∆ In our previous tumble through the Overlook, we explored an encoded conflict between alchemical opposites of male/female, red/blue, hot/cold, sun/moon, with the effect of time seeming to slow down, stop, and reverse — all symbolic clues that the pivotal events of The Shining take place during the winter solstice. But what happens if we synchronize the fictional times and dates displayed in The Shining to real historical time?
When do the events of The Shining take place?
∆ Stuart Ullman explains the Overlook season runs from May 15th to October 30th.
∆ Jack explains he has agreed to look after the Overlook Hotel until May the first. So we can assume that the tenure of the Torrence’s stay to be October 30th to May 1st, trusting in the however unreliable narrators of The Shining.
∆ We assume the Closing Day of the Torrence’s arrival at the Overlook to be October 30, which of course would make their first day alone at the hotel Halloween — another subliminal spooky courtesy of Kubrick.
∆ The family’s first day alone we are shown occurs “One Month Later” or about November 30th — after Thanksgiving, at least.
Interesting note that the narrative of the film skips over all holidays … except for Independence Day.
∆ After the “One Month Later” section, chapters in the narrative are broken up with inter-titles announcing days of the week. We are shown, in order, Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday, Monday, and Wednesday. Action continues after Wednesday into what we assume to be Thursday and Friday, then a coda somewhere outside of time. We assume this “days of the week” section to occur in December, but we are not given the time of year explicitly, other than a vague “winter.”
∆ Winter solstice is marked by the appearance of two consecutive days of equal length. On the Wednesday section of The Shining, things occur twice: two entrances into Room 237, two family arguments, two trips to the Gold Room bar, two phone calls to the park rangers. It should be noted that a winter solstice occurred on Wednesday, December 21st, 1977.
∆ The solstice of 1977 has special alignment with the symbolic conflict of The Shining for in 1977, as the December days get shorter and shorter, the moon gets fuller and fuller, climaxing in a full moon on Christmas Day. In fact on the winter solstice of 1977, the sun and moon share the sky for two hours and fourteen minutes, the exact amount of time Wendy and Danny are in the narrative of The Shining. (They enter at four minutes in and exit at two hours, eighteen minutes — The longer US cut of course.) If we assume The Shining to take place in 1977, then Jack dies sometime before daylight on December 23rd, making that first Tuesday sequence occur on December 13th. So The Shining skillfully avoids all holidays again, missing both Christmas and Hannukah, which occurred December 5th-12th in 1977.
∆ So symbolically, we like 1977 for the year of The Shining. 1977 was indeed a bit of an apocalypse for the culture. But this is a hunch, and a bit of a leap of faith … what happens if we test the year against the displayed times and daylight of the rest of the narrative?
∆ On the solstice Wednesday of The Shining, we see time slowing down and stopping, but on the “Thursday,” time seems to moving in two directions at once. We will see through close examination of the displays of time and light in The Shining and realities of time and light in 1977 Colorado another grand expression of Stanley Kubrick’s trademark “mistakes on purpose” revealing deeper poetic meaning.
∆ After seeing Jack disconnect the radio at 11:45 Wednesday and Hallorann’s final call to the park rangers, we are shown the title card “8 am” so we assume it is now Thursday and by our poetic estimation, the date is December 22nd, 1977.
∆ Somewhere in the air between Florida and Colorado, Hallorann asks what time they land and a stewardess answers 8:20.
∆ We see Jack typing in the Colorado Lounge with pale daylight through the windows. As Kubrick researcher Juli Kearns notices, Jack is dressed the same solid green shirt as in the “Tuesday” sequence, establishing a pattern of time distortion for the climactic “Thursday” sequence. Recall the first Thursday sequence in the film has that brief shot of Jack ‘shining’ in the Colorado Lounge. Is it this second Thursday he is ‘shining’?
∆ In dim daylight a plane touches down.
∆ In dim daylight, Durkin passes a clock reading 9:05 before answering Hallorannn’s call.
∆ Hallroann says he’ll be at Durkin’s in “about five hours,” and it is still daylight but approaching dusk as Hallorann is last shown driving towards the Auto Supply shop. The sunset is at 4:39PM on December 22nd, 1977, in Colorado, so the Hallorann sequences are consistant with “real” time and seasonal daylight.
∆ Now as we cut to Wendy and Danny in Apt. 3, Wendy’s watch reads 6:30 and pale daylight is illuminating the room. We assume the narrative time of the film has been pulled back so we can follow Wendy’s story.
∆ Pale daylight illuminates the Colorado Lounge when Wendy knocks out Jack.
∆ As Wendy drags Jack to the Store Room, the Kitchen clock reads 6:55.
∆ Wendy’s watch also reads 6:55, so a production effort was made to underline the time.
∆ Immediately after, Wendy runs outside to check out the Snow Cat and it is light out, but seems near dusk.
∆ Immediately after we see Wendy holding a piece of the destroyed Snow Cat engine we are shown the inter-title “4 pm” then a dim daylight exterior shot of the Overlook and then Jack asleep in the Store Room, so we assume some longer stretch of time has passed. But given the watches, clocks and daylight shown in the Wendy sequence, is the time realistic?
∆ The displayed time is 6:30, but there’s no way this could be 6:30AM in December in Colorado, where the sun never rises before 7:00AM.
∆ In 1977, for full sun light to be out at 6:30 in the morning, it would have to be much earlier in the year. In fact, it would have to be October 30th, 1977, the Torrence’s first day at the Overlook. Any day later wouldn’t have full sunrise at 6:30, a day earlier would be in Daylight Savings time at the sunrise would be an hour later.
∆ So Wendy’s exit from the hotel at 6:55AM into daylight would also be an impossibility given the time of year, not only considering that it would be pushing it timewise for Wendy to walk from Apt. 3 to the Lounge, have a 15-minute-screentime confrontation with Jack and also drag his body the length of the Hotel, all within 25 minutes. So maybe this is 6:55 in the evening?
∆ For it to be light out at 6:55PM in Colorado, it would have to be April 30th, 1978, when Daylight Savings Time starts and advances the sunset from 6:51PM the previous day to 7:51PM, which would also coincidently be the Torrence’s final day at the Overlook. As Jack explains their responsibility for the Hotel runs until May the First.
∆ So the final “Thursday” of the Shining is impossibly, simultaneously the Torrence’s first and last day at the Overlook. Jack’s contract says no one leaves the Hotel until May the First, and so no one does. If we take the times and daylight displayed as “real,” Wendy and Danny do not leave until the early morning hours of May 1st, 1978. Therefore, in a way, Danny and Wendy use time travel to escape the Overlook, using Wendy’s watch (the only readable watch in The Shining) to advance or rewind to the allowed time of departure.
The Torrence’s arrival and departure from The Overlook coinciding with the end and beginning of Daylight Savings Time is interesting, DST itself being a form of mass time travel. Reading up on the history of Daylight Savings Time, we find all the elements worthy of a classic Kubrick backstory; politics, economics, war and leisure all collide in what seems to be conspiracy to provide “all the best people” with a few more hours of golf during the Summer.
∆ December 23rd, 1977 or May 1st, 1978: A Day Outside Of Time.
∆ Summer hours.