THE REAL HORROR OF THE SHINING - THE MISOGYNY OF THE AUDIENCE FOR WENDY TORRANCE

Go to Table of Contents of the analysis (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).


PRELIMINARIES

It has been only been about 40 years since our country finally began to take notice of what is happening behind closed doors. In 1978, the United States formed the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence along with the first battered women's program opening in North Carolina. By the early 1980s, statistics proved that isolated cases of abuse were part of a shocking national problem. As a result, victims became more visible, as well as the inadequacy of society's response. The battered women's movement emerged, becoming one of the most powerful social justice and service movements in United States history.

Sinbysilence.com

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We talked for one month before we wrote anything at all. Stanley uses the Socratic method. 'Is the husband a nice man?' 'Does his wife love him?' 'What kind of clothes would she wear?'

Diane Johnson, writer of The Shining screenplay, with Kubrick

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Shelley Duvall transforms the warm sympathetic wife of the book into a simpering, semi-retarded hysteric.

Variety -- December 31 1979 review

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Shelley Duvall is just so whiny and dense as increasingly unstable Jack Torrance's wife that it makes it nearly impossible not to root for him to turn her into a lampshade for the hotel lobby. Her high-pitched speaking voice and shrieks just add fuel to our rage.

Jason Serafino 2012

KUBRICK'S WENDY VERSUS THE WENDY OF SO MANY'S DESIRE : EXPLORING THE HIDDEN MISOGYNY OF THE AUDIENCE

So many years since 1980, but I don't believe I'm relying on faulty memory when I say that the portrayal of Wendy, by Shelley Duvall, under the direction of Kubrick, was not happily received by many. She was perceived as irritating. Ineffectual. Even ripe for abuse. She was not what people were expecting, whether they had read King's The Shining or not. And though Shelley has gained an appreciative audience, there are many who still perceive her Wendy with the same disdain.

Even I, who had already seen and loved Shelley in Altman's Brewster McCloud, McCabe and Mrs. Miller, Nashville and 3 Women (as well as Allen's Annie Hall), was, at moments, somewhat taken aback by Wendy as I watched her from my theater seat in 1980, but the reason I was really hadn't to do with Shelley but the plot, that this woman would have submitted her son, and herself, to the clearly dangerous proposition of living in complete isolation with Jack. Of course I knew the plot was based on the Stephen King book, though I didn't know how closely Kubrick might have followed it--I hadn't read the novel yet and wouldn't do so for another few years. However, being very attuned to abuse, I was furious with Wendy for her decision to follow Jack to the Overlook. My immediate emotional and personal response was fear and fury for the child, followed by concern for Wendy. My childhood not having been without difficulties, when she reassured Danny that everything would be just fine at the Overlook, my mind and nervous system wholly rebelled with rage. "Protect your child!" It was impossible for me to laugh in amusement at the contrary foreshadowing of doom. Then sometime during the watching of the film, I was won over by Shelley's portrayal of the abused, her uncertain reality, her fear and acute awareness that she should take great care with how she moves lest she bring on an immediate physical attack before she is in a position where she won't be overcome, flight and fight held in tenuous balance. Shelley was impeccable in the scene in which she tells Jack she wants to take Danny down the mountain and he explodes at her. She was amazing in the Colorado lounge scene, glancing left and right, always moving backward because she knows she dares not turn and attempt to run for if she does she will be brought down by Jack in a heartbeat, watching for when she is in the exact right place to strike Jack with the bat. Never mind the problem of the woman in the bathtub or the ghosts in the ballroom, here was the horror, and it was spot on.

In 1980, I interpreted the true horror as being in the abuse. Having over some years done a deep study and cross-analysis of all Kubrick's films, aware of Kubrick's intentional blurring of the boundaries between the stage and the audience and its accomplishment by various means (bluntly approached in A Clockwork Orange, but already evident in Fear and Desire with its tie to The Tempest, in The Killing with its tie to Pagliacci, in Killer's Kiss with its tie to Himberama, all examples of the play within the play and the breaking of the fourth wall) I now look to the role of the audience in The Shining, and it's not unlike the final scene of the soldier audience in the cafe in Paths of Glory. We have been primed to be wholly sympathetic with the men as we have been educated on their manipulation by the elite. We are with them. One of them. Now, however, in the cafe, when they are promised an exhibit of the newest acquisition of "the enemy", and onto the stage is pushed-pulled a woman (who is "the enemy"), the various faces of their raucous reception is meditated upon with some disdain and resignation by Kirk Douglas, his reaction signalling us that this is not quite right, that we should take Douglas' cue and separate ourselves from their laughter as the cafe owner points out to the soldiers that the frightened woman has "absolutely no talent at all except for maybe a little natural talent", he echoing her figure's curves with his hand. She can't dance, she can't tell jokes, she can't balance rubber balls on her nose. But when she begins to sing, tears streaming down her face, "The Faithful Hussar", the men are silenced and cry along.

