Recently I stumbled across a set of articles about the Shining’s symbology by a blogger who goes by the name of Johnny53. Most of his articles interpret the film’s themes very differently to the way mine do, but he certainly has a good eye for detail. In particular he brought to my attention the occurrence of moving chairs in The Shining, which he interpreted as the imaginary friends or doppelganger’s of the film’s characters. Here are some of Johnny53’s observations.

In the games room we see two apparently identical shots of the twin girls staring at Danny, but on close inspection two of the chairs in the lower right hand corner slightly change positions between the two shots. We don’t actually see them move, but they are in different positions. I’ll also add to Johnny 53’s observations that the twins actually shift positions slightly. Two more chairs on a table closer to them also move. So do the tables themselves and one of the ash trays.

Later, when we see the two dead girls, a blood stained chair is prominently shown left screen. It’s interesting that the chair is in a toppled position, like the girls are.

When Ullman shows the Torrance’s into the Gold Room there are seven chairs lined up at the bar and they are all evenly spaced. When the shot cuts away from them we see Danny and Ullman’s secretary, Suzi, approaching. The camera pans with them until we see the bar again, but all seven chairs are now in slightly different position. There are also seven characters in the shot – Jack, Wendy, Ullman, Bill, Halloran, Danny and Suzi. Perhaps there is a deliberate correlation between the numbers of characters on screen and the number of chairs that move.

Just in case this concept seems like clutching at straws, take a look at the second Gold Room scene. Jack switches on the lights and enters. The chairs at the bar are evenly spaced, but when the shot cuts closer as Jack approaches the bar, just one of the chairs has altered position. Again this matches the number of characters on screen.

An earlier example occurs during Wendy’s chat with the psychiatrist. The white chair closest to Wendy at the breakfast table prominently shifts positions between shots. Even with the shot sizes changing in distance and angle, the difference in the chair’s position is still very noticeable.

Johnny53’s keen observation of these details prompted me to further study the use of furniture in The Shining. My first question was that if the subtle movement of chairs is intended to match however many characters are on screen, then why do we only see one toppled chair in the shot of the dead twins? Here is a possible answer. There is one toppled chair and there is one picture frame up on the wall that has been knocked so that it has swivelled on its side. Both these items of furniture are also blood stained like the dead twins.

If the chair and picture frame are intended to parallel the bodies then it would seem that chairs are not the only items of furniture that are used symbolically in the film. All items of furniture are now open to scrutiny.

The occurrences of moving furniture can, at first glance, be brushed off as continuity errors. However, before you jump to such a conclusion I invite you to look closely at the river of blood sequence, which is broken up into short segments shown at different points in the film, but can be seen in almost it’s entirety in the film’s trailer. After the blood spills out of the elevator, furniture begins to float around, presumably dragged by the current of blood. The blood splashes up over the camera lens, temporarily blacking out the scene, and afterwards we see furniture floating about freely. However, notice that only the chair that was positioned against the right wall is moving. The one on the left wall hasn’t budged an inch. The small pot that is positioned between the elevator doors hasn’t moved either, even though it was right in the path of the blood as it first gushed out. In fact, once the elevator door has fully opened, the river of blood isn’t very deep at all. It only appears deep because the camera lens is washed in red, giving the illusion of the entire room being full of blood. How could the shallow depth of this blood river shift tables and a chair right across the hall? And why do the pot in the centre and the chair on the left wall not move?

My interpretation of these details is that Kubrick is further communicating the film’s hidden theme of furniture moving by its self. It’s a classic cliché for supernatural horror films to show furniture being moved by invisible forces, but in The Shining Kubrick has made use of this theme at an incredibly subtle level. But before we make any attempt at further interpreting any kind of thematic intention of these invisible furniture shifting forces, we first need to gather more information about how Kubrick used furniture props in the film.

So far we’ve identified instances of furniture moving in small increments – the games room, the Gold Room, the psychiatrist interview – but there are many other instances in which furniture shifts larger distances or sometimes they shift entirely in and out of specific parts of the hotel.

  • The Gold Room sign in the hotel lobby shifts several times throughout the film. Depending on which scene we’re watching, it is either on the left or right side of the doorway to the Gold Room area.
  • When Ullman and the Torrance’s first enter the Colorado Lounge a large rug is visible in the foreground. Once they are alone in the hotel a set of chairs and a table appear on this rug. Danny swerves around them during the first tricycle scene.

