Dark Stephen King Theory Reveals The Shining's Torrances Are In Hell

Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining is so different from Stephen King’s novel that it has made way for a variety of theories, including one that suggests the Overlook Hotel is hell and the Torrances are trapped in it. Stephen King has terrorized generations of readers for decades, and his novels and short stories have become so popular that many of them have been adapted to other media, though not all of them successfully. One of the most popular but also controversial adaptations of a Stephen King novel is The Shining, by Stanley Kubrick, who made big changes to the original story.


The Shining tells the story of Jack Torrance (Jack Nicholson), a struggling writer and recovering alcoholic who takes a position as the off-season caretaker of the Overlook Hotel in the Colorado Rockies. Jack hopes to find the inspiration he needs to work on a play while at the hotel, and he also takes his wife, Wendy (Shelley Duvall), and their son, Danny (Danny Lloyd), in hopes that they can reconnect and rebuild their relationship, but it all gets complicated and frightening when a snowstorm leaves them cut off from the outside world. Along with Danny’s mysterious psychic abilities, the supernatural forces inhabiting the Overlook Hotel begin to awaken and start messing with Jack’s sanity, leaving Wendy and Danny fighting for their lives.

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The way Kubrick represented the Overlook’s supernatural forces and Jack’s mental state has made way for a variety of theories on the real meaning of The Shining and what its many elements represent. Among those is a theory that suggests the Overlook Hotel is actually hell, and the Torrance family is trapped there due to Jack's actions, and through this, it explains some of The Shining’s biggest mysteries.

The Overlook Hotel’s Impossible Layout

The Shining Overlook Hotel Jack maze

Over the years, viewers have pointed out that the Overlook Hotel in Kubrick’s The Shining has an impossible layout, with corridors, rooms, stairs, and more changing places all the time, as well as the scenery outside the windows changing between scenes. The Overlook’s design changes between cuts in different scenes, leading to a lot of interpretations by viewers, but this was actually done on purpose by Kubrick, who wanted to enhance the unsettling vibe of the Overlook Hotel through objects that disappear between cuts, patterns changing in the same scene (such as the rug in the scene where a ball rolls towards Danny), and more. Through this, Kubrick disoriented the audience along with the Torrances and established that the Overlook Hotel had life of its own, while also showing that nothing and no one could be trusted inside the hotel.

Theory: The Overlook Hotel Is Hell

The Shining Jack Grady bathroom

The Overlook’s changing layout has made way for a theory that suggests the hotel is actually hell, thus why its nonsensical architecture and its many changes throughout The Shining. There are different versions of the theory, but most coincide with Jack dying long ago, and when he took the job of caretaker, he was actually signing his soul away to the hotel/hell. Jack, then, is trapped in the Overlook Hotel for eternity and is doomed to repeat the last winter of his life in a never-ending loop. Among the elements of The Shining that can support the theory are the hotel already housing various ghosts, most notably Delbert Grady, the Overlook’s previous caretaker who went mad and killed his family, hence why his twin daughters show up in the hotel. Grady doesn’t seem to remember he killed his family, and that’s because, like Jack, he’s trapped in hell, repeating his own nightmarish scenario over and over again.

The theory of The Shining’s Overlook Hotel being hell and the Torrances being trapped in it can also solve the mystery of some of the movie’s most confusing and mysterious lines, such as Jack saying that, when he arrived for his interview, he felt as if he had been there before, and later Grady telling him that he has “always been the caretaker” because he’s spending eternity in the hotel. The theory is further supported by Jack never being seen outside the Overlook Hotel or the road that leads up to it, while Wendy and Danny are shown at home, suggesting that Jack has, in fact, always been the caretaker – at least in his own, personal hell at the hotel, and this is also why he appears in the photograph at the end of The Shining.

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What The Photo At The End of The Shining Really Means

The Shining ending photo meaning

The final shot in Kubrick’s The Shining is a 1921 photograph of Jack and other guests at the hotel’s ballroom, which has been interpreted in a number of ways over the years. The most popular explanation is that it represents the Overlook Hotel “absorbing” Jack’s soul once he freezes to death, though Kubrick once said the photo suggests Jack is the reincarnation of an earlier official at the hotel, with Charles Grady, the past caretaker, being the reincarnation of Delbert Grady, the man who murdered his family. However, seen under the lens of the theory of the Overlook Hotel being hell, the photograph could reveal when Jack Torrance died and joined hell, and the rest of the guests are ghosts who are also doomed to stay there for eternity and relive their own versions of hell. Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining isn't loyal to Stephen King’s book, but it has certainly made way for some interesting interpretations that can elevate the audience’s