Shelley Duvall's Wendy, for many in the audience, is "the enemy" without their being at all cognizant of the fact. To understand the how and why is to examine one of the trickier aspects of the film in its exposure of the hatred of too many for her--the female, a victim, a survivor, and the enemy. Unlike Paths of Glory we don't have a Kirk Douglas letting the audience know when their response betrays hostile sexism and contempt for her vulnerability, not as even a feminine trait but vulnerability in general, even their own. Whereas the soldiers respond to the German woman's tearful song of love and loss, the audience of The Shining is not scripted. How will they respond to Wendy when left to their own devices?

Shelley Duvall's role in The Shining has been stated by Stephen King, to be "misogynistic".

Shelley Duvall as Wendy is really one of the most misogynistic characters ever put on film, she's basically just there to scream and be stupid and that's not the woman that I wrote about...

Stephen King describes Shelley as Wendy as a "screaming dish rag".

And it's so misogynistic. I mean, Wendy Torrance is just presented as this sort of screaming dishrag.

King wanted a glamorous blond--we know this as for his mini-series he opted for Rebecca De Mornay. He wanted Wendy to be sexually alluring and powerful. And one has to wonder how the audience would have responded to such a presence as Wendy in Kubrick's film. Interpreting beauty and sexiness as power through being worthy of desire, what would have been their response to the woman who desired and was desirable, who part of the audience wants in their arms and the other part would want to emulate as a fantasy ideal.

Kubrick had to say of his Wendy:

I had seen all of [Shelley Duvall's] films and greatly admired her work. I think she brought an instantly believable characterization to her part. The novel pictures her as a much more self-reliant and attractive woman, but these qualities make you wonder why she has put up with Jack for so long. Shelley seemed to be exactly the kind of woman that would marry Jack and be stuck with him. The wonderful thing about Shelley is her eccentric quality...

His remarks seem to me somewhat facile and contrary to his film, but I expect that of Kubrick in his interviews. If one examines Kubrick's telling of King's tale, it isn't exactly that his conception of Wendy was more realistic, for classically beautiful women such as Rebecca are abused. Again, look to Paths of Glory and Fear and Desire for the misogynistic treatment of the woman, the enemy, who in those two films were classically attractive and had obvious "natural talents" that didn't save them. In wartime, women are seized and raped by conquering forces, the heroes. Old women and young. Women no matter their appearance. Even women who welcome "friendly" forces as their rescuers. Kubrick explicitly states such violence in Barry Lyndon, and Barry's horror of it. No, something else is going on with Kubrick's Wendy, who was undeniably a heroic character, and it hasn't to do with any idea of her being more "realistic", not a Rebecca De Mornay.

So what is going on when I say that it wasn't a matter of Kubrick's Wendy being more realistic in appearance than the blond beauty, in as much as she didn't possess the classical and stereotypical beauty of a Rebecca De Mornay? Not that Shelley Duvall isn't also a beautiful woman. Vivian Kubrick's The Making of the Shining clearly showed us that she is and I believe this display of her rather ethereal beauty was intentionally done to highlight the contrast between Shelley and Shelley's Wendy.

Instead of giving the audience the stereotypically-beautiful heroine that the public, and King, wanted, the woman whose power and value are dictated by not only her beauty but her desire to be desired, parlaying her beauty and sexiness in a bid for value and thus power, which is its own brand of submissiveness and a false power that affords no protection against sexism and misogyny and violence, Kubrick gave us, in Wendy, a woman who didn't give a rat's ass if her audience wanted to fuck her. That is what was damn near unforgivable. What Kubrick was doing was giving the audience what would bring out their own hidden misogyny.

BUILDING KUBRICK'S WENDY

The audience's first experience of Wendy is what shapes their experience of her for the remainder of the film.

