Guest Journal / Journal / Visual Culture

This is Uncanny: Number-play in Stanley Kubrick’s ‘The Shining’

Lee Unkrich and Roger Erik Tinch.

The Uncanny: Number PlayIn The Shining, Stanley Kubrick makes extensive use of number play, employing the same visual mirroring and doubling motif throughout the film. Specifically, there are several repetitions of the numbers 42, 24, 21, and 12. With the aid of some handy visual aids, here’s what we mean:

The Shining | Overlookk Hotel | 1921

At the end of the film, Jack Torrance is shown in a photo for a New Year’s Eve ball in 1921

The Shining | 21 Pictures

That photograph is also one of 21 framed photos hanging on one of the hotel’s wall.

The Shining | 42 Sleeve

Danny Torrance’s shirt has a 42 on the sleeve.

The Shining | Summer of 42

Wendy Torrance watches the film Summer of ‘42 on television.

The Shining | License Plate

Dick Hallorann’s rental car license plate has a prominent 42.

The Shining | 42 vehicles

There are 42 vehicles in front of the Overlook at the beginning of Jack’s interview (not including the Sno-Cat).

The Shining | Room 237

In Room 237, the product of 2, 3 and 7 is 42. The sum of 2, 3 and 7 is 12.

The Shining | Barstools

When Jack first sees Lloyd the bartender, the barstools are arranged in a configuration of 4 and 2.

The Shining | 8am

The two inter title times shown on screen are ’8am’ and ’4pm’, which add up to 12.

Other examples include:

  • Dick Hallorann’s litany of a freezer and pantry stock includes 12 turkeys, 24 pork roasts, 12-pound bags of sugar, and 12 jugs of black molasses.
  • The shortwave radio call sign for the Overlook Hotel is ‘KDK 12′.
The sheer number of these instances is an argument against coincidence, but if one needs further proof of Kubrick’s fascination with number play, the title page of his copy of Stephen King’s novel of The Shining is filled with Kubrick’s own handwriting as he works out creative ways to use the number 217. Room 217 was the number of the dead woman’s room in the novel, which Kubrick changed at the request of the Timberline Hotel management. His selection of 237 was not without forethought.
The Shining

Number 217 as Address and Date.

The question we can freely ask is why? One answer is that it’s known Kubrick studied Sigmund Freud’s writings on The Uncanny, where Freud discusses the unsettling effect that recurring numbers can have:

‘We naturally attach no importance to the event when we hand in an overcoat and get a cloak room ticket with the number, let us say, 62; or when we find our cabin on a ship bears that number. But the impression is altered if two such events, each in itself indifferent, happen close together — if we come across the number 62 several times in a single day, or if we begin to notice that everything which has a number — addresses, hotel rooms, compartments in railway trains — invariably has the same one, or at all events one which contains the same figures. We do feel this to be uncanny.’

This article was initially published on The Overlook Hotel, a beautifully designed blog that is dedicated to Stanley Kubrick’s masterpiece, The Shining. The site’s caretaker is Lee Unkrich, and the interior decorator is Roger Erik Tinch. You can follow them on Twitter @overlookhotel.

4 thoughts on “This is Uncanny: Number-play in Stanley Kubrick’s ‘The Shining’

  1. On the DVD Summer of ’42, the moment that plays in the film The Shining is the 24 minute marker of the Summer of ’42 DVD.

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