would have left. He doesn’t seem like a person who should be locked in a snowbound hotel for five months alone, much less with his wife and young son.

In the book version you can see what Jack is thinking, which is helpful. There are instances, like the one with the student. The conflict started when Jack as the debate coach, set the timer for the student’s speech to go off early because the student was stuttering. Jack lies about setting the timer for the wrong time, the student insists that Jack cut him off early. In this instance Jack convinces himself that he did it for the boy’s own good, he would never make it in a real debate setting. This is definitely a sign of antisocial personality disorder. Not only because he lied, but because he was causing emotional pain for another and justifying it. Then when the boy is upset and slashes Jack’s tires, Jack beats him nearly to death. This would qualify as extreme aggressiveness, that and the instance where he dislocated Danny’s arm. He is also quite irritable with Wendy throughout the story.

His alcoholism in the book supports the diagnosis of Antisocial personality disorder as well. He repeatedly came to work as a teacher drunk. He also drank and drove quite often, even though he knew it was wrong and that he could hurt people. He was very impulsive and didn’t seem to care that he was putting his family’s only source of income at risk. This points to a clear lack of empathy along with his justifications for cheating his student out of the time allotted for his speech.

This diagnosis would fit before he entered the hotel, but not without some more background knowledge first. People with Antisocial Personality Disorder tend to exhibit signs of Conduct Disorder before the age of eighteen. We do not know if this is the case because we really don’t know a lot of what his childhood and teenage years were like. Antisocial behavior does decline with age. Jack’s attempts to right his behavior and stop drinking seems to point toward this being the case.

After he enters the Overlook hotel I would say that he doesn’t have additional symptoms of another disorder. In the story there is in fact a malevolent hotel trying to kill and trap the family’s souls for all eternity. He isn’t even currently dependent on alcohol, as he isn’t really drinking during his time at the Overlook. No booze is left at the hotel in the off season. This conclusion would make for a very short paper, so I think I will go about assuming that these new symptoms do come from Jack, not the hotel. In that case, I would say that Jack is showing signs of Schizophrenia while in the hotel.

We don’t know if Jack had signs of Schizophrenia earlier on in life, that just wasn’t part of his back story. We do know that people with Schizophrenia may self-medicate, and alcohol could be a way for him to do that. Also, childhood abuse is a risk-factor for developing Schizophrenia, not as strong as genetic factors, but it still could help push him over the line to the realm of the disorder. It would be interesting to know more of Jack’s family history, but we are sorely lacking in that information for this particular case.

There aren’t many symptoms that Jack presents from the negative category of Schizophrenia symptoms. The only one that I see as possibly relevant to Jack’s case is avolition. The instances were Jack is staring into space accomplishing nothing while he is supposed to be writing may point in that direction. There is also a scene where Jack is supposed to be sleeping, instead he is sitting on the edge of the bed staring out of the window. He is also pretty unkempt through most of the time they spend in the hotel. Avolition is supposed to include lack of attention to personal hygiene. He also falls behind on his duties to keep the boiler in check, even though he takes great pride in being the Overlook’s caretaker.

From the disorganized category of Schizophrenia symptoms Jack has shown inappropriate affect. Particularly in the most emotionally stressful times from him in the story, such as when he is fighting with Wendy near the end of the story. He is very angry and frustrated as she swings a bat at him, but instead of looking angry he has an insane smile on his face. That same smile stays in place while he continues the attempt to hunt down and murder his family.

Most of Jack’s symptoms are in the positive category of symptoms. Specifically, delusions of grandeur, delusions of paranoia, with auditory and visual hallucinations. Jack thinks that the hotel has a specific plan for him, that if he kills himself and his family he will be an important and valued figure in the hotel forever. He also thinks that Wendy is always plotting against him. Using situations like the incident where he “unintentionally” dislocated Danny’s arm to paint him as a bad man. When Danny is injured by a spirit in the hotel and Wendy is concerned that Jack might be repeating past behavior, Jack is pushed over the edge.

The auditory and visual hallucinations that Jack experiences are vivid. It starts out with just a bartender serving him drinks at the vacant hotel bar located in the golden ballroom. These hallucinations expand to a whole party full of people dressed as if they are attending a ball at the Overlook in 1921. This takes place right after the disagreement with Wendy about how Danny has been hurt. Here, Jack receives instructions to “correct” his family’s will to escape the hotel. After this hallucination, he has the drive to go on the hunt to redrum his family.

All of this would be meaningless of course, if the basic requirement for duration of symptoms is not met. The story takes place in a little over a month. One month is the minimum duration of at least two symptoms to qualify for the disorder. No one knows how long his symptoms would have lasted if he hadn’t died, frozen in the snow at the end. As it is though, I do run into the problem of lack of enough information. There is very limited background information on Jack. Schizophrenia tends to start presenting in adolescence. Has he had symptoms in the past? How long has his abnormal behavior been going on before we come onto the scene as viewers? I just don’t have enough information to make a proper diagnosis.

My reaction to Jack as a character is that he is foolish and too full of pride. He is also selfish and puts his needs above his family. This is what leads him down a path that will put his family in danger by his own hand. He feels a strong drive to be an important figure, whether it is as a writer or as the excellent caretaker of the fabulous Overlook Hotel. If he does have Schizophrenia this could just be symptoms of this very disruptive disorder. Although it is not fair to judge him by these things; I still feel upset that a parent could put his need to feel important above his child.

His rationalization of the way he harms everyone around him. Is hard to take as well, especially when he dislocated Danny’s shoulder. Even if it was an accident and he was simply a little too rough with him, he still drank enough to dull his senses and stoke his impatience for his young son’s antics. This would be my biggest problem if I were to become a clinical psychologist.  I find myself unwilling to feel positive regard for someone that repeatedly consumes something that they know causes them to harm others.

All in all, this is an excellent story. In book form The Shining did give me more description of Jack’s background and thought processes, but I think the director of the movie did the best with the medium they were working with. It just didn’t provide me with enough information to make a solid conclusion. The story was much more focused on the otherworldly powers that the hotel and Danny possessed, than painting a picture of mental illness. It could be that the hotel is replicating symptoms of disorders in it’s victims so that its sentience goes unnoticed for as long as possible. Although, sometimes a story is just a story.

Keywords: Abnormal Psychology, Personal interpretation

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