The Shining -Wendy on the phone with Jack

Wendy in red, full body, union suit underwear and a floppy pinafore is not a starlet who is trying to seduce the audience and the camera into conferring upon her a false sense of value via that desire. Wendy in red, full body, union suit underwear and a floppy pinafore is not a woman who is measuring her worth on whether you find her desirable or not. And I don't think it's that Wendy was so beaten down that she didn't care how she looked, for she obviously does care. She typically dresses well, just not for overt sex appeal. This version of Wendy doesn't want the audience to want her. She's at home taking care of her young son. What she wears in the Boulder apartment scene was also a look I was very familiar with from back in the 1970s in certain circles of women who were going to do something different than give in to society's demands they make themselves traditionally appealing. When it was cold they wore the one piece underwear, they wore the pinafores, they wore the exact same flat booties that Wendy has on (unseen in the above shot). They didn't "do" their hair other than to wash and let dry. For those who think this makes a woman untouchable, believe it or not, they had sexual partners. See all those books sitting around Jack and Wendy's apartment? These were women who quite often put their energies into their intellect. They drew from a certain pool of partners due it. But that intellect didn't mean they couldn't end up with abusive partners.

If audiences have a problem with Shelley's sometimes otherworldly appearance and unsexy attire, on the day when they arrive at the Overlook she is every bit a 1980s version of an attractive, well-dressed and even stylish woman. Sociable and appropriate in every way. She even wears make-up. She dresses well throughout the film, just for the cold, because it's cold. Her makeup and hair style are not for a disco night out on the town because she's not out on the town, she's taking care of the hotel and her family.

Return for a moment to what Diane Johnson said of her time working with Kubrick on the characters, a full, month, before even tackling the script. "We talked for one month before we wrote anything at all. Stanley uses the Socratic method. 'Is the husband a nice man?' 'Does his wife love him?' 'What kind of clothes would she wear?'" We need to take this seriously. Wendy and Jack don't suddenly materialize out of thin air in Boulder. The film gives us no prior history but for the alcoholism, Danny's injury and the fact that Jack's a writer and teaching school was way of making ends meet. Wendy's clothing signals something about her, and her reading material, as I've already suggested, and the fact that she so readily takes on the duties of the caretaker of the Overlook. Jack's a writer. What has drawn them together? What is it that Kubrick envisions as having drawn them together and making them stick? Perhaps that Wendy appreciated Jack's desire to become an author and Jack responded to that? We have no intellectual conversations between them but these two have been through some rocky times, he's already distanced her, and they now have a son and that can considerably change the focus and demands of a marriage for a time, such as in what becomes the important focus of conversation when a child is young. They probably originally shared intellectual interests. They probably met in school. They probably were counter culture. They probably considered each other to be socially aware and awake to the injustices in the world. They had hopes and dreams but then Danny was born and that changed things. Physically? We know from Jack's vision of the woman in the bathtub that if he does become a successful author he might eventually dump Wendy and go for the overtly sexy blond. That raises the question, with Wendy's competency in taking care of the Overlook on her own, if she was initially supported Jack in his endeavors by working before Danny was born, or before he left school. But let's go ahead and take for granted that Jack did love her at one time, if in his own faulty way. Let's assume, for instance, that they also didn't decide to get married because Wendy had become pregnant, though the pregnancy might not have been planned. Let's assume Jack's alcoholism and his character flaws and the responsibilities of parenthood have made him resentful and that, based on things he later says in the film, he's made Wendy a vessel for these failings and embittered dreams. She and Danny are now holding him back. Perhaps he would prefer to not hate her, but he hates her for she represents all his failures now. Let's assume that Wendy didn't have a good picture of Jack's flaws when they married, and that though she does still love him she also has her own wall that stands between them due the alcoholism, due Danny's being injured, due at least emotional abuse she's suffered. She is also now a mother and that has changed things, so we have Jack accusing her of caring about Danny but not about him. He resents that maternal affection, feels alienated, and doesn't appreciate how he's alienated her and that she and Danny are their own familial unit now formed in response to his alcoholism and his irregular temperament. Wendy and Danny are the enemy, stealing his time and concentration. Wendy and Danny are the enemy, holding him back but also reminding him of his failings in regard them, his mistreatment of them, which he must rationalize.

Kubrick shows us no deep history, instead giving evidence of it in the present as consequence is to cause, so we have to pay especial attention to Wendy's attire, to their principle investment being in books and Danny's toys rather than their hodgepodge furnishings, to Jack's alcoholism, to Jack's bitterness and resentment, and, very importantly, his accusations of Wendy's foremost concern being for Danny.

