A BRIEF LOOK AT CLOSE ENCOUNTERS THROUGH THE EYES OF THE SHINING

Go to Table of Contents of the analysis of Stanley Kubrick's movie "The Shining" (which has also a statement on purpose and manner of analysis and a disclaimer as to caveat emptor and my knowing anything authoritatively, which I do not, but I do try to not know earnestly, with some discretion, and considerable thought).

The most important thing which must be kept in mind with Kubrick's films is there is the surface or principle story and then the internal or sub-story. In many of his films, if we're really paying attention, set elements pretty much immediately destroy the surface naturalism. One may not notice this destruction the first, second or third time one watches the film. Through constructive disorientation and disconnectedness, and sleight of hand as to where our eye focuses, Kubrick, the magician, intentionally obfuscates these elements that destroy the overt and naturalistic story line. The surface story lines are the principle ones, and this is maintained and supported by the intentional obfuscation of the deconstructive elements which keep them sub rosa. At the same time, these deconstructive elements are plainly there, alongside his tremendous effort to make things look real and believable, and once we bypass the disorientation and his purposeful refocusing they become a puzzle, annihilating the sense of reality. This destruction of the film's naturalistic story line is difficult enough to conceive of and accept that most people stop at this point and decide these puzzling aspects of Kubrick's films are errors when they are not. They are part of the art of a director cleverly designing the overt story line to be unimpeded by an internal story that tears it apart. Indeed, the sub rosa elements of the internal story may be discreet but they are enough in evidence to complicate the surface story with an aura of attractive, indefinable mystery, which is one of the reasons viewers return to Kubrick again and again. To work with the "reason" and "why of the internal story line is to try to settle into Kubrick's sensibility, examining how these internal stories form a dialogue in his oeuvre with repeating themes and ideas, elaborated upon from film to film. The internal stories haven't a "plot"; they aren't that kind of story. Instead, you have to be willing to deal with comprehending the themes and ideas represented in them as instead ultimately forming a different terrain for the setting of the surface story, guiding and interacting with the overt story and giving it a new form.


The fact that I'm going to draw a comparison between The Shining and Close Encounters of the Third Kind doesn't mean I think there's a story line hidden in The Shining wherein aliens are responsible for the strange goings on at the Overlook. No. However, recollecting that Kubrick's supposed first choice for Danny was the boy who featured as the abductee in Close Encounters, my thoughts did return to scenes in each of those films that suddenly seemed to me to be curiously similar thematically and visually, and caused me to wonder if Kubrick may have been intentionally referencing Close Encounters.

In The Shining, the "Tuesday" opening shot of the mountain superimposed with Wendy opening the great can of fruit cocktail in the kitchen I've always thought of as a kind of cutting the top off the mountain shot. Kubrick has already, in earlier opening shots of the Overlook and the mountain beyond, created a link between the natural environment and the man made, the steep grade angles of the lodge mimicking the mountains, much as in the very opening shot of the film the small island in the lake, with its trees, echoes in miniature the mountain far beyond, presumably this very one. Now, here, on "Tuesday", we have this shot of Wendy opening the can of fruit cocktail, and it's the last we shall see of the mountain in the movie. After this, the snowstorm rolls in and the mountain behind the lodge remains hidden ever after. That we never see the mountain again is a reason why I've thought of this as the cutting-off-the-top-of-the-mountain scene.

Opening the can with the can opener

The Shining - Wendy finishes opening the can with the knife while watching the news

In Close Encounters we have also doublings, echoes of Devil's Tower in the sculptures and drawings that those "called" to Devil's Tower are compelled to make in their efforts to interpret and comprehend what they don't even realize is an implanted message. Roy Neary struggles with his, not quite getting it right, until he accidentally dislodges the top of his mountain sculpture. He then has an a-ha moment that is signified by an explosion on a television screen behind him, his daughter watching a Marvin the Martian cartoon. The vertical stripes on the apron Wendy wears, superimposed over her own mountain, serve to possibly link the mountain of The Shining more emphatically with Devil's Tower which has the curious feature of being vertically scarred with deeply set markings. This giantess image of Wendy looming over the mountain, makes its terrain look very much like Roy's sculptural attempt at recreating Devil's Tower and its environment, right down to the miniature trees.

Close Encounters - The splitting off of the top of the mountain

Close Encounters - The tower

Another interesting thing is what follows Neary's dislodging the top of the mountain and Wendy's opening of the can of cocktail superimposed over the mountain top. Both mountains then become off limits territory. The Overlook, yes, already feels isolated and off-limits, the staff removed since Halloween, Danny warned to stay away from Room 237, but the hotel was not yet cut off entirely from the rest of the world. It is as Wendy continues preparing the meal, pouring out the can of fruit cocktail, that she hears on the television how the search for Susan Robertson, a woman missing in the area ten days, is going to be called off due a monster snow storm rolling in. The sense of things off-limits is immediately repeated with Danny portrayed for the first time as feeling compelled to approach Room 237. The family has been in the Overlook for at least a month, and perhaps Danny has felt this attraction before, but it is only now that Kubrick depicts it, and we are given to understand that this is the first time Danny has ever attempted to open the door. Again, the idea of off-limits territory is followed up with Wendy visiting Jack in the Colorado Lounge and his resulting tirade that she is never to enter the room again when he is in there, Jack cutting himself off effectively from his family.

