GREENRUM: Kubrick's Genius Use of Colour in The Shining

So I was watching The Shining (1980) this weekend, and I noticed a detail in it that I never spotted before.

Early on in the film, when Jack goes over to the model maze, look at what’s on the floor on his left:

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It’s what’s known in the UK (where the film was shot) as a ‘gollywog’ doll. A doll notoriously used to allegedly depict black men in a racist way.

Look at where it is. It is used to foreshadow the black cook, Halloran’s death later on in the film:

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Not only does it show Halloran’s death, but the exact place in the house it will happen. As well as the exact position Halloran will form when he dies (face up, arms spread, like a doll).

To note, Kubrick was notorious for obsessing over small details. The Shining took a year to film (about four times longer than the average production), and by this point Kubrick had a reputation for being one of the most obsessive and demanding directors.

So I started to pay attention to the small details in the film and what I saw really blew my mind.

Let’s start with the interview scene where Jack Torrence is speaking to the hotel manager:

Look at the shape, texture and size of the manager’s tie.

Now let’s look at Jack’s tie:

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It’s exactly the same, but it’s dark green. I started paying attention to the colour’s used and Kubrick uses green to contrast red in the costumes, props and set design, in not only every scene in the film, but nearly every shot:

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Note that as the film progresses, the scene design changes from predominately green with a splash of red, to the opposite - predominately red with a splash of green:

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So what was Kubrick trying to say here? Let’s take a look at how Jack’s costume progresses throughout the film.

After his first scene where he is wearing the green tie, he is wearing a green sweater:

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And in the next scene when he wakes up, what colour t-shirt is he wearing?

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What colour in the next four scenes?

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Then Jack wakes up screaming from the nightmare that he chops Wendy and Danny into ‘little pieces’. What colour is his jacket in the scene when he wakes up?

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Jack wears the red jacket in every single scene in the film until the end, showing his descent into madness:

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Look at the Native American blanket on the wall behind him. At the start of the film, Wendy asks the hotel manager “are all these Indian designs authentic?”, the manager responds “I believe they’re based on Navajo and Apache motifs”. And notably, the blanket is green.

Take a quick look at the colour of the Exit sign in the following scene:

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Now look at the colour of the Exit sign in the previous scene:

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And later on in the film, back to red:

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So what is the green supposed to signify?

I think Kubrick uses green to symbolise nature (the force of nature was a key Native American belief).

Kubrick uses the green of plants and trees to contrast the use of red in key scenes throughout the film:

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The green of house plants is used throughout the hotel. Look to the left in this scene where Danny is on his bike:

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Interestingly, as the film progresses, many of the house plants start to die and wither, giving a nod that suggests Jack isn’t maintaining the hotel properly as he descends into madness:

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But from the very first shot of the film, the green of nature is used:

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As they go up into the mountains, the snow starts to appear over the green:

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Until the snow starts to mask all of the green:

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The snow fall is a key event in the film. It’s the reason why Jack is employed at the hotel and it’s only when the snow starts to fall, does the ‘cabin fever’ start to kick in. It’s also the reason why the hotel is so isolated in the winter.

When the snow has fallen, Kubrick uses just red against the white:

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Kubrick uses the green of trees against the snow as well. But mostly, the snow has covered (or is covering the green):

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The cold of the winter kills the plants (much as it does in real life). And it’s the cold of the winter that ultimately kills Jack.

So if green is used to depict nature, what does red symbolise?

The most obvious one is blood and murder, hence REDRUM. But it is used to symbolise more than that.

Let’s go back to the interview scene at the start. What’s on the hotel manager’s desk?

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It’s a tiny American flag.

Now let’s look at the police station used later in the film. What colour is the policeman’s jacket? And what is in the background of the shot?

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And what is hanging from the wall of the room where Jack goes insane and Halloran is murdered?

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Earlier on in the film, the hotel manager says that “Four presidents stayed here”.

But red means more than that. Let’s take a look at the pantry, when Jack gets locked inside towards the end of the film:

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Look at the red cans behind Jack. (I can’t take credit for noticing this, as it has already been written about by film analysts extensively online). As well as showing a Native ‘Red Indian’ American, the name of the fictional brand is ‘Calumet’, which means ‘Peace Pipe’ in Native American.

