∆ REDRUM = MURDER is the legendary palindrome recounted on countless playgrounds and campfires as street-knowledge shorthand for the plot of The Shining.
∆ Like all ghost stories, REDRUM = MURDER initiates wisdom in activating the abstract thinking required to crack its algebraic code. Recognizing palindromes necessitates inner-mind computation, making plastic pictures of sonic information, resulting in an extradimensional awareness — a pathway to higher intelligence, just like writing letters on a chalkboard at school.
∆ In algebra, the “=” sign acts as a mirror, with every computation reversed and reflected across its implied quadrant.
A palindrome succeeds when the individual integers of a phrase reversed and added to the original phrase retains a colloquial logic. Palindromes, like ghost stories, proliferate because the simple narrative of a reversal-reversed implies the promise of life after death.
You can put something on its head and it stands up straight. You can kill something and it comes back to life. That’s a popular story.
∆ But what is the algebra of REDRUM = MURDER? What is murder reversed? “REDRUM” suggests liquor, life-blood, perhaps even ‘the days of wine and roses.’ Do they all lead to murder? In Stephen King’s view, the blame for Jack’s decent into murder is expressly put on alcohol, DRINK = DEATH. In Kubrick’s mathematics, an “=” sign is not a sign of ‘equality’, but a passageway of transformation, a bridge between two worlds. As the mystics, parents and Orwellians agree, 1 + 1 = 3.
If we examine the effector in the REDRUM = MURDER equation, the mirror, we find it not only an abstraction machine, but an artificial intelligence, molded in the image and articulating the judgements of specific personages, namely Wendy and Danny. The bedroom mirror in The Shining is an interpreter, storyteller and manipulator.
∆ We first see the bedroom mirror from behind as the Torrences inspect their Overlook apartment. The double-arch shape and black color of the mirror echos Wendy as she walks past. The mirror is facing the bathroom window through which Wendy will push Danny to escape in the film’s climax.
∆ At the end of the scene, Wendy fades into the Maze entrance gateway, which has the same double-arch shape of the bedroom mirror. Later in the narrative, this entrance will rotate to face the bathroom window.
∆ The double-arch of the bedroom mirror also resembles the corner archways in the Colorado Lounge. The gateway seen above is Wendy and Danny’s entrance to and from the Lounge, seemingly leading to both the apartment and the kitchen.
∆ We later see Wendy enter the Lounge through this archway after being seen in the Kitchen. In this scene, Jack explodes at Wendy for interrupting his work.
∆ In another scene later in the film, Wendy is seen exiting the Lounge through this archway and will later be seen in the apartment. In this scene, Wendy interrupts Jack’s nightmare and then Danny interrupts them in turn. Wendy leaves, accusing Jack of hurting Danny.
∆ The double-arch shape of the bedroom mirror is, to-a-lesser-degree, also reflected in the molding of the hallways outside the apartment. We see Wendy associated with all these repetitions of the bedroom mirror shape.
∆ The camera zooms back from sleeping Jack to reveal him in the reflection of the bedroom mirror, as we see it from the front for the first time in the film. Wendy’s arms form a mesa-shape, echoed in the red lamp screen-right.
∆ The second time we see the bedroom mirror from the front is when Danny discovers Jack awake in bed. Note the changes from the initial view. In the first scene, Wendy interrupts Jack peacefully dreaming. In the second scene, Danny interrupts Jack in a hypnagogic trance. Wendy enters to bring Jack something, his breakfast. Danny has come to take something, his toy fire truck. The lamp is gone. The curtain has switched sides. The camera’s POV is placed further back than the breakfast scene, making the room seem larger. This scene occurs after Jack and Wendy’s first big argument and her light has gone out of the bedroom.
Notice the olive garment bag over the door screen-right. It disappears in the rest of the scene, along with the log painting of the lake reflected in the bedroom mirror over Jack’s head. Both objects imply motion, with travel implied by the garment bag, and the log painting repeating the initial image of the film of travel to The Overlook. That they disappear suggests the increasing stasis of Jack in the sucking whirlpool of uselessness.
∆ The bedroom mirror shape is seen in both the floor and walls in the bathroom of Room 237. This is supposed to be Jack’s fantasy of luxury, but with the self-consciousness of the bedroom mirror informed on all sides, Jack’s libido has reached a dead-end.
∆ There is no soap, toilet paper, tissue, or towels in the bathroom of Room 237. There is no getting clean here. Only decay.
∆ While waiting for Jack to return from Room 237, Wendy frets in the bedroom. The bedroom mirror is seen from behind peaking out from the curtain. The lamp has returned, but has been moved closer to the refrigerator. Remember, Jack is killed by being enclosed and frozen. The log painting is back, a portal back to the entrance of the film.
∆ Jack has returned as well, initially self-composed and consoling.
∆ However as Danny listens in from his bedroom next door, he is crowned by shapes similar to the bedroom mirror formed by the bedpost shadows.