Kubrick's Wendy didn't magically transform from a woman living in a twilight of doubt and deceit--harangued and abused, trying to hold things together, trying to protect her son as best she knows how, challenging Jack, gaslighted by Jack so that she has no idea of her reality--into a superwoman wielder of audience-appeasing vengeance. She didn't go out and learn martial arts and return in Kill Bill. But review the footage. Even despite the fact she does thwack Jack over the head and lock him in the freezer (and what a tour de force that performance is, for Shelley is a woman who, even as she defends herself and her son, does not want to permanently injure or kill her husband) audiences for some reason could still refuse, and often enough still refuse, to respond to the heroine in her, though she is the one who has been taking care of Danny, has been taking care of the Overlook, who has actually not been badgering Jack with whiny relentlessness (how often she is described as whiny). The minute she believes Jack has abused Danny at the hotel she turns protectively fierce in her defense of Danny. But then she has to sort out if Danny was injured by Jack or the "crazy woman" who Danny tells her about. She does not see everything the audience has seen and is only working with what she knows.

Wendy is herself, actually, a victim of the audience's misogyny. She so grates them with her disregard for what they want her to be that in retaliation they perceive her as a weak victim deserving of abuse. As stated in the "preliminaries" section, it was only "In 1978, the United States formed the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence along with the first battered women's program opening in North Carolina." Women were often blamed for their abuse, as with children. They had brought it on themselves. They were too demanding. They were whiney. They were shrill. They wanted money their partners couldn't provide. They demanded a quality of attention their partners couldn't provide after a hard day's work. They didn't shoulder their own responsibilities. They might not have made dinner or cleaned house. They were irritating. They were even wimpy "dishrags" and thus demanded abuse through a fundamental flaw in their personalities, practically begging for it. None of these things are reasons for any form of abuse. What we have is a litany of victim blaming. Curiously, Wendy is described by irritated audience members as possessing many of the qualities, and being thus worthy of abuse. Later, I will show how she doesn't even possess these characteristics frequently attributed to her.

ALTMAN'S MILLIE LAMMOREAUX AND KUBRICK'S WENDY

Why would Kubrick choose Shelley Duvall for the role of Wendy? My belief is his choice perhaps had to do with Shelley's sterling performance as Millie Lammoreaux in Altman's (1977) 3 Women.

As Millie, Shelley is initially off-putting as a woman who has little ability to view herself objectively and pursues normalcy as a script from the glossy pages of a magazine, the type in which glamorous cooking is aerosol cheese on crackers. She's a product of 1960s/1970s "this is your good life" attainments and strategies fed young women entering the working world, who had been largely primed for life with "home economics". She is to live responsibly, orderly (Better Homes and Garden) while also proving her worth as a successful femme fatale (Cosmopolitan) and potential wife to the man who would always earn more professionally and get her out of her minimum wage (or not much above) hell hole. Millie takes the script quite seriously, as many did, but lacks the ability to see the ironies and the in-jokes, to view this media-imposed role with any degree of cynical insight.

Into her life comes Pinky Rose (Sissy Spacek) who is a rather tragic and mysterious vacuum in search of a personality. She attaches herself to Millie, idolizing her. Pinky, too, doesn't get the social ironies, the in-jokes, she has no cynical insight. So Millie, in all her seeming, orderly perfection, which is resplendent to Pinky, is an attractive role model and savior. Pinky does come to recognize Millie's life is not all she portrays it to be, that she is not the social butterfly, that she is even mocked and scorned, but as a devotee Pinky is ready to overlook this. Millie is, after all, the woman who befriended her and she needs the security that Millie provides. She needs a template for life.

The naive and childish Pinky isn't the easiest person with whom to live, and she becomes, for Millie, someone to eventually blame for failures Millie is unable to accept. After an argument that at most should only lead to each looking for a new roommate, Pinky attempts suicide by drowning. During the time that Pinky is then in a coma, Millie begins to grow up, dropping the artifice and the playacting, the real self that she is underneath emerging, taking on force and flesh. She becomes less self-obsessed. The change is propelled by her sense of responsibility for Pinky, her real grief over what has happened to Pinky, stirred a little by guilt but also by the fact she does care, which means coming into the realization of how uncaring her many acquaintances are and that she has been trying to make friends of people who aren't.

Millie's horrible payback for her concern is that when Pinky comes out of the coma she becomes Millie, literally believing herself to be Millie, but the version of Millie that Millie would have previously liked to have been. Pursued by men. More socially adept. Relaxed. She is also heartless and entirely self-focused, which Millie is not.

