the torrance family behind the scenes
Behind the scenes photograph of Jack Nicholson, Shelley Duval, and Danny Lloyd

Stanley Kubrick’s horror classic starring Jack Nicholson and Shelley Duvall tells the story of the Torrance family, and to this day continues to be the subject of debate — especially when it comes to The Shining ending photo on the wall explained, and why Jack is in the infamous photo of the guests at The Overlook. Based on the book of the same name by Stephen King, The Shining follows Jack Torrance (Jack Nicholson’s starring role), a recovering alcoholic and aspiring writer heads to the remote Overlook Hotel after being hired to be an off-season caretaker of the Overlook Hotel. Jack takes his wife, Wendy (Shelley Duvall), and their son, Danny (Danny Lloyd), with him, but little do they know, the Overlook has some dark secrets of its own. Triggered by Danny’s psychic abilities, the hotel releases some dangerous supernatural forces that break Jack’s sanity — and the safety of Wendy and Danny.

The Shining film is very different from the novel — so much so that Stephen King has said he hates The Shining starring Jack Nicholson many times. It’s understandable: Kubrick asked for the freedom to change whatever he wanted and exercised that freedom fully. Although King didn’t oppose that at the time, he wasn’t expecting Kubrick to go as far as to change the essence of the book and add elements to the ending that weren’t present in the novel. The Shining book and movie are very different entities, and details that are explained — or at least easier to interpret — in the novel are either not included or left very ambiguous in the film. Kubrick deliberately didn’t explain The Shining‘s ending during the film, but he did later explain why Jack Torrance appears in The Shining picture at the end.

The Shining is one of the most well-known adaptations of Stephen King’s work, but it’s very different from the book it’s based on.

Why Jack Torrance Is In The Old Photo At The End Of The Shining

Kubrick Suggests Jack Is A Reincarnation Of An Earlier Employee

Perhaps the most challenging part of The Shining‘s ending to explain is the final ballroom photo scene: a July 4th Ball photograph showing Jack in the original photo from the year 1921 with a photo of Jack with other guests in the hotel’s ballroom. The Gold Room party scene has been interpreted in many ways, and one of the most popular explanations is that it represents the hotel “absorbing” Jack’s soul. Although this makes sense, Kubrick himself has said the photo actually suggests Jack in the photo being a reincarnation of an earlier official at the hotel.

The reincarnated Jack explanation makes sense when going back to his conversation with Grady, Jack follows the hotel employee in the bathroom, where the butler tells Jack that he has “always been the caretaker.” This explanation for The Shining ending also fits with the role of both Grady characters mentioned in the film: the past caretaker and the ghost. The ghost is Delbert Grady, and the past caretaker was Charles Grady. Jack says he saw Delbert in the newspaper, and thus he is the reincarnation of Charles Grady.

While the explanation that Jack suggests the reincarnation of Jack as a former employee makes sense, this isn’t explained in the movie itself. Kubrick’s explanation for Jack Torrance’s appearance, taken in 1921 ball photo may be plausible, but it’s also one of the few weaker elements of The Shining, as such a significant plot element could have been both further elaborated on and made more apparent.

How Wendy & Danny Escape The Overlook

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They Flee On A Snowcat, & A Deleted Scene Shows Their Recovery

After being freed from the kitchen pantry by Grady’s ghost, Jack (whose sanity was already shattered by that point) goes after Wendy and Danny, ax in hand. Wendy and Danny lock themselves in the bathroom, and Wendy sends Danny through the window. Unable to pass through that same window, Wendy is trapped when Jack arrives and breaks through the door with the ax — the famous “Here’s Johnny!” scene. Wendy defends herself with a knife and slashes Jack’s arm, causing him to retreat. The Overlook’s cook, Dick Hallorann, arrives to help Wendy and Danny after the latter reaches out to him through “the shining,” but is ambushed and killed by Jack.

