What Does THE SHINING’s Final Image Actually Mean?

The final shot of The Shining, it’s ambiguity forever helping Stanley Kubrick’s most popular film carry on it’s enduring legacy for nearly thirty years. But what does it actually mean?

Matt Holmes

Editorial Team

The final shot of The Shining, it’s ambiguity forever helping Stanley Kubrick’s most popular film carry on it’s enduring legacy for nearly thirty years. But what does the final image from the film actually tell us about the story we have just witnessed?

Released in 1980, The Shining is in my opinion, Kubrick’s best and most satisfying work but even though I’ve seen it a dozen times, I still don’t think I’ve figured out what he was trying to tell us before the credits rolled.

The final shot is a photograph of our lead protagonist Jack Torrence (Jack Nicholson), impossibly photographed as a resident of the Overlook Hotel at the July 4th ball in 1921, some sixty years before The Shining is set where Jack is now the caretaker of the hotel during a winter break. I say impossible because he hasn’t aged a day, the photograph shows that barring time travel, he must have existed six decades before looking physically exactly the same as he did in the early 80’s. What does this final image of the film mean, why did Stanley Kubrick choose to use it as his final shot and what do you guys make of it?

Here is the final image in all it’s glory;

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Is Jack simply reincarnated by the hotel to undergoe it’s bidding, taking the form of a previous hotel guest who stayed there in 1921 and butchered his family, the hotel re-creating the same events that happened in previous years for generation after generation?

That’s probably the theory that I have stuck closely to over the years during the many times I’ve seen the film, supported quite logically I always thought on the ever so creepy bathroom scene, possibly the best dialogue scene Kubrick ever shot, where we find out that Jack has “always been the caretaker” and that the butler Delbert Grady has “always been the butler”.

Hence, the hotel keeps bringing them back to life as new people.

Interesting also to note that the butler is named Delbert Grady, but when Jack first turns up at the hotel for the interview about the caretaker position at the beginning of the film, the story told to him about a murderous caretaker is that of a Charles Grady, the one who got cabin fever and butchered his family with an axe before turning the gun on himself. Kubrick was too much of a cerebral mastermind to let a simple contiunity name change pass him by, so I’m convinced this is intentional but whether it has any further deeper meaning than just to make the jigsaw ever more difficult to put together, I couldn’t say.

Were they related, are they the same person?

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Gerald Dahlquist of The Kubrick FAQ, comes up with the theory that Delbert Grady, the butler we meet in the bathroom was the butler back in the 1920’s, whereas Charles Grady, the caretaker who butchered his family existed in the 70’s, a kind of reincarnation of Delbert.

He supports a theory that Charles in the 70’s was a man in a “perilous situation”, who was part reincarnation of Delbert Grady with murderous intentions and part himself, who tries to get over them. In the end, the hotel tragically won and he killed his family. As he puts it, this would make Jack the new resident with the “perilous situation”…

The duality of Delbert/Charles Grady deliberately mirrors Jack Torrance being both the husband of Wendy/father of Danny and the mysterious man in the July 4th photo. It is to say he is two people: the man with choice in a perilous situation and the man who has ‘always’ been at the Overlook. It’s a mistake to see the final photo as evidence that the events of the film are predetermined: Jack has any number of moments where he can act other than the way he does, and that his (poor) choices are fueled by weakness and fear perhaps merely speaks all the more to the questions about the personal and the political that The Shiningbrings up. In the same way Charles had a chance – once more, perhaps – to not take on Delbert’s legacy, so Jack may have had a chance to escape his role as ‘caretaker’ to the interests of the powerful. It’s the tragic course of this story that he chooses not to

But a film blogger friend of mine recently gave me another impression to the final shot. He claimed that in good old fashion Twilight Zone esque endplay, Jack is kind of aborsed and taken away from the hotel and his current life when he dies after being driven mad by the hotel, who never wants residents to check out and is then locked into the photograph at the end, trapped in a forever single moment of time at the overlook ball.

I’m liking this theory a lot and it sticks with the “you have always been the caretaker” line, because in a sense that photograph will last forever, and he will forever be seen there. The grin of Nicholson proving to be a chilling smile, if there ever was one for a particularly downer ending as Jack becomes part of the furniture of the hotel for the rest of time.

Are there more interpretations to the final shot of The Shining? I would love to hear them and add them to this entry, the more the better, no matter how outlandish they may seem. What have you always made out the end of the film to mean?

Meanwhile you can watch the finale to The Shining HERE.