Pinky's taking over of Millie's life and apartment is traumatic for Millie as it threatens to annihilate her, and the tones of that trauma are much the same as we see in The Shining in Wendy's uncertainty with Jack and her initial attempts to deal with a situation by passively shaping herself around it, trying to avoid conflict and wrath. Millie doesn't abandon Pinky and throw her out because she knows she's ill and circumstances have also thrust her into a caretaking role, just as Wendy in Kubrick's film is the one we observe caretaking the lodge, assuming that responsibility, and struggling also to get along with mercurial and unreliable Jack, caretaking him. Just as Millie Is dealing with a dual personality in Pinky, so does Wendy have to deal with that duality in Jack. Coping with Pinky's abusiveness and inconsistencies, Millie becomes jumpy and uncertain, never knowing what's going to happen next. Millie's ability to exhibit rational, self-righteous anger is undermined by her being the guardian of an unstable person who has already once attempted suicide. Traumatized by her experience with Pinky, she has no way to deal with that trauma as the ill one, Pinky, comes first. In a climactic scene that demands full self-possession, Millie again is left to cope alone with as near a terrible situation as one could imagine, after which Shelley finally unleashes some of that rage.

As in The Shining, a maze is an important symbolic landscape for the intricacies of the plot in 3 Women, part of a painting that is being done in an empty swimming pool, throughout the film, by a female artist (the 3rd woman) who happens to have an alcoholic and abusive husband.


Altman's 3 Women maze.

The Shining - Danny and Wendy at the heart of the maze
Wendy and Danny at the heart of the world maze.

Though Millie and Wendy are two very different women, Millie's entrapment in the surreal world forged by Pinky's illness, parallels Wendy's experience at the Overlook. Shelley, as Millie, certainly showed she had the range for playing Wendy.

HOW THE MISOGYNY OF THE AUDIENCE AFFECTS THEIR VIEW OF KUBRICK'S WENDY'S BEHAVIOR : DOES SHE REALLY SPEND THE MAJORITY OF THE FILM CRYING AND SCREAMING?

Society's role for Wendy, in the 1970s, was to remain with her husband and believe and hope that he had quit drinking and that his injury of Danny was an unfortunate accident caused by his drinking. When Jack decides to carry his family up to the Overlook, her role was to be supportive. She doesn't have the foresight of the audience. She doesn't know this is a horror film.

Kubrick and Shelley give us a woman having to deal with a complex range of emotions. She is far from pathetic, a woman of strength and independence, but as her situation is uncertain, throughout most of the film she is denied the secure confidence of irrefragable conclusions and response.

The audience decries her for staying with her abusive husband when she is dealing with the situation as would many women of that era, and even today. She is judged for staying with Jack when at the time she would have been judged also for leaving and not giving him another chance. She is judged for not standing up to him, though she does. She is said to be stupid. That she whines a lot. She is judged for her tears. Stephen King said she was just a screaming dish rag. The audience, when its attitude toward Wendy is as above, is absolutely misogynistic. And yet such critics say the film is.

Does Wendy whine and scream a lot? How does her character actually behave.

Watch the film again.

Her first, scene, the day of the interview, she is reading an intellectual not a trash novel and simply taking care of Danny, having fed him. When he expresses doubts about going to the Overlook, she gives him reassurance that things will be fine. Her next scene is when Jack calls and she is enthusiastic about his having gotten the job. Then Danny has his seizure and we have the scene with the doctor. Shelley is dealing with what she knows--and what she knows is Jack is alcoholic and that Danny was injured by him when he was drinking. She is nervous when telling the doctor about this because she knows this sounds bad. She is also the woman who is having to act and hope as through everything she's been told for some months is true--that Jack is sober, that Jack wouldn't hurt Danny again, that she should accept what she is told at face value, such as that Jack's hurting Danny was purely accidental and as long as he's not drinking then it will not happen again. So though the past is troubling, the fact Jack has been sober that long would give her cautious reason for hope. They have a child and she is trying to hold the family together, to be its stable center.She's an anxious mother concerned both for her son and their survival as a family. No whining. No crying. No screaming.

The next scenes with Wendy are all on the day they go move up to the Overlook. What does Wendy do? Jack is largely silent while Wendy pulls out the social face, expressing appreciation for the hotel, and is the one exhibiting intellectual curiosity, asking questions about the decorations and when the hotel was built. She strides ahead of Jack in most scenes, comfortably dialoguing with Ullman, and later Dick Hallorann. No whining. No crying. No screaming.

A month later. She takes breakfast to Jack. No whining, no screaming. No badgering. She lightheartedly plays in the maze with Danny. No whining, no crying, no screaming.