Jack then goes after Danny, who runs into the hedge maze — all this during a snowstorm. Meanwhile, Wendy runs through the hotel looking for her son. In the hedge maze, Danny manages to escape by laying a false trail to mislead Jack. Wendy and Danny reunite and leave the hotel in a Snowcat, and Jack freezes to death. What happens to Wendy and Danny after that is unknown (in the film, at least), although a deleted scene features them in a hospital, recovering both physically and mentally from everything they went through by the time The Shining ended. Kubrick’s work was very loosely tied to the book, which was based on Stephen King’s visit

How The Shining Movie’s Ending Differs From The Book

jack nicholson the shining freezing

The Shining’s Real Meaning

Cyclical Violence And Abuse Are The Heart of The Movie

Kubrick may not have been fully faithful to the source material when adapting Stephen King’s book, but he succeeded in making a film full of metaphors and symbolism that have made way for countless interpretations of its true meaning. Of course, there are some more convincing (and coherent) than others, but The Shining is explained as, at its core, a story about violence and abuse and how these are often cyclical. Jack had a history of anger issues and violence, mainly against his family. When Wendy finds Danny after he enters room 237, he’s in shock and physically injured, and Wendy immediately blames Jack for it as he has hurt their son before.

Jack is a recovering alcoholic and relapses at the hotel. He might have had his anger under control for a while before taking the job, but he went back to it there. The Shining’s Overlook Hotel itself also has a history of cyclical violence: it was built over a Native American burial ground, and its existence is a testament to the violence of colonization. Charles Grady killed his family with an ax, and Jack was on track to replicate that. The abuse part of the story is both physical and psychological: both Wendy and Danny are clearly scared of Jack, even before the hotel’s influence takes control of him, and yet they stay with him.

A popular theory, and one that has gone very deep into the symbolism of The Shining, says that the film also addresses sexual abuse. The scene with the man in the dog costume and the man in a tuxedo is the one used to support this theory, which says the dog represents young Danny Torrance (who earlier in the film is shown to have a plush toy) and the man in the tuxedo represents Jack. Tony, Danny’s imaginary friend, is believed by some to be Danny’s way to cope with the trauma of sexual abuse from his father.

The dog/sexual abuse interpretation hasn’t been confirmed by those involved in the film, so it’s up to each viewer if they accept it or not. Either way, The Shining is not so much a ghost story in a literal sense, but a story about the “ghosts” (or “demons,” in some cases) of violence and abuse, and how these can come back to continue with the cycle. Even when looked at more literally, The Shining‘s meaning is still up for debate, as some fans disagree on whether the ghosts in The Shining are even real. Of course, the ghost of Grady freeing Jack from the freezer remains hard to explain, although that doesn’t stop some from trying.

Redrum & The Elevator Blood Explained

the shining elevator blood scene explained

One of the most memorable scenes from The Shining is the blood coming out from the elevator in the hotel lobby. This is one of the film’s unique scenes (along with the Grady twins) and there are a number of ways to explain The Shining‘s elevator scene. As mentioned, Kubrick left many details open to interpretation, whether for viewers to come up with their own explanations or just to mess with them.

The elevator blood scene first appears as a vision to Danny, and materializes near the end of the film when Wendy is looking for him. Because the movie’s Overlook Hotel was built on an “Indian burial ground”, the blood coming out from the elevator has been interpreted as that of the Indigenous people buried there. Others believe it’s the blood of all the lives claimed by the forces of the hotel, which might be the most convincing explanation.

Visions And Warnings For Danny

In The Shining, Danny and Hallorann are the two characters with “shining” abilities, which allow them to communicate with each other even when miles apart. Danny’s “shine” reaches its peak at the Overlook Hotel, which mixed with the hotel’s spirits and own evil, unleashes some real horrors. Danny has visions of the hotel right after Jack gets the job and during his time at the hotel, and has a traumatizing experience when drawn into the “forbidden” room 237.

When the hotel’s forces get hold of Jack, Danny starts chanting and drawing the word “REDRUM,” which Wendy later sees reversed in the mirror, revealing the word “MURDER.” Danny was warned by the Grady twins that something terrible was going to happen, and “REDRUM” was the warning passed on to Danny and Wendy through Danny.

What The Producer And Screenwriter Say About The Ending

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The Photograph Was Always Part of the Ending

Funnily enough, director Stanley Kubrick had a couple of different endings in mind for The Shining, each of them very different. Kubrick was never into the idea of making a typical horror film, and he certainly got what he wanted out of the film, even if Stephen King didn’t like it. In an interview (viaEW), executive producer Jan Harlan and screenwriter Diane Johnson both expand on the final scenes of The Shining, including The Shining picture at the end. Diane Johnson said this of Stanley Kubrick’s non-horror vision:

“The ending was changed almost entirely because Kubrick found it a cliché to just blow everything up. He thought there might be something else that would be metaphorically and visually more interesting.”