∆ The tenor of his parent’s conversation changes.
∆ Danny has another vision of the bloody elevator.
∆ Jack is now back to rage.
∆ Jack points Wendy down.
∆ Breaking the fourth wall, Jack looks with disgust at both Danny’s room and at us, the audience, resenting the narrative framing him.
∆ While Jack retreats to the Gold Room, Wendy paces the apartment wondering what to do.
∆ As Wendy passes the bedroom mirror, it reflects the bathroom toilet.
∆ We now see the window of the bedroom for the first time, curtains drawn and familiar red television at the foot.
∆ We see the familiar zig zag of books from the Boulder Apartment. Over the course of their stay, the Torrences have been transforming their apartment to look more like “home.”
∆ But Danny has “gone away.”
∆ The next morning, Danny-as-Tony has breakfast on Wendy’s bed. The bedroom mirror and the television are off-screen.
∆ Wendy disappears to the Lounge to confront Jack, while Danny ‘shines’ their conversation when his name comes up.
∆ Danny has a vision of the bloody elevator and the REDRUM door.
∆ Later that night, as Wendy is resting after subduing Jack, Tony-as-Danny paces the apartment just as his mother had done the night before. As Tony-as-Danny passes the bedroom mirror, we notice its similarity to his silhouette.
∆ Tony-as-Danny picked up the knife Wendy was using as a weapon. Note the green toy tank at the base of the lamp.
∆ Tony-as-Danny walks slowly to the bedroom mirror to grab a tube of lipstick, with its double curves, also resembling the mirror. The lipstick is an important reminder that the mirror’s primary purpose is Wendy’s beautification.
∆ Tony-as-Danny writes REDRUM on the bathroom door. It is important to note that RE faces one direction and DRUM faces the other direction. RE-DRUM, to repeat a rhythm.
∆ Danny’s repetition of REDRUM awakens Wendy.
∆ She hugs Danny and looks into the bedroom mirror.
∆ Lamps ahoy as the bedroom mirror reverses REDRUM to MURDER. This is Wendy’s ‘eureka’ moment of illumination.
∆ The suffix -ER is reversed; a warning against the act? Or the promise of the act against the perpetrator. Jack responds by cutting down doors with his axe.
∆ Unlike previous shots from this vantage point, we do not see the back of the bedroom mirror as Jack enters with the axe. The bedroom mirror is not for Jack. The one time he looks into it, he sticks his tongue out at it:
∆ When Jack looks into the bedroom mirror’s analog in Room 237, what he sees embodies Slavoj Žižek’s observation in The Pervert’s Guide To Cinema that “the fantasy realized is a nightmare.”
∆ Žižek was referring directly to Hitchcock’s Vertigo but we should all recognize the color green in the scene above — with the femme fatale emerging from a hotel bathroom no less! All students of The Shining will find many insights in the Žižek cine-lecture, even though he never mentions the film explicitly. The father’s obscene enjoyment in carrying out ‘The Law’ is a major theme, along with caveats against intercourse with the forbidden sphinx of desire.
∆ We last see the bedroom mirror as Jack reaches into and is repelled from the bathroom. The mirror tellingly reflects the empty bed. Jack’s energy is focused on destruction, not procreation.
∆ Jack’s final, fatal mistake will be to follow Danny through the bedroom mirror analog of the Maze gateway where he will be frozen to death.
∆ What do we see in the bedroom mirror? We see Jack twice. We see the bathroom toilet. We see books. We see the REDRUM door. We see the empty bed.
What action is associated with the bedroom mirror? Interruption. Jack is interrupted each time he is seen in the mirror. When Wendy or Danny enter the bedroom mirror analog in the Lounge, it is to interrupt Jack. When Jack follows Danny into the bedroom mirror analog of the Maze gateway, it serves the ultimate interruption — his death.
Jack seen in the mirror with extended tongue or arm. Bathroom door open and shut. Empty bed. Interruption. Entrances.
All highly suggestive of Jack being discovered masturbating in the bathroom.
Think of the layout of the Overlook apartment compared to the Boulder apartment. Unlike his previous home, Danny must pass through his parents’ bedroom to reach the bathroom, increasing the chances of Danny chancing on a classic Freudian primal scene.
Is the MURDER written on the door in red lipstick there to shame Jack for ‘killing’ potential children in the act of self-gratification? Think of the spilling of egg-based cocktail advocaat and what happens in the Gold Room bathroom — Jack’s lusty reactions to being wiped off by Grady. Think of Jack reading Playgirl magazine on his first day of work. Think of Jack’s ultra-repetitive novel — “All work and no play make Jack a dull boy.” He is so furious at Wendy for interrupting his writing … but is ashamed of it and hides it from her.
∆ And when would his novel end? It can only be finished by outside force. Effectively, Wendy and Danny complete Jack’s work of art by ending his ability to continue.