So, what was it with Kubrick and the way he used railroad imagery in at least some of his films?

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).

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.

This post should be read following my one on Rememberance and Repetition in The Shining as well as my notes on Kubrick's use of "Dies Irae" in my comments on the Opening section of The Shining.

After you've read the above, please, don't wander off in frustration or confusion if you don't know what to think about it all, return here and continue, because this is really fun stuff, and Kubrick's use of railroad imagery is here to help you out!

The Railroad and A Clockwork Orange

The manner in which A Clockwork Orange is constructed, we have Alex in a series of events which he accidentally revisits after his time in prison and the Ludovico treatment, thus experiencing them again if in a different way.

The section in which Alex is selected for the Ludovico treatment begins with Alex circling in the exercise yard with the other inmates, cuts away to the Minister of the Interior reviewing Alex's cell, and then returns to the prison yard where we have the continuing circulation of the prisoners interrupted by the Minister of the Interior and Alex has his confrontation with him.

A Clockwork Orange - The exercise yard

We see two publications in Alex's cell during the review. One is a book on British drivers, showing a sports car much like the Durango Alex drives to HOME toward the beginning of the film. The other is this. is the source for the above image.

The comic is Uncanny Tales issue 143, from 1963. The cover shows a photographer's developing tray, and the developing photo of a train running into a wagon on a track. A speech bubble reads, "Holy smoke! I've photographed something that happened a century ago!" This is accompanied by the text, "What amazing power did it have which allowed it to photograph the long dead past? Find out in 'The Strange Old Camera!'" To the side of the developing tray we see also a small bottle of developer--only developer--but it looks much like the vial from which the Serum-114 will be extracted.

The idea that something from the past has been photographed in the present is an example of ideas I've written about concerning ZKR, remembrance, being expressed in not only The Shining but other films of Kubrick's. As I hope to show in this post, we have here not just a phantom event but a form of anamnesis, and ZKR, which can be best represented with the idea of the eucharist and that it becomes the body and flesh rather than only being a metaphor. So it is with ZKR, anamnesis and memory, where we have a thing which is experienced again but is not only a memory, is not simply deja vu, it is a living event, and through the doubling is also subject to change. A Clockwork Orange is all about predestination as versus free will, subjects certainly concerned with anamnesis and whether the re-experiencing of an event must always mean a similar result or if there can be change as brought about by, say, free will. This anamnesis presented on the cover of the comic is a commentary on Alex's condition, and his later being doomed to re-visit the events of the first part of the film, instead experiencing them as the victim.

A Clockwork Orange - Alex's cell

The Railroad and The Shining

Moving on to The Shining, during the Interview section, we see Wendy eating lunch with Danny, during which we have the sound of a train entering via a cartoon Danny is watching when he is admitting it is hard to make new friends, but that he doesn't want to go to the Overlook. While Wendy is washing dishes after lunch, she receives a phone call from Jack in which she learns he has gotten the job at the Overlook. On the television in the background is a film called Carson City in which a man is hired to build a railroad between Carson City and Virginia City. Bandits, who have been attacking the stage coach, do their best to ensure the railroad doesn't go through. In the portion of the film that is playing when Wendy is talking with Jack, the man who is building the railroad, Silent Jeff, is having a conversation with one of the (unknown to him) saboteurs. The Kubrick Corner states that continuing from the point where we see the movie behind Wendy in the living room, running it in real time, to when the blood is shown gushing through the elevator shaft in Danny's vision, that gushing elevator blood matches up with a discussion in the Carson City film on a leak having been found in the tunnel that's then under construction. Silent Jeff reveals that there is not only one tunnel, but that a second tunnel has also been blasted and wants to check the second tunnel to see if it too is leaking. It's via this second tunnel that trapped workers are rescued when an avalanche covers the entrance to the first tunnel.

After Danny's black-out, as the doctor leaves his room with Wendy, as they go to the apartment's living room we view then the painting of the horse running down the track toward the train.

Though the audience won't know about Carson City, Kubrick has embedded bits of information so that The Shining anticipates and then complements the film on the television as it runs.

