“Yes,” Sanjay said. “I know I will be reborn, that there is no escape from you. I know my life well and I know that I have not found liberation. I will have to come back to you. But remember, when I die, I do not give up to you, I renounce the world. The world in which nothing is clear, where there is horror at every turn, I am sick of it. I know I will be reborn into it. Since you say you are my friend, I will ask you a question. Does it get better?
“The world is the world. It is you that makes the horror.”
“A fine way of saying that it gets worse. All right, I ask you another question. If I must be reborn, I prefer not to be aware, to be always divided against myself, to be a monster; I have no doubt cursed myself through my actions, but have I done enough so that I will be reborn as an animal?”
“Why do you think that life as animal is a curse? It is rather a privilege.”
There was a Camellia Tree of great beauty
Whose blossoms were white as honey wax
Splashed and streaked with the pink of fair coral.
When the moon rose in the sky,
The Camellia Tree would leave its place
By the gateway,
And wander up and down the garden,
Trailing its roots behind it
Like a train of rustling silk.
The people in the house,
Hearing the scrape of them upon the gravel,
Looked into the garden
And saw the tree,
With its flowers erect and peering,
Pressed against the shoji.
Many nights the tree walked about the garden,
Until the women and children
And the Master of the house
Ordered that it be cut down.
But when the gardener brought his axe
And struck the trunk of the tree,
There spouted forth a stream of dark blood;
And when the stump was torn up,
The hole quivered like an open wound.
I was there when the first dreams came off the assembly line. I was there when the corrupted visions that had congealed in the vats were pincered up and hosed off and carried down the line to be dropped onto the rolling belts. I was there when the first workmen dropped their faceplates and turned on their welding torches. I was there when they began welding the foul things into their armor, when they began soldering the antennae, bolting on the wheels, pouring in the eye-socket jelly. I was there when they turned the juice on them and I was there when the things began to twitch.
―Harlan Ellison, Quiet Lies the Locust Tells from Stalking the Nightmare
Everyone experiences at some point the fearful awakening from nightmare: the unelicited scream, the chest tight with overabundance of breath, the sudden jolt into consciousness. Whether the dream recoils quickly into oblivion or haunts us for hours or days, we know it has power over us, at least when we are asleep. Some artists are given to exploring their nightmares and fleshing out what lies there. The attempt to share fear, whether to amplify or dilute it, to bring others to a place where they can appreciate it, or simply to assuage loneliness has always been part of the human experience. If we recognize our own fears in the mind of another, there is both peace in realizing that we are not alone in our imaginings and horror in realizing that there may be something universal which operates inside or outside of our own selves.
H.R. Giger is among the greatest nightmare artists of our time, known best for his designs for Ridley Scott’s Alien films. Born in Switzerland during World War II, he grew up with severe night terrors. Instead of running from them, he learned to convert them into art, sleeping with a sketch pad and pencils at his bedside. Drawing the terrifying creatures of his mind is a complex conversation with his subconscious, a tenuous collaboration that draws a livelihood from something which disturbs rest and health. He has described it as exorcism. Resolution of his fearful dreams might mean an end to creativity. On the other hand, can you imagine having such visions and not being able to share them?
Growing up in a modest, middle class household, Giger left home to study architecture and industrial design in Zurich. This has proved invaluable in a career that ranges from painting, drawing and album art to sculpture and set design. In the late 1960s, he discovered the technique of airbrush, a means of spraying ink or paint, and developed his own style of surrealistic art, an unsettling combination of biological anatomy with mechanical design which he dubbed biomechanics. These dreamscapes were often rendered in near darkness, with just a hint of light revealing forms hidden there. It was this style that appealed to Ridley Scott, who was looking for an incarnation of pure evil to play the title character in Alien.
Giger would win an Oscar for his creation, a murderous alien stalking in the dark. He designed the alien Xenomorph in detail at all stages of its lifecycle as well as all of its environments. The monster progresses from egg to larva, shooting out of poor John Hurt in a scene that has been re-enacted by teenagers (and older enthusiasts) for decades. Eventually he grows into something dark, slithery and very biomechanical, which required an actor in a costume, Bolaji Badejo. The Xenomorph has aged well and is still incredibly scary, largely due to how little we see of it. The darkness allows us to imagine something much more terrifying and indulges our unique individual fears. Later films in the series never quite equalled the horror of the original, released in 1979. What is it that scares you most?