Next we have the Tuesday section. After watching the news while preparing dinner, she goes to tell Jack a big storm is coming. No whining, no screaming, no badgering. Who starts yelling? He does. He starts screaming at her. She doesn't whine. She is instead stunned. Life apparently has been fine thus far at the Overlook because her reaction indicates his rage is out of the blue. But she's also familiar with this kind of rage, too. She's lived with this before. And she doesn't know what is acceptable in regard Jack's behavior to her. She is a woman who no longer knows this is absolutely unacceptable. And, as I said, she is also stunned because life has been decent there thus far.

The audience could say, "She had the warning shot across the bow right there. She should have packed up and gone. What a dishrag for not doing so." She could have but then we wouldn't have a film.

The next scene with her is Thursday. She's outside in the snowstorm lightheartedly playing with Danny. No whining, no crying, no screaming.

Saturday. Wendy is the responsible one who is doing all the work at the hotel. Finding the phone lines are out due the snowstorm she calls the forestry service. She has a pleasant conversation with a ranger. She is obviously wishing for some conversation. I'm thinking that when she escapes from the Overlook she ought to get together with the forest ranger. They could have a love connection. There's no whining, no crying, no screaming.

Monday. Wendy watches television with Danny. No whining, no crying, no screaming.

Wednesday. Taking care of the hotel's boilers, Wendy hears Jack yelling and runs to help him. (Does he ever help her with a damn thing? No.) Finding him coming out of a nightmare, she tries to solace him. He tells her a terrible dream he's had of killing her and Danny. Danny then appears with the strangulation marks on his neck, suddenly reverting also to an infantile state. Wendy gets appropriately furious at Jack, believing he had done this, calls him a son-of-a-bitch and runs off with Danny to take care of him. No whining, no screaming. She does yell at Jack. That is not hysterical screaming. Then, after this, for the first time we see her crying when she runs to tell Jack that Danny has told her there's a crazy woman in the hotel with them and that it was this crazy bathtub woman who strangled him.

We are an hour and 9 minutes into the film. These are her first tears.

She is more breathless than anything else. She is of course partly reassured that Jack hasn't hurt Danny, but terrified by the prospect of this intruder. She can only take at face value the intruder exists. Jack tells her she's crazy. Thanks Jack.

Next we see her she is anxiously in their apartment waiting for Jack to return after looking for the crazy woman. She doesn't know what in the world to think when Jack insists that there is no such woman. Jack tells her Danny strangled himself, and now she starts getting upset. She's dealing not only with a child who has been assaulted and is catatonic, Jack is trying to convince her that Danny strangled himself. Sensibly, she insists they take Danny down the mountain. She cries but is primarily stunned when Jack blows up at her, refusing to get help for Danny, accusing her of ruining his life. He storms out. We are 1 hour and 20 minutes into the film. She sits crying on the bed, wondering what in the hell to do now. Because she's crying and sniffling I suppose some will say she's sniveling.

We next see her when Danny speaks to her in the voice of Tony and tells her Danny has gone away. She cries. Who can blame her?

Thursday morning. An hour and 40 minutes into the movie. Wendy is not crying, sitting with Danny for whom she's made breakfast. She goes then to find Jack, sensibly taking along a baseball bat. She's appropriately horrified when she discovers Jack has been crazily typing only "all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy". Jack is not only still in crazy mode, he's become even more obviously unhinged and hostile. She holds that bat tight as she tells Jack she wants to get Danny down to a doctor, he arguing against it, arguing she doesn't care about his responsibilities. She's aware he could possibly kill her right now and is simply trying to get away. She's crying, yes. She's begging her husband to not be insane, basically. Begging him to let her go. To not hurt her. She ably defends herself by not trying to run or hit him with the bat until she's got a good shot at disabling him. She uses the bat at first to just keep him away from her, ably not letting him grab it. When he does make a move to seize it finally, at the top of the stairs, she whacks him on the head and he tumbles down the steps, out of commission. Guess what Stephen King's heroine doesn't manage to do? Jack, in the novel, thwacks Wendy all over with a mallet before she finally manages to stab him (which doesn't stop him). Kubrick's heroine may be crying but she's in one piece, not broken to bits and unable to walk. When she drags Jack into the storage room, safety now assured (she doesn't know he's going to escape), her love and concern for him are still obvious. She has not only to be terrified of him, but terrified for him. First and foremost she is going to get help for Danny, but she is also going to get help for Jack at that point. Jack begs her to let him out but she knows better than to do that. She cries some over this horrible situation as she tells Jack she's going down the mountain with Danny. Then she learns that he sabotaged the Snowcat. She stops crying. She grabs a knife, because she's smart. She runs out to the Snowcat and finds Jack was true to his word and she and Danny are stuck.