Coville image source

The article on Alex Colville, the painter, at Canadianarthistory.wikispaces relates,

The Horse and Train is one of Colville's best known works. Many who critique the painting believe that the painting expresses a source of human nervousness and ask the vital question of most: can destiny be altered? The viewer is a helpless witness of an impending disaster, and will never know the outcome because the painter has not painted it yet.

Again, the concerns of predestination and individual freedom. What do we have occurring while the railroad film is playing in the Torrance's living room? Danny is in the bathroom having his first shining, his first vision of the Overlook, its bloody elevator and the girls. There again enters the question of anamnesis by way of these shinings which instead seem to turn deadly real, no longer just a matter of past events but actually intruding on the daily lives of the Torrances and threatening reoccurence.

In A Clockwork Orange, Alex believes he knows what he's up to when he volunteers for the Ludovico treatment, but he instead seems on a predetermined collision path with destiny. Jack, in The Shining, later relates that when he had entered the Overlook he was already consumed by deja vu. The question is are these individuals being railroaded by the forces of fate.

Later in The Shining the train/horse appears again though not in full. In the Saturday section, before Danny comes upon the girls in the hall, Wendy is shown trying to call out but is unable to because of the snowstorm. On the wall beside her is a horse shoe.

When Danny subsequently sees the girls in the bloody hallway vision of them we see the heel of the shoe that has been perhaps left behind by the murderer. That shoe heel distinctly recalls the horse shoe not only in shape but with its nail holes.

Kubrick's early use of Alex Colville's horse and train painting is pure set up for a later use of a painting in which we neither see a horse nor a train and yet the railroad imagery is present through overlaying on the painting a reflection that creates a sense of deja vu of that earlier painting if in reverse. On the stairs, as Wendy ascends to the top floor Kubrick has the slats of the bannister reflect off the glass of another painting that is intended to revisit the horse running down the RR tracks toward the bright light of the oncoming train. Kubrick hardens the association with this second painting being also by Alex Colville but is instead of a pied cow in a field under a moonlit sky.

In the apartment, it was after Danny's resting on his bear pillow on his bed that we saw the horse painting. Here, Kubrick introduces this layered effect, which recalls that horse painting, just prior Wendy's seeing the peculiar beast which isn't a bear yet our thoughts return to the bear pillow as it is one of the few prior images in the film we have with which to attempt to try to make sense of the bizarre scene. The meaning of this is not something to pursue here, instead I'm simply showing how the horse and railroad observed after Danny's black-out and his interview with the doctor, is indeed being referenced here in the pied cow painting, recreated with the bannister.

Wendy is now the horse running toward the train.

The Railroad and Eyes Wide Shut

Where's the railroad in Eyes Wide Shut?


Our focus is intended to be on the article on Amanda Curran, but it will be interesting to look more closely at the articles surrounding the one on Amanda in Bill's "Lucky to Be Alive" newspaper.

One concerns an Anthony Norman who was a robber responsible for a hostage drama on the train.

...train ticket... Norman, two
the robbery fol- the Brentwood
...called police. on the 12 car
...rying 400 passengers the ninth car.
... (?) Jerry
...noticed that
...(?) a big
...meanwhile, called
...LIRR and ordered that
...(?)... Wyendanch. When
the train arrived, 12 cops
came on the platform with
their guns drawn.
They went through the
train ordering passengers off.
In the ninth (?) car, cops saw a
green jacket with red lining
that matched the description
of the robber's jacket.
...said it wasn't his.
...found a photo
...side the jacket and
...they started going, Norman said,
...was over.
...grabbed Maldo-
...around the neck with
...and put the other in
...pretending he had a
...threatened to kill his
...and himself.
...not going down," he
..."You're not going to alive. I'm not afraid
...You're going to have to out of here in a body
...Quinlivan, 30, said
...10 to 15 passengers in the
...for cover.
...the floor and so did
...body else," she said.
...when police hostage (?)
...Richard (?) ar-
...Norman agreed to re-
...Maldomado and let the
...leave if the other
...were withdrawn.
...the car cleared. Nor-
...and Sneider spoke for 10
...before Norman sur-
endered. He was charged ini-
...with first-degree rob- ...

