The Big Picture
- The alternate ending of The Shining suggests that the character Stuart Ullman, played by Barry Nelson, may be connected to the hotel and knows more about its dark secrets.
- Director Stanley Kubrick wanted to leave the ending open for interpretation, choosing not to explain certain aspects to the audience.
- The decision to cut the alternate ending adds to the overall mysterious and haunting atmosphere of the film.
Executive producer Jan Harlan remembers asking director Stanley Kubrick to explain the finer points of The Shining to the crew. Per the New York Daily News, he quoted Kubrick as saying, “I never explain anything, I don’t understand it myself. It’s a ghost film!” But The Shining is more than just a ghost film. In many ways, it is the ultimate scary movie with all the cinematic brilliance of a drama. It incorporates all manner of horror: a liminal space, a lunatic with an ax, suspense, disquietude, and the paranormal. It can also serve as a treatise on mental health, imperialism, and addiction.
The Torrance family is holed up in the vacant Overlook Hotel. Nestled in the isolated Colorado Rockies, the hotel is closed for the winter. The father, Jack (Jack Nicholson), acts as the caretaker, but he mainly wants solitude to write a book, so he ignores his wife, Wendy (Shelley Duvall), and their son, Danny (Danny Lloyd), whose psychic visions seem to be stirring up high strangeness in the hotel. The isolation, lack of booze, and writer’s block drive Jack insane. After a powder keg of a dénouement, it ends abruptly, leaving the audience with more questions than answers. The oft-disputed ending has been debated since its release in 1980.
How Does ‘The Shining’ End?
Director Stanley Kubrick decided to change the film’s ending from that of the book, written by Stephen King. In the 1977 novel of the same name, the hotel’s chef, Hallorann rescues Danny and Wendy, and they all escape together moments before a boiler explodes, killing Jack and destroying the Overlook Hotel. Kubrick felt this ending was “hackneyed” and wanted an ending that wasn’t mired by the touch of predictability. The facts we end with in the film are that Dick Hallorann (Scatman Crothers) is dead, Wendy and Danny escape sans coats in a snowcat, a shot of a frozen Jack, and an ominous photograph hanging in the lobby of The Overlook Hotel of a caretaker that looks exactly like Jack among a party of guests dressed in roaring twenties attire, dated 1921.
But there is more. An alternate ending has been posed through still photographs taken by Vivian Kubrick, Stanley’s daughter, and a filmmaker in her own right. “Alternate ending” could be a misnomer, as it arguably functions as a deleted scene. It could have been positioned before or after the photograph. But, we can never know what may have been as it is now destroyed.
How Is the Alternate Ending of ‘The Shining’ Different From the Original?
At the beginning of the film, Stuart Ullman (Barry Nelson), hires Jack for the winter. Although the exchange is pleasant enough and Ullman is presented as normal, there is a vague peculiarity in his nature that seems to mimic the hotel. He is gone before anyone can put their finger on it. However, in the deleted scene, Ullman visits Wendy and Danny at the hospital. They are safe. He tells them that the police have looked all over the hotel and found nothing suspicious, and he urges them to recuperate in Los Angeles. Is he suggesting that Wendy and Danny went insane? Did they not find the body of Hallorann? He then throws Danny the ball that had been rolled to him from Room 237 — the one Danny’s father Jack had been throwing against the wall, implying that Ullman either was a part of the hotel, knows Jack from a past life, or has the shine on him as well. There is still a sense of ambiguity as we are not sure exactly which scenario is the most accurate.
Kubrick stuck to the reincarnation theory of The Shining. Jack comments on the familiarity of the Overlook Hotel and how he wishes he could stay forever. He knows the bartender and the bartender suggests that Jack owes the hotel more than money for his bourbon. An evil sacrifice. In an interview with Japanese filmmaker, Jun’ichi Yao, Kubrick explains that the scene with Delbert Grady (Philip Stone) and Jack in the bathroom suggests the “endless cycle of evil reincarnation” Grady says to Jack, “You are the caretaker; you’ve always been the caretaker, I should know, sir. I’ve always been here.” He then inspires Jack’s homicidal rampage. We are further brought to this conclusion by the lobby photograph. Yet it is so astonishing that a film ends on such a note that four decades later, fans still attempt to make sense of it. Those were the only explanations that Kubrick was willing to give.
What Happened to ‘The Shining’ Alternate Ending?
It has been suggested that audiences did not understand or respond well to this scene. A notorious perfectionist, Kubrick had already taken what he liked from King’s book and polished it into a glossier stone; therefore, he may have felt that any additional footage could take away from his vision of the film. After all, the whole movie is seemingly designed to be a trompe d’oeil. The layout of the hotel is impossible. That maze. The action is synched to music. Jack breaks the fourth wall. It is as if he wants to keep us uneasy and guessing. It has also been suggested that Kubrick wanted to leave the story open for interpretation and felt that the scene would explain a concept that he deliberately wanted to leave open-ended. He felt cinema should be a largely personal experience and remained otherwise tightlipped on the subject. In the same interview with Yao, he explained:
“[I]t’s the sort of thing that I think is better left unexplained … I think the best thing is when an audience looks at a film and wonders whether something that they have seen is an accident or if the director or writer meant them to know it, I think subtlety and allowing the audience to discover for themselves what it is the most important thing”.
Kubrick asked that all unused portions be destroyed and Warner Brothers obliged. Whether the director cut the scene due to pressure from the studio or because audiences didn’t get it, cutting the scene does add to the haunting sense of mystery that the film is famous for. In the alternate ending, after Ullman throws the ball to Danny, the screen then fades to black with text that reads: “The Overlook Hotel would survive this tragedy, as it had so many others. It is still open each year from May 20th to September 20th. It is closed for the winter.” And The Shining has still survived and thrived despite and because of its mysterious ending.