Other film projects would follow. In addition to the Alien sequels, he would design Poltergeist II, Species and Alejandro Jodorowsky’s unreleased Dune. A new documentary on that film will be released in 2014 and has already garnered numerous film festival awards. I can’t wait to see Giger’s work there. You can see a trailer for Jodorowsky’s Dunehere.
Another great Swiss thinker, Carl Jung, spoke of the need to recognize, empathize and learn to love the dark side of our being, rather than repressing it and causing it to go rogue. He never said that this process was without danger or risk. Art allows us to give form to our shadow; it is up to us as artists and spectators to interpret this form. If we recognize a monster within, how do we approach it?
The Shining contains themes of abuse, addiction, insanity and manipulative evil. What actually makes this story tick in the imagination?
I grew up watching horror movies on my father’s knee. The Shining was one of those films. I distinctly remember the eerie music playing as the little yellow Volkswagen Bug crept into the mountains.
Most novels easily surpass any film or theatrical adaptation, but Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining gives Stephen King a run for his money. It is an excellent film, perhaps largely because Kubrick was willing to stray from the original story in ways that allow the film to have a life of its own. Even so, there are things missing from his retelling which create a richer and scarier landscape in the novel. Many of these things are due to differences in medium. Visual and auditory elements work well in films, while psychological elements, such as internal monologues, do not. Characters like Tony, Danny’s imaginary friend, are difficult to portray and putting them onscreen forces Kubrick to make definitive choices which we are not forced to make as readers. For this reason any film adaptation will make our own imagination “wrong”. This is why they produce such strong reactions.
Kubrick altered and added to the story, creating intense images that make the strongest impacts in the film, such as the blood pouring from the elevator, the ghostly sisters, and the hedge maze. He also managed to de-emphasize one of the central tenets of the story: that a place, or a supernatural inhabitant of a place, could be inherently evil and manipulative by feeding off the energy of its human inhabitants. While it isn’t devoid of supernatural elements, the movie plays up the more explicable side of the story, a man going insane who projects his insanity on his wife and son. The Jack Torrance of the book does a much better job of holding things together, and, as much as I enjoy watching Jack Nicholson play crazy, I wonder if seeing his insanity develop would have been more satisfying.
The most disappointing portrayal in the film is that of Wendy Torrance. Jack’s wife in the novel is a heroic female, torn between a husband and a son who are both behaving incoherently. By the end of the book she is operating extremely clearly in a way that anyone who has ever been through a traumatic situation will recognize. Hollywood wasn’t ready for that in 1980 and I’m not sure they are now. The horror genre has long been enamored of the screaming female and Shelley Duvall is quite the victim. I don’t fault her acting. The problem lies with Kubrick’s direction. His cruelty and meanness toward Shelley Duvall during filming is legendary and inexcusable. Jack’s rampage scene is made more horrific when you realize that Kubrick worked her into a state of mental and emotional panic. She isn’t acting; she’s coming apart before our eyes.
There is a chapter in the book which deals with a clock in the East Ballroom of the Overlook Hotel. This is one of my favorite chapters. It is absent from Kubrick’s realization.
Here in the Overlook all times were one. There was an endless night in August of 1945, with laughter and drinks and a chosen shining few going up and coming down in the elevator, drinking champagne and popping party favors in each other’s faces. It was a not-yet light morning in June some twenty years later and the organization hitters endlessly pumped shotgun shells into the torn and bleeding bodies of three men who went through their agony endlessly. In a room on the second floor a woman lolled in her tub and waited for visitors.
Public Domain Image via Pixabay
In the Overlook all things had a sort of life. It was as if the whole place had been wound up with a silver key. The clock was running. The clock was running.
He was that key, Danny thought sadly. Tony had warned him and he had just let things go on. — The Shining, Chapter 37, The Ballroom
For me this hints at what is most terrifying about the Overlook Hotel: that the forces behind the place are able to subvert time. They hold on to certain people and replay them over and over, never allowing them to rest or be at peace. Even worse, they are able to alter and control events in the present through these replays, by intimidating and even touching the living. The terrifying lady in the bath tub nearly strangles Danny, leaving marks. Kubrick doesn’t portray this onscreen, leaving us to wonder if Jack, or perhaps Danny himself, is responsible.
It strikes me as odd that Kubrick deleted so many of the elements that spoke overtly of the predatory evil of the Overlook Hotel. Was it that he didn’t believe in these elements or was it that they symbolized something he himself wasn’t willing to deal with: that there might be inhuman evil that could turn a man into a monster from the outside? Regardless, both the film and the novel are masterpieces, albeit masterpieces that tell different stories.