The above story in the "Lucky to be Alive" paper is not a fictional event. This indeed happened on December 10, 1996. A man named Anthony Norman, 34, of Brentwood, L.I., took a passenger on the LIRR hostage and threatened to shoot others.

The below article is also in the "Lucky to be Alive" paper. What it's about is how the Norman event called up for people horrifying memories of another hostage situation, three years earlier, in which Colin Ferguson, of Brooklyn, killed 6 people and injured 19 on the LIRR train. The massacre had occurred December 8, 1993 and is what is being referenced in the article on mental violence.


Long Island Rep. elect
Carolyn McCarthy got
a shocking reminder
yesterday of her own
tragedy--the Long Island
Rail Road massa-
cre three years ago--
when she heard about
the latest terror train

McCarthy, who at-
tended a memorial
service Saturday for
her husband and the
other passengers killed
in the 1993 massacre,
said it reminded her
once again "just how
fragile we are and how
much violence is with

McCarthy cam-
paigned for Congress
on the issue of gun vio-

"I don't know what a congressman can do,"
she said. "We have to have no-tolerance for
violence...even this
mental violence."

Another example of a form of anamnesis, at least in Kubrick's terms, if you look back to how the railroad is handled in A Clockwork Orange and The Shining. First, off, much like A Clockwork Orange Bill's journey in Eyes Wide Shut is divided into two distinct parts. He experiences certain events and then the following day he pursues them again, to find out their truth, thus revisiting the situations, only he does so with intent whereas in A Clockwork Orange Alex accidentally found himself visiting previous situations.

Now, quite frightened, having traversed a maze several times--and unaware of the maze though pursuing his inquiries with intent--Bill has picked up this paper and is sitting in a coffee shop that is actually The Rainbow costume shop. He's reading about Amanda having overdosed, and believes her to be the mysterious woman at the so-called orgy, unaware as yet she was the prostitute who had also overdosed at Victor's party. And surrounding this article on Amanda we have two violent train incidents--one physical, one not progressing past hostage taking and threats of other violence, occurring on about the same date several years apart, which matches well with how the train/rail in The Shining was coincident with Danny shining the past in the present (Dick later referring to these shinings being like aromas lingering from burnt toast which couldn't harm) and the railroad and train in A Clockwork Orange also having to do with past incidents breaking into the present.

Nassau County District Attorney Denis Dillon prosecuted both Colin Ferguson and the "Long Island Lolita" Amy Fisher in 1992. And that coincidence of course brings up Kubrick's film Lolita, in which a girl was taken captive by Humbert Humbert.

Kubrick, no doubt, considering how he had used train imagery in his films, would have been impressed by the synchronicity of Colin Ferguson and the "Long Island Lolita" both being prosecuted by Dennis Dillon, on top of which there was the Anthony Norman event which reminded so many of Colin Ferguson, and was an example in real life of his intended use of the Uncanny comics story. Any wonder the stories made it into Eyes Wide Shut, though essentially buried, yet framing the story of Amanda's second overdose, which Victor would present as fate, saying that even Bill had said it was only a matter of time, when Bill had said nothing to that effect at all.

Kubrick doesn't only use railroad imagery as anamnesis commentary. For example, in Lolita he uses Poe's "Ulalume", but I already write of that in my commentary on A Clockwork Orange and will refrain from going into it here and complexing and perhaps perplexing the waters.

But why?

Having established how Kubrick uses the railroad imagery to supply anamnesis commentary, one may question then, "Why is it railroad imagery that is used in this manner?"

To approach that question, I think involves getting into Jacob's ladder, as well as two lines converging at a vanishing point forming a pyramid and circle motif as seen in many of his films, and how Kubrick melds this material with his mazes, but I write some on these subjects elsewhere and will refrain from reduplicating those efforts here as my primary concern in this post was to pose and compare these examples.

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