Stephen King is one of the greatest writers in the universal literature space. His works are among the most popular works in modern literature, and one of the most popular among them is, of course, The Shining. The book was published in 1977 and, three years later, was adapted by Stanley Kubrick into one of the most seminal films of the horror genre. In the film, the character of Jack Torrance dies at the end, frozen. But why?
Jack Torrance dies at the end of the film, frozen, after going on a murderous rampage throughout the Overlook Hotel trying to kill his family. However, a wounded Jack is no match for the power of the blizzard, and when he gets lost in the labyrinth garden, we discover him frozen dead the next morning.
Of course, exploring how and why Jack Torrance ended up in that situation will make us go into spoiler territory. So be warned, the next section includes spoilers from both the book by Stephen King and the movie by Stanley Kubrick.
The Shining might be one of the most complex horror films in the history of cinema. This is not by chance, as director Stanley Kubrick was already known for his obsession with perfection and overemphasis on details, both on the visual and narrative sides, at the time. This level of detail can be seen from the first seconds of the film as we get closer and closer to the Overlook Hotel, the setting for the story and one of the most iconic places in movie history.
The Overlook Hotel is more than just a simple place to stay while on vacation in the mountains. The building has a long and dark history. Kubrick placed some very subtle but important hints that the place could be built on sacred Native American ground. Throughout the film, we can see a lot of Native American imagery that hints at the violent history of those people inside the United States of America. It is a long, dark history of blood and repression.
When Jack Nicholson’s character, Jack Torrance, gets a job at the Overlook, to serve as a caretaker for the hotel during the winter, he brings his whole family with him. At first, the decision seemed to be the right one. Jack is a recovering alcoholic, with a history of abuse towards his son, Danny. Wendy, Jack’s wife, is happy that living all together in the hotel has made the family become closer.
Sadly, the dark energy that covers the hotel begins to leak, and Danny is the first victim. Danny possesses a powerful ability called “The Shining,” which allows him to perceive supernatural events with ease. The hotel wants Danny, but he refuses. When the hotel can take over Danny, it chooses to take over Jack, and this time it is an easy process.
Jack is a frustrated writer, a man who has given up on the bottle, and someone who feels trapped being a husband and father. The hotel feeds these dark thoughts and makes the monster inside Jack come out.
After that, in what can only be described as a rampage, Jack goes for the kill after being manipulated by the dark forces of the hotel. The chase through the hotel is a long and hard one, but Wendy’s instinct as a mother fills her with enough will and power to keep Danny and herself alive.
Outside, the blizzard that attacks the mountain is a harsh one, and when Jack cannot find the exit from the hedge garden, his fate is sealed. His body later appears frozen in the snow, but in a more terrifying twist at the end of the film, we see a picture from many years ago, with Jack as the central object. A hint that the forces that work on the hotel might have led Jack to his death in the snow, but they are certainly not ready to let his soul go.
The Shining as a whole is a reflection of King’s own struggles with alcohol, Jack is a mirrored version of King and how the writer thought of himself during those dark times. King doesn’t really like Kubrick’s adaptation, as the film throws most of this subtext out and replaces it with something more sinister, although less personal. King’s story is a personal one, the story of a father being absorbed by demons of his own creation and not being able to defeat those demons, sadly dragging his family along with him.
Kubrick’s version is more expansive in its scale, as it certainly tries to talk about evil as a concept. And how the Overlook itself seems more like a monument to the evils of conquest in the name of money and land. All these elements are incredibly interesting, but the characters are left out of the personal story King wanted to tell, and they are put into a more conspiratorial kind of film. Different versions of the same story, but both of them have tons of elements that can be appreciated.
Jack Nicholson’s performance in the film is fantastic. However, while King disliked it, as he saw Nicholson as someone who already looked crazy from the beginning, the figure of Nicholson with an axe or frozen dead in the snow has survived to this day; thanks to the internet and the rapid spread of memes throughout its ecosystem.
So, now you know the answer as to why Jack Nicholson is all frozen and dead at the end of the film. You can give a very informed answer if someone asks you or your friends. However, if you haven’t watched The Shining, you should. It is a must-watch for anyone that wants to expand their film culture. And even if you have, it is always good to revisit it, as it is one of those films where you can always find new details that will enrich your interpretation of the story.