Thursday, November 10, 2022


Dies Irae

Stanley Kubrick opens "The Shining" with stunning aerial shots of a Volkswagen wending its way through the mountains of the West to the cavernous resort where Jack Torrance, played by Jack Nicholson, will lose his mind.  Kubrick with trademark eccentricity chose for the music to accompany this opening a lesser-known version of the "Dies Irae," the "Day of Wrath."

The Day of Wrath is the Day of Judgment.  But whose judgment is it, and who is doing the judging?  By the end of the film, during which Jack rampages against his own wife and son, it seems clear that Jack is the instrument of judgment, not its object.  We are asked to ask of ourselves why the Wrath would be turned against the innocent, as it often is.

A recent study summarizes the results of serious medical research into the phenomenon of the "life review" during near death experiences.  A large number of people who were revived via CPR after complete heart failure reported having gone through the life review.  (Most of these people died permanently, as it were, soon after they were brought back from the heart stoppage.)

Somehow the laws of time are violated during the phenomenon, insofar as people report that their whole lives flash before them in what to the medical professionals is a matter of minutes.  

The purpose, or one purpose, of the review seems to be to allow the person in distress to evaluate the effect of his or her behavior on others, from the point of view of the other.  This makes one regret the bad things that one has done, but it seems that one does not fall into paroxysms of guilt, but rather has new empathy for the self as well as the others.

We know how Jack's life ends.  He is hopelessly lost in a winter maze, having failed to capture and kill his son.  He gives up on finding his way out of the maze, perhaps out of exhaustion, and he freezes solid in a sitting position, with his eyes open.  The culminating expression on his face illustrates rampage, not fear or regret.  (How many takes did Kubrick force upon Nicholson to achieve this one iconic shot?)

Jack's rage was triggered by his wife's invasion of the space in which he indulged his increasingly lurid literary ambitions on an old mechanical typewriter -- "All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy."  As the light was going out, his personal light, he did not forgive those who had trespassed against him.  And thus, perhaps, he consigned himself to Hell.

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