  • Whenever we see the mustard coloured hall near the lobby there are red couches against the wall and in between them are mirrors. There is also a mirror prop at the far end of this hall, visible behind Halloran as he walks through before being killed by Jack. In the final shot of the film the camera moves through the lobby and into a framed picture of a younger looking Jack, but the red couches have gone and the mirrors have been replaced by native tapestries. If this is a continuity error then it’s one of the most severe that I’ve ever seen in a big budget film. Another feature that changes in this hall is that when Wendy runs through to see the skeletons, the mirror at the far end of the hall has disappeared.

  • In the room 237 hallway, the props remain in place in each scene except for a black ash tray bin opposite room 237. It shifts to different positions along the hall between scenes. A stack of boxes also disappears from one end of the hall (near the elevator doors) and behind it is a folded up mattress – an identical one is also seen at the opposite end of this hall.
  • In the kitchen Halloran and Danny sit at a table talking about their “shining” experiences. Later Jack is dragged into the storeroom and we see this table scroll by in the background. However, when Jack limps through the kitchen with an axe the table and chairs have shifted several feet closer to the store room.

  • As Wendy tells Jack in the Colorado Lounge that “it’s going to snow tonight” a chair and stool can be seen against a wall behind Jack. They completely disappear in one shot, only to reappear in the next.

  • A large wooden object is shown on the centre table in the Colorado Lounge early in the film. After Jack throws the tennis ball at the sand painting – the most prominent shot of the wood carving – it completely disappears for the rest of the film.
  • A similar wooden prop sits on a table in the hallway that wraps around the back of Ullman’s office. Jack glances at it just before he sees the party balloons where he later kills Halloran. Immediately after Wendy sees Halloran’s body it disappears.
  • Just after Jack throws the kitchen utensils all over the floor, he turns a corner and behind him is a small brown couch with three pictures above it. When the party guest with the wine glass is seen in this exact same position the wall pictures are gone.

  • The kitchen utensils that Jack scattered also shift position significantly in a later scene. He limps past this same spot and there are none on the floor, even though he kicked one out into the open earlier. Wendy also accidentally kicks one of them as she runs through the same hall where he threw them and we can see that they are in very different positions. The kicking of these props by two characters seems to be an attempt by Kubrick to draw our attention to them. Notice also that a display cabinet disappears between the two scenes.

  • As Wendy and Danny watch TV in the lobby the camera zooms out, revealing that two chairs have disappeared, which were present in the lobby scene at the start of the film.
  • As Jack enters the Gold Room on his own several red chairs can be seen to the right. They shift several feet away from the wall a few minutes later as Wendy follows Jack into the room.

  • In the Colorado Lounge we see a cream couch facing Jack’s writing desk. This is most visible when he is throwing the tennis ball at the sand painting, but by the time Wendy enters the room with her baseball bat, the couch has disappeared. In the very first Colorado Lounge scene the couch was also positioned the opposite way around, facing away from the writing desk. A large rug in the same location as the couch also disappears when Wendy finds Jacks manuscript.

  • Characters even make a point of randomly touching chairs in some scenes. In the first Gold Room scene Ullman and Wendy touch chairs by the bar. Remember that all seven of these chairs shifted in the next shot. Jack also touches one of the chairs in Ullman’s office before he sabotages the radio. Notice that the chair he touches has significantly shifted position since his interview scene. This was also the same one that Bill Watson sat in when Ullman told him to “Grab a chair” during Jack’s interview.

So what are we to make of all this? Well, so far what we have is basically a collection of apparent continuity errors – some subtle and some extremely prominent. Kubrick wasn’t incapable of continuity errors, but some of these ones would be considered very sloppy work even on a low budget film. And it’s standard practice for continuity personnel on big film shoots to take reference photographs of all sets so as to ensure props are correctly positioned in all scenes that share the same location.

The other factors that so far suggest Kubrick deliberately had furniture props move about are A) the matching numbers of characters in relation to moving furniture in some scenes, and B) the furniture that seems to come alive and swim in the river of blood.

Now there is something else that much more strongly suggests that the moving furniture is part of a deliberate theme. During the Overlook’s closing day, when Jack and Wendy are shown around the hotel, workmen are seen carrying furniture back and forth in almost every major set.

  • In the Lobby they carry chairs, tables and folded up beds in and out of the building. Why are they moving these items about and why in and out of the hotel entrance?

