Okay, Let's Take a Good Close Look at that Thing in the Elevator in Stanley Kubrick's The Shining

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.


I thought I would do a post devoted to this question and augment what it is we're seeing emerge from the elevator in the flood of blood.

The Shining - Bloody elevator 1

The Shining - Bloody elevator 2

The Shining - Bloody elevator 3

The Shining - Bloody elevator 4

The Shining - Bloody elevator 5

The Shining - Bloody elevator 6

The Shining - Bloody elevator 7

The Shining - Bloody elevator 8

The Shining - Bloody elevator 9

The Shining - Bloody elevator 10

Augmented, and even unaugmented, that what emerges from the elevator is mechanical is very easy to see. I've stated in my analysis that I remember years ago reading about this, long before the internet, but I can't recollect what the publication was. The explanation was this device was rigged for opening the elevator door. The device, which reminds of amped up salad tongs with inverted claws as it parts, the elevator door opening, also appears to function as a means of aiding the flow of "blood" so that it explodes from the top of the elevator rather than just pouring down to the bottom of the shaft and out. Instead, the blood shoots down over the device and the device even plumps the appearance of the stream of blood as it flows over it. The device may also help channel the flow of blood left and right, and it seems as it moves forward the device assists in the great splash against the walls, but I'm not altogether certain there wasn't also blood flung into the mix from either side of the cross hall. Until an engineer tells me, "That's a damn bizarre way of doing that", I'm going to assume the primary reason for this contraption is mechanical.

Still, even on the big screen, in a first time viewing, the majority of people aren't going to ever notice these large mechanical tongs thrusting forward, out of the elevator.

Though the device may have been essential machinery, this doesn't mean that there might not be a secondary explanation that would contribute to Kubrick's lack of worry (it would seem) over its ultimate exposure, because even with the initial release of the film, when you could only view the film on the screen in a theater and couldn't pause and rewind from your seat, there were some people who did notice. I was one of them. "What is that metal thing?" And you went back to snacking on your popcorn but you remembered. It's not as though that big hunk of metal tried very hard to hide itself. Later I'd read that though the device could be seen, it simply cost too much money to shoot the scene over again and things remained as they were.

Maybe that's exactly the way it was. Though it seems there would have been some initial tests done and I do wonder why no one had thought, "That's a fairly bright and shiny piece of equipment. Maybe we should paint it a dark matte red, the color of the blood?"

In the Tuesday section of my analysis of the film I make note of a couple of other mechanical oddities of which we get a glimpse as Danny makes his way around the Room 237 floor. There appears in a stairwell, hanging down from the upper floor, a plastic sheet...

The Shining - The Plastic Sheet

...which has an internal segment that moves back and forth, kind of like a bell's clapper, rather mimicking Wendy's circular motion in opening the can of fruit cocktail at the beginning of the section.

gif maker

And we have the door open to Room 236.

The Shining - The door on the right is now open

That it is open is clearly seen in this augmented screen grab.

The Shining - View of the open door augmented

An interesting thing about the bloody elevator scene is when Wendy first sees the elevator its doors are positioned to open from the screen right as with the other elevators we've viewed. I've written a little previously on her view of it but in that post I was concentrating on the "where" of the hall, which I think is an in-between-the-folds kind of hall that's behind the office.

The Shining - The elevator as first viewed by Wendy

The elevator doors then reverse, just as they are reversed in Danny's vision--for this is Danny's vision that Wendy is viewing, we have the same splatter effects, the blood hits the ash/trash container centered between the elevator doors in the exact fashion in both scenes. As you can see the floor indicators above the doors are not reversed, nor is the rest of the hall, only the red doors of the elevator.

With Wendy's view of the bloody elevator, we have a closer shot of it and again we can see the mechanical claw or arm that emerges from the "shaft".

The Shining - Closer view of the elevator during Wendy's scene

My most basic thought on this class of disruption of the fantasy of the movie, where we have a seeming break in the fabric with the exposure of the staging beyond, is it's simply something that should have remained concealed.

But Intention does seem to be communicated in the plastic sheeting with the center portion independently moving in a way that recalls Wendy opening the can of fruit cocktail just before. If not for that moving center portion, it could be just a simple plastic sheet accidentally left hanging down from the above floor in plain view (though it seems unlikely that Kubrick, famed for taking numerous shots of a scene, would have allowed such a gaffe).

Intention does seem to be communicated with the open door opposite room 237. When Danny rides past it he lowers his head, so our attention is on his lowered head, and then he looks back at room 237. Only when past the open door does he hold his head in the same attitude as when earlier cycling around. Kubrick even further projects a possible meaning into the open door of room 236 by having, in Eyes Wide Shut Bill's adventure before the Verona Restaurant (address 237, where he has his stand-off with the bald man) followed up with 236 appearing as appearing to be the address of the hospital where he will view the body of Amanda in the morgue. As Bill enters the hospital, we see outside "236" isolated on a wall, a number that is Kubrick's doing as the real life address of the hospital is 369 Fulham Road.

If the plastic sheeting and the open door appear to have intention, then what of this mechanical arm thrusting through as the elevator door opens? For those who think human error is the explanation, it's the combination of Kubrick's fastidious and obsessive attention to detail, and a seeming gaffe often being coupled with other peculiarities, that makes one wonder if the arm's being seen is perhaps purposeful. But our viewing this mechanical arm may very well have to do with not having money to spend on redoing the scene. Or maybe not. Maybe there's some other reason.


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