Despite all the changes Stanley Kubrick made to the ending, one of the director’s visions remained in place throughout all of it: The Shining picture at the end. In the same interview, the screenwriter says:

The photograph was always in the ending. The maze chase grew out of the topiary animal hedges that move around in the book. Kubrick thought topiary animals might be too goofy and cute, but he always liked the idea of a maze.

The maze in The Shining went over better than the hedge animals would’ve in Kubrick’s vision. It’s certainly an impactful moment that brings the movie full circle, seeing Jack become a part of the famous Overlook hotel ghosts once and for all. While it may not work for Stephen King, Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining ending can be explained as perfectly fitting the film he created.

What Happened After The Shining Ended

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Doctor Sleep Continues The Story

Thanks to the existence of 2019’s Doctor Sleep, there are now canon details of what happened to Danny, Wendy, and The Overlook Hotel after The Shining ending. Firstly, it’s clear that the end of The Shining wasn’t the end of the troubles at The Overlook. Danny (who goes by the name Dan as an adult) is plagued by hauntings from the spirits of The Overlook for the rest of his life, with Doctor Sleep focusing on his attempts to capture them and put an end to his torment. Dan doesn’t live anywhere near The Overlook, which shows that the power within is far greater than even The Shining hints.

It’s also revealed in Doctor Sleep that The Overlook was abandoned after the events of The ShiningHowever, this is another change from the original Stephen King narrative, in which The Overlook was destroyed at the end of The Shining novel when the boiler exploded. As for what happened to Wendy Torrance after The Shining, Doctor Sleep reveals that she passed away from lung cancer in 1999, age 53 when Danny/Dan was 20. This is only alluded to in the Doctor Sleep movie, but the book version gives a few more details about her life after The Shining ended.

Following the ending of The Shining, Wendy and Danny move to Florida after receiving a settlement from The Overlook’s board of directors. In the book, she looks after Danny for the remainder of his childhood and maintains contact with Dick Halloran. Halloran helps Wendy understand and manage Danny’s troubles at the hands of the spirits of The Overlook. Her death, combined with being haunted, drives Danny to alcohol abuse.

Doctor Sleep is not currently available to stream.

What Doctor Sleep Revealed About Jack’s Fate

Jack’s Soul Becomes Part Of The Hotel

The sequel to The Shining, 2019’s Doctor Sleep movie managed to walk a delicate tightrope between adapting King’s Shining sequel book and being a follow-up to Kubrick’s Shining movie. Directed by modern horror master Mike Flanagan, Doctor Sleep offered an unexpected treat in the form of an extended cameo by none other than Jack Torrance himself, now played by Henry Thomas. This appearance doesn’t clear up the question about why Jack is seen in the 1921 photo at the Overlook, but it does suggest that the theory about his soul being somehow absorbed by the haunted hotel is true.

In Doctor Sleep, adult Danny Torrance is forced to head to the Overlook to unleash a greater evil on villain Rose the Hat, but while there encounters the ghost of his father. Yet, this isn’t Jack — it’s Lloyd the bartender, albeit not the same Lloyd that Jack Torrence encountered. Some believe this suggests Lloyd the bartender was never a real person, and instead just a role the Overlook assigns to one of the souls it owns. While Danny’s barbs do eventually seem to wake up part of Jack’s consciousness from inside his Lloyd identity, whatever good he had left in him was clearly erased once Jack was fully taken over.

The Real Hotel King Visited That Inspired The Overlook

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There Is A Real Haunted Hotel In Colorado

One of the most chilling details about both the novel and film versions of The Shining is that The Ballroom Photograph from Overlook Hotel is based on a real (possibly haunted) location that Stephen King once visited. The Stanley Hotel in Estes Park, Colorado made a strong impression on King thanks to its long, eerily empty corridors during his stay right before the hotel closed for the winter. What’s more, while staying at the Stanley Hotel, King reports having caught glimpses of a young boy roaming the halls even though he and his wife were the only registered guests at the time.

The Stanley Hotel is still open to guests, and even hosts seances – embracing its haunted reputation.

Like The Shining‘s Overlook Hotel, the Stanley Hotel also has a haunted history, even possessing a particularly haunted room (number 217) just like the Overlook’s room 237. Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining made some changes to room 217 and the woman in it, making way for a couple of theories on who she is. For all the supernatural twists and turns in The Shinings ending and story, knowing that it’s based on a real location makes the film (and its difficult-to-explain ending) all the creepier.

``All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.``