Also, note the brand name used to the left. (Using brand names is a long legal process, so this is no coincidence). Kubrick uses Heinz. (Again this has already been pointed out by analysts online). The origin of the word Heinz is German and means ‘Power’.

Look at another shot of the pantry:

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Heinz is used again. This time, what’s the colour? Green. What does it say on the cans? “Kosher”.

And earlier in the film, the Calumet brand is used again. Look at the similarity of the Native American on the can and Halloran:

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Not for the last time, Kubrick could be argued to show a comparison between the bloody treatment of the Native Americans at the hands of the United States, and the similar brutal treatment of native Africans through slavery. Notably, Halloran is a literal servant to the hotel. He is the cook.

Let’s take a look at Halloran’s house (in Miami). What’s on the wall behind him?

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That’s behind him (in the past). What colour is it?

And what’s on the wall in front of him? (In the future)

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Let’s take a look at these two pictures side by side:

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On the left (the red of the past) the female is on her knees: a subservient pose. She is also wearing bracelets, that could be argued to symbolise the shackles of slavery.

On the right, the woman’s afro is bigger (suggesting she has grown), she is not wearing the bracelets, and she is is notably in a more relaxed and ‘free’ pose. Note this picture is in black and white also.

There is another significant use of a black and white photo used earlier in the film (on the right):

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It’s a Native American.

And what black and white photos are also on the wall of the hotel?

As shown in the final shot of the film:

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Jack’s ‘always been the caretaker’. As he is told in the bathroom, where the ghost of Mr Grady, the previous caretaker who murdered his wife and girls says:

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Note, that the actor playing the ghost of Mr Grady is British (the only British character in the entire film).

Britian was of course the ancestor to the United States - whose founders slaughtered tens of millions of Native Americans.

And what does Mr Grady warn Jack about? (Note this is Kubrick’s only use of this term in his thirteen films):

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But of course, Jack promptly slaughters Halloran, and leaves him laid out, just like the rag doll at the start of the film.

To end, I want to talk about the parallels between Danny and Halloran.

They’re the only two characters that can ‘shine’. (Interesting fact by the way - early in the film, Halloran says that it was him and his grandmother that could shine to each other. In the Stephen King universe, Halloran’s grandmother is a character from The Stand (a Stephen King novel being made into a television series) where an old black lady uses the telepathic power of the ‘shine’ to round up the good survivors of a virus that wipes out most of the earth’s population).

Anyway, in The Shining it is only Danny and Halloran that can shine. There are parallels in what they both wear as well (in this scene, blue with a dash of red and white):

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The parallels in Danny’s character and Halloran’s are clear: Danny is trying to save himself from the bloody acts that his father (or ancestor) is trying to do. Both of them are American characters and both of their ancestors were involved in a bloody past.

Danny wears red for most of the scenes in the rest of the film (notably, Wendy wears green for most of the second half also):

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The last scene of the film, what colour is Danny wearing?

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Red, with a splash of green.

Note, how does Danny save himself at the end of the film?

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He retraces his footsteps and hides in the maze. He goes backwards and finds salvation in the green of the nature.

Whereas his dad, Jack, doesn’t. Jack continues going forward and is killed by the cold of the winter.

Okay, to finish off, I’ll show my two favourite uses of red and green in the film.

The first is the colour of the key used to unlock Room 237:

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Now look at the colour of the key used to unlock the family room:

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And what colours are the seats in the Overlook hotel?

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But in the iconic elevator blood scene, what colour are they?

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Agree? Disagree? Spotted anything in Kubrick’s films? Let us know.

There will never be another Kubrick. And there will never be another Shining. But his work remains an inspiration to everything we do as filmmakers.

We’re about to start pre-production on an indie horror called Hotel Maya that is inspired by his work. Watch this space.

You also might be interested in our other projects, like The Chain, a feature thriller about a group of people who find out about a paedophile ring that is run by a sociopathic investment banker.

Thanks for reading,

Paul