Thursday early evening. Wendy's resting, confident that Jack is locked up with plenty of food. Not so. He arrives with an axe. She cries out once as he chops the apartment's door, then locks herself in the bathroom with Danny. No tears, she's trying to take care of Danny. She gets Danny out that window.

Only when Danny's out the window does she start screaming as Jack continues axing now through the bathroom door.

We are two hours and three minutes into the film. This is the first scene in which she is screaming. Then when Jack reaches in to unlock the door she slashes his hand with the knife. They hear Hallorann arriving. She is quiet. Jack is quiet. Jack leaves.

So, Wendy doesn't start screaming until we're two hours and three minutes into the movie. At two hours and four minutes Hallorann arrives. That's about one minute of screaming.

Wendy goes to find Danny. She doesn't scream when she sees the apparition of the man in the costume. She doesn't scream when she sees Hallorann dead. She does scream when the man with the bloodied head then appears behind her.

She screams once when she comes again upon the lobby and it is filled with skeletons. That is her last scream. She doesn't scream upon seeing the blood flowing from the elevators.

At the end of the film, Wendy gets Danny in the Snowcat and drives away. People say that in Kubrick's film Wendy has no agency in rescuing herself and Danny, whereas in the book she does. No, in the book, Wendy is beaten to bits with the mallet, stabs Jack, he keeps going, not dead yet, but remembers the boilers and goes down to try to deal with them. Hallorann picks Wendy up and carries her outside the hotel as she's unable to walk, Danny accompanying, and the hotel blows Jack up. In Kubrick's film, Wendy keeps herself from being injured, whacks Jack, locks him up, when Jack gets free and pursues them with the axe she saves Danny by getting him out the bathroom window, etcetera etcetera happens, the maze happens, and then Wendy rides away with Danny in Hallorann's Snowcat.

My point being that Wendy does not spend the majority of the film screaming. She only screams when Jack is axing the bathroom door and a couple of times after that.

WRAPPING IT UP

Stephen King did start out with a strong story of alcoholism, anger and abuse in The Shining, but then absolved Jack of agency and culpability with a paranormal evil being responsible for all his actions at the hotel. And Wendy, at the hotel, came also to see herself as not battling Jack for her life, but the hotel. No confusion. No uncertainty. If King's evil hotel was intended to serve as an allegory for alcoholism, suggesting that Jack's alcoholically fueled rage was a disease distinct from himself (Kubrick has in their Boulder apartment Sontag's Illness as Metaphor which examined the falsehood of identifying the victims of such diseases as cancer and tuberculosis with the disease), it both succeeded and failed. Separating Jack the man from his abusive actions, approaching those actions as a disease over which he had no control, if the book is an allegory for this then King succeeds, at least from his point of view, in separating a pure Jack from a disease-possessed Jack, which absolves him of responsibility for his actions. This separation of Jack from the disease is partly carried out by Jack not even drinking at the hotel, the alcoholism is instead a paranormal operation in which alcohol can be smelled though none is physically present and Jack behaving as one drunk even though he's not had a drink. Kubrick was always interested in the problem of choice and free will as versus mechanical doom, and King pretty much divorces Jack from free agency by virtue of his possession. Jack carried no blame for his actions. But with this we enter into a tricky philosophical area, and the book fails the victim of abuse as it deals the abuser a "get out of jail free" card even as abuse-as-disease destroys themselves and those abused. King, a practicing alcoholic at the time he wrote The Shining, didn't quit drinking until around 1989, and the Stephen King of an interview in 2014 is a different King from the one who wrote The Shining.

I believe in evil, but all my life I've gone back and forth about whether or not there's an outside evil, whether or not there's a force in the world that really wants to destroy us, from the inside out, individually and collectively. Or whether it all comes from inside and that it's all part of genetics and environment...The older I get, the less I think there's some sort of outside devilish influence; it comes from people. And unless we're able to address that issue, sooner or later, we'll fucking kill ourselves.

Source: 2014 Rolling Stone interview

The King of 1978 has Jack possessed by an external evil. Decades later, in King's sequel to The Shining there is still a paranormal evil but Danny, himself an alcoholic, has found AA and doesn't drink, and the assumption is that had his father been able to quit drinking his life would have been different. There are circumstances of environment and genetics that go into the making of an alcoholic and these aren't denied. Even AA holds that some few are constitutionally incapable of getting off alcohol. The issues surrounding alcoholism and an addictive personality are highly nuanced and even if the disease is separated from the person so they aren't culpable, there remains the solid known that if you don't drink then you won't get drunk.

