*Spoiler warnings for the book and film versions of The Shining.*
After we explored what happened at the end of Doctor Sleep in this Doctor Sleep ending explained, we knew there’d be folks still unclear about what happened at the end of the 1980 predecessor from Stanley Kubrick, The Shining. So I’m back with The Shining‘s ending explained.
Did you know there was an alternate ending to The Shining that we’ll never get to see? Let’s get into it…
The Shining ending explained
After a long descent into madness and evil, Jack Torrance (Jack Nicholson) is overcome by the influence of The Overlook Hotel and is hell-bent on murdering his wife Wendy and son Danny. He interacts with various ghosts and reincarnations of previous caretakers and visitors while he navigates his descent, including the former caretaker who killed his family a decade earlier. Wendy has been keeping things together so far both for the hotel and her family, but Jack’s rage and abuse keeps getting worse, which prompts her to look for ways to leave the mountain.
Wendy discovers that his writing is merely repeated versions of the same phrase: “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy” leading her to realize that Jack is losing his mind. Jack finds Wendy in the lobby and proceeds to chase her toward their apartment to the iconic claustrophobic bathroom scene. Danny escapes out of the window and leads Jack into the snowy hedge maze where he proceeds to lose him in the chase. Danny escapes with his mother in a Snowcat, leaving Jack to deliriously collapse and freeze to death.
Ultimately, we realize that Jack was inhabited by the evil that exists within the hotel and the ghosts that reside there. They were awakened by the Shining emitted from Danny’s psychic powers and lured into Jack, a susceptible prey. The reason they chose Jack and how each incarnation of evil takes form is still debated.
Why is Jack in the photo of the party in 1921?
At the end of the film, we see someone who looks like Jack in a ballroom photograph from 1921. What’s Jack doing there? A popular fan theory is that the hotel takes over individuals and “absorbs” them into the fabric of the space. It assumes that everyone in the 1921 photograph was one of the claimed who lost their soul to the evil. This would make hotel owner Stuart Ullmann more likely to have been aware of the history of the hotel or even a ghost himself.
Kubrick disputes this theory and claims that the Jack we see in the movie is a reincarnation of an earlier hotel employee. The hotel has a cycle of violence where a reincarnated soul always returns to the Overlook to reap havoc. This theory is supported by Jack’s conversation with the previous homicidal caretaker, Delbert Grady, who tells him, “You’ve always been the caretaker.” Jack was always meant to return in some form, and we can assume another incarnation would return if the hotel stood. Considering how many vintage photos lined the walls at The Overlook, you have to wonder if other manifestations exist in those photos as well.
How The Shining differed from the book
In the novel, Jack overcomes the evil influence of the hotel just long enough for Danny to escape with his mother, Wendy, and the hotel’s cook, Dick Hallorann. Jack dies in a fire at The Overlook due to his negligence in maintaining the hotel’s boilers.
Kubrick was known to not be a fan of the novel’s ending and considered many alternatives including killing off Danny or having Wendy kill Jack.
The Shining alternate ending
Mental Floss reported that an original epilogue was shown on the first weekend of the movie’s run but was swiftly removed by Kubrick. It added a scene after Jack’s death in the snow where hotel owner Stuart Ullman visits Wendy in the hospital. Here’s an excerpt from the original film script:
“About the things you saw at the hotel. [A lieutenant] told me they’ve really gone over the place with a fine-tooth comb and they didn’t find the slightest evidence of anything at all out of the ordinary.” He also encourages Wendy and Danny to stay with him for a while. The film ends with text over black, “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.”
This ending would have cast a very different light on what became of the hotel after Jacks’ demise. In Doctor Sleep we learn that the hotel was abandoned and left to rot — a much more eerie state. It also left a lot more ambiguity in the fates of Danny and Wendy.
Unfortunately, we’ll never get to see the original footage as Kubrick ordered that any unused footage be destroyed by Warner Bros.
The Shining and conspiracy theories
Cinephiles have been looking for clues into conspiracy theories in and around The Shining and its production for decades. Most have been denounced as unfounded, but they’re fun to read. A documentary called Room 237 has a deconstruction of all kinds of theories, almost all unconfirmed but entertaining nonetheless. These include a theory that Kubrick faked the moon landing (based on one of Danny’s sweaters in the film), rumors about the theme of Native American genocide, and even a theory about a Playgirl magazine cameo alluding to other sinister motives on Jack’s part.
You can make your own judgments about these theories and on the ending of The Shining, one of the most discussed horror films of all time. Also check out the Doctor Sleep ending explained once you’re ready to learn more about that ending.
Catherine Clark is a Chicago-based editor and designer who spends time reading, gaming, cooking, and of course, watching movies en masse. You can find her words and work at USA Today, Nerd Wallet, Chicago Tribune, NPR, Huffington Post, Buzzfeed, MSN, Offbeat Empire, and on her lifestyle blog, BijouxandBits.com. She also logs her film-watching habits on Letterboxd.