  • In the Colorado Lounge a man is seen moving chairs and stools about in the exact same area as the seemingly mobile cream coloured couch.

  • In the same scene a man carries a rug down the stairs. Its design is similar to that of the rug that disappears. Again the question needs to be asked, why are these men shifting the furniture and rugs around?

  • Also in the Colorado Lounge is a man vacuuming a red couch near the stairs. Is this a parallel with the disappearing red couch at the end of the film?

  • Near the Torrance apartment are a variety of furniture items left in the halls – stools, chairs and a mattress draped over the banister. In fact there are furniture items in most of the blue hallway scenes, including the dead twins scene and the bear costumed man. Again, I ask, why are these pieces of furniture left lying around in the halls?

  • I already noted in a previous chapter that the map outside the maze entrance wasn’t present during Ullman’s guided tour, but if we look at the HiDef version of the film it becomes noticeable that the maze map was originally placed right against the outside of the maze hedge. Later it is replaced by a bench and moves directly in front of the maze entrance, but it moves yet again in the table top version of the maze, this time being placed back against the hedge wall but on the right side of the maze entrance. This is also more noticeable in the HiDef release.

  • Curiously, a worker is also seen brushing the gravel inside the maze entrance. Is this guy supposed to brush through the entire maze? It seems like one hell of a choir.

  • When Ullman guides us into the Gold Room workers are again shown vacuuming and moving furniture about. In this case they are also folding up and removing white sheets.

  • Next we come to Halloran’s tour of the kitchens. The shot begins with a lone worker shifting mounds of luggage into an elevator.

  • And our final shot of Ullman’s tour is in the hallway where Danny later hides from Jack. A worker is seen moving plates about and another is seen moving crates of 7up.

It seems that Kubrick is drawing a consistent parallel between the workers moving furniture during Ullman’s guided tour and the multiple instances of furniture changing position throughout the rest of the film. Could it be that these manual laborers represent some sort of unseen presence in the Overlook?

An interesting factor during Ullman’s guided tour is that he twice says “goodbye” to pairs of women, but he ignores all of the other workers and servants. Can he even see them?

My interpretation of all this is that the seemingly mobile furniture of the Overlook represents the hordes of slave workers whose manual labor historically built the United States, and who worked behind the scenes to provide a plush lifestyle for the nation's ruling class. This also specifically overlaps with the themes of Native American genocide and black slavery as described in chapter 12.

A very interesting statement from Ullman is that in his description of the former caretaker killing his family he claims that Grady “Stacked ‘em neatly in one of the rooms of the west wing”. That’s a really bizarre description. Since when can bloody corpses be stacked neatly? No, I believe this was a verbal hint relating to furniture, which can be stacked neatly.

A very strong assertion of this premise is that in our final view of the Overlook interior, Wendy runs down a hall that is painted red and which is full of neatly stacked chairs and tables. If all these furniture items represent neatly stacked dead bodies, then no wonder the hall is painted completely red. Kubrick showed us in the dead twins’ scene that Grady had made a good start on painting the walls red with the blood from just two murders. It’s only appropriate that Wendy then sees the river of blood gush out of the elevator, spoiling the hotel décor and causing the furniture (bodies) to swim about.

Ullman’s specific reference to Grady’s family being hidden in the “west wing” may even be a reference to the political burying of America’s genocidal history.

Another consistent aspect of the Shining’s set designs that may be linked to this is the presence of bold signs relating to cleanliness. There are many of them throughout the film.

This obsession with cleanliness could be linked to the hotel guests and owners consistently wishing to have all evidence of bloodshed in their country washed away, their sins so to speak. It may also be a manifestation of racial fear being that enslaved ethnic groups have often been perceived as dirty by their rulers.

There’s an old saying that rich people see their servants as “part of the furniture” and it would seem that Kubrick has taken this phrase and manifested it in the Shining’s visual theme structure. The affluent guests of the Overlook (America) see the hotel servants and workers as objects, existing merely for their own pleasure and comfort. Unknown to them these pieces of furniture are living, breathing people with real emotions and a life of their own. The independent movements of these servants is forever destined to haunt the conscience of their masters, bringing unpleasant disruptions to the illusion of ruling class paradise. In this sense, the unseen menace in The Shining is Kubrick’s bold statement against elitism, which of course has historically been the basis of all forms of discrimination, be they racial, religious or ideological.

Now let’s explore the concept of "shining" itself.