I bring all this up as the abuser often blames the victim (just as the misogynist blames women for their misogyny), and, whether or not the Jack of The Shining was responsible for his actions, Wendy and Danny were both still the victims of the abuser's blame game and gaslighting (which is also addressed in AA through the alcoholic making amends when possible and not harmful, an action not done for one's ego).

Kubrick gives us a story that for the majority of it can be interpreted as wholly psychological but in the end we are likely to accept that supernatural elements are at work. However, this confidence isn't had until the end, and for all practical purposes doesn't ever enter with Wendy in her dealings with Jack. There is the question in the movie of fate vs. free will, but Kubrick keeps Wendy in the territory of judicially definable and lawfully "Guilty? Yes, you are" (unless disqualified due clinical insanity) domestic abuse so that she is fighting Jack, rather than the hotel, and Jack is responsible for murdering Hallorann and is responsible for his failed attempts to kill his wife and son. Kubrick's tweek of the material gives the impression that, even with and as regards an external evil, Dan and Hallorann were aware of it and not seduced, whereas Jack's bitterness and desire for absolute control over Wendy and Danny made him susceptible to its influence. In dialogue with Lloyd, he never questioned his own feelings as he vented them. In dialogue with Grady, he was convinced that Danny and Wendy were problems which had to be controlled. For there to be such a conviction, there must also have been uncertainty and doubt, another path taken, and that other path examined and denied. Jack, already speaking of "the white man's burden" before taking his first drink at the hotel, already emotionally abusing Wendy, chooses to succumb to his bitternesses and his anger, when he first says, "Here's to five miserable months on the wagon and all the irreparable harm it's caused me", then takes his imaginary drink. He accepts his misogyny when he says, there's "just a little problem with the old sperm bank upstairs". He fully acquiesces to and accepts his racism in his dialogue with Grady.

In a 2011 interview, Shelley Duvall had the following to say of her character:

...they were after a tall actress with "common housewife looks"...

Stanley really gets a bad reputation sometimes but he was a perfectionist. We had our moments when we laughed and joked around on set, but then there were times that we just exploded at each other! I'm a very stubborn person and don't like being bossed around and told what to do, Stanley pushed and pushed to get the performance out of me that he wanted. The script wasn't really specific enough for me to understand what my character was going through mentally, I played it out as a battered but loving housewife who supports her husband through all the shit in their marriage. Stanley wanted a tough, strong, independent woman, I disagreed with that decision, but the way all my scenes worked out you see all those emotions in my character. What I thought my character should be and what he thought my character should be rolled into one. It was a hell of a shoot but he got what he wanted out of me!

Source: Lee Gambin at comingsoon.net

Shelley perceives Kubrick's Wendy as having manifested both the qualities that she and Kubrick felt she should portray--the battered and supportive, loving wife, as well as the tough, strong, independent woman (all the qualities which I see and were a complex mix). If Kubrick wanted the tough, strong, independent woman, and audiences responded to that portrayal instead as misogynistic, viewing Wendy instead as whiney and unintelligent and begging for abuse, then was Kubrick the one who was so very wrong, or did he, as I've conjectured in the first couple sections, intentionally bring to the surface the audience's sexism and misogyny? When we review the footage, as I've done above, and see how little screaming time she has in the film, and that she communicates all the qualities Shelley and Kubrick discussed, what are we to make of perceptions of her being a vapid hysteric who only merits disdain? This is Jack's perception of Wendy. Crazy Jack, who the audience accepts as being abusive, and yet doesn't stand back and realize, when hostile toward Wendy, they are accepting and also venting the same hostility as had by Jack in all his misogyny.

Kirk Douglas, at the end of Paths of Glory, in his expression of pained revulsion for the community of soldiers abusing the "enemy" female, is the yardstick that lets the audience know that rather than embracing this overwhelming misogyny they are to recognize it as degrading, that the soldiers now humiliate and deprive her of her humanity just as they had been deprived of their own by the elite. Over the years, with The Shining, an appreciative audience for Shelley's depiction of Wendy has grown, but just as in 1980 there are still those who only see her as eminently abusable, not recognizing they are Jack's fellow community of soldiers abusing the "enemy" woman and placing the fault on her for that abuse, their perceptions of her warped by that hostility. If they would argue that Kubrick's and Shelley's Wendy is the one responsible for these feelings, my return argument is that they are not only viewers of the story, they "are" the story of the horrifying abuse that stalks Wendy through the Colorado lounge.


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