The Shining: Kubrick’s opening scene at The Overlook

In Stanley’s Kubrick’s The Shining,
Jack Torrance makes his arrival at The Overlook Hotel in the film’s first scene after the credits.  We follow Jack and pay attention to all the clues and nuances.

Jack walks into the lobby alone and immediately treads the native American symbol as if he’s invading or has become part of the culture.  The far background boasts a wall of pictures in symmetry behind two pairs of guests.  By their positions, they are having exclusive conversations.  In their own way, they continue to display symmetry.  The near couple sit in chairs of equal style with a single, uncluttered table in between.  It is the foreground that poses false symmetry or imbalance.  A lone gentleman sits and reads.  No other guests in this frame reads.  (The man in the background holds a magazine but is in an active discussion with the woman to our right.)  His wardrobe blends into the fabric to a degree that he almost appears crawling out of the back.  The chair to his left, while of exact style he is sitting in, is very different that in the background.  Same positions with a table in between but in a different, unrelated universe.  Finally, the table in the right foreground has its surface covered.  It too is a microcosm of false symmetry.  The top half has equal looking newspapers.  One is stacked on the other giving a miniature staircase.

As Jack makes his way to the counter, an odd waiter demands attention in a static frame.  He subtlety disguises the background including The Gold Room poster and a pair chatting behind the doors.  These are pairs Kubrick is not ready to reveal.  As someone who studied The Shining, I’ve long wondered what was the deal with the chatting couple behind the doors.  Their costumes seems out of place or out of time.  A theory surfaces when we contemplate what happens next.

Jack stops at the counter and pairs with the receptionist behind it.  At that moment, another couple makes their way to the tennis court.  Clever depth staging, more like a pair of mirrors reflecting each other as not only couples, but a man and woman are positioned near, far, and in between.   The man is always to our left, the woman to our right.  The tennis player and the desk attendant both hold something in their right hands.  It is an instrument of their work or play.  Or am I overthinking this?  Even the Gold Room poster showcases two.  My guess, it is a man to the left and a woman to the right.

Jack continues to Mr. Ullman’s office.  He’ll need to take the first left before the elevators.  What he doesn’t notice is the couple in the background.  A woman from the hotel staff stands to our right, hands to a male guest something from her right hand.  As you guessed, the man is to our left.  Jack does notice briefly another one of the hotel staff in the same gaudy dress as he nears the elevator.  The bellman is holding a pair of suitcases indistinguishable from the other.

Jack steps into the administration office.  It’s decor loses much of the opulence but maintains many of the hotel’s symbols.  To the far left are deep examples of false symmetry.  The two cabinets looks alike in color, but one is slightly bigger than the other.  The cabinet on the right sports an obvious gap in its center while inches taller.  Even the index card boxes, both resting on the same cabinet, are different color and different height.  It is another example of miniature staircases.

Ullman’s office is suspiciously positioned where the elevators should be.  Nevertheless, it is a museum of pieces set in pseudo-symmetry; the plants, plaques, and photographs.  When Ullman reaches and shakes Jack’s hands, he introduces Suzie.  Three is odd number in an hotel of pairs.  This is something to note for what transpires in this room.  Ullman offers Jack coffee, one of many caffeinated drinks that resurfaces as a theme.

Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining


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