Isolation and off-limits becomes the rule in Close Encounters when Neary dislodges the top of his mountain sculpture. He had been dangerously close to alienating his family. That morning, he was prepared to destroy all evidence of his compulsion, and was in the process of doing so when he had the a-ha moment. His wife, waking after a tumultuous night, was also prepared to reconcile and apologize, but then she finds Roy pitching shrubbery in through the kitchen window. Convinced he's gone crazy, she packs up the kids and leaves. Roy Neary returns to his mountain and continues his work. In the next scene he is ineffectively attempting to placate his wife on the phone when the television intrudes with, first, the idea of a message via a soap opera. One of the characters is knocking on a door saying he has a message for Julie Anderson, then when she answers the door he tells her that they must talk. Foreboding music plays. This idea of the message is followed by the Budweiser horses then the special newscast, its footage of the real Devil's Tower, and the announcement that an evacuation order is being enforced for miles around Devil's Tower. Jillian, in a desert hotel room, sees the same broadcast, and intuits that she must get to Devil's Tower if she is ever to see her missing son again. She and Roy are magnetically drawn to the tower which, in essence, they've already visited interiorly in intimate detail and are knowledgeable of its terrain. Bravely, as in a fairy tale, they outwit, one by one, the forces which would keep them away from a healing conclusion. In The Shining, Jack also feels as if he was formerly at the Overlook, as if he knew what was around every corner, but his uniting with that compulsion is his doom.

Also notable, is one of Jillian's depictions of Devil's Tower. The camera zooms in on the drawing to the left, the one of the tower looming over the trees, that is most like Roy's sculpture, but the drawing that Jillian rushes to, in response to seeing the real Devil's Tower on the television, is a center one in which we see what appears to be a sun ascending behind the tower, and a large representation of her son's face before it. This isn't the sun, instead it is the ascending glory of the UFO she will later encounter at the tower, or should we say the lights of an alien intelligence.

Close Encounters - Jillian's drawing

Close Encounters - The UFO rises over the tower

One could hazard that this symbolism is also pictured in The Shining. For instance, the prepared stage where the confrontation with an alien intelligence occurs in Close Encounters looks much like a kind of landing strip, a road, and in "The Shining" we have, on Closing Day, the road on which the yellow VW travels superimposed so that it appears to directly run into the lodge and the mountain beyond, which is revealed as haloed.

The lodge as the mountain on closing day

The cloud swathing the mountaintop on closing day

In the Tuesday scene where Wendy has the confrontation with Jack in the Colorado Lounge, he telling her she is not to enter again, we have Jack seated before bright lamps, the light casting two shadows that mimic the lines of a mountain or road, suggesting a triangular or a trapezoid shape with the light as the apex. The chairs in the scene have a sunburst design on them as well.

Jack at his typewriter

The design on Jack's chair

Curiously, when the snow rolls in, though one might imagine the Overlook's interior becoming gloomy, heavy cloud and snowdrifts depriving it of sun, instead all its windows beam so brilliantly with light during the day that we never, inside the lodge, are ever able to see what is outside beyond a first border of hedges or benches.

I'm not going to try to sell that Kubrick was referring to the light of the alien intelligence visiting the mountain top in Close Encounters, no, the symbolism is more general here, and the human psyche, through stories and legends alone, is pretty indelibly scored with the idea of mountain top ascensions accompanying the possible deliverance of messages from higher intelligences that either reside above the clouds or condescend to make contact where are found pinnacles of spiritual experience.

This motif appears throughout The Shining. Another example is just prior Dick's "shining" of Room 237. The rays of light from the twin lamps beside his bed create a shadow trapezoid or triangle leading up to the haloing afro of the woman in the painting above his bed, two lines eventually converging on a vanishing point.

The picture above Dick's bed

Now, where am I going with this? I should rein it back in and direct my thoughts toward proposing a "maybe" "why" for Kubrick's (possibly) referencing Devil's Tower, which may or may not answer the reason for those images from Kubrick's 2001 below, which you're no doubt already noticed and are wondering, "What's that about?"

First, not thinking in terms of Spielberg's aliens here, but instead a higher order of intelligence, whatever it might be, what do we have in Close Encounters but the appearance of psychic and physical arrows pointing toward where that meeting will transpire. Which, yes, is "aliens" in Close Encounters, but it's also Jimminy Cricket serenading Pinocchio's desire to be a real boy with the song that wishing upon a star will make your dream come true. In 2001 we have a variation of this with superior intelligence manifesting a monolith that provokes evolution, and invites humans out to Jupiter for an encounter. The "alien" or superior intelligence that does the inviting is never forthrightly revealed, but there is a scene in "Jupiter and Beyond the Infinite" where Kubrick perhaps provides a glimpse of a sort. It's after the space pod as cosmic sperm diving into the great unknown. The cosmic gases and plasmas and stars reform to briefly form the following image.

And if you look at that and think, "Wow, am I seeing the stars and gases reform into cosmic eyes looking back at ya?" but are unsure, because it's all a matter of pareidolia, then consider the responding image to that one above.

Dave Bowman's own eye looking right back at it.

Kubrick immediately follows this up with what could be the letter "i" against a backdrop similar to the same color palette as we'd observed with the cosmic eye.

Again, a mirrored eye follows in response. It is the same image as above only colored differently.

Or maybe you don't see the cosmic eyes because your monitor's contrast is such that it doesn't come across, or it's a figment of my imagination after all. Let's assume, for the moment, the eyes are there. What has this to do with The Shining? Kubrick repeats themes in all his films, from one to the other, composing his films so they even form a kind of dialogue with each other via echos, and I look at Kubrick's possible referencing of Close Encounters as being perhaps a way to second-hand reference 2001. And maybe it was just plain fun to do.

No matter what may be the explanation for what transpires at the Overlook, an exceptional knowing is involved, a seeing that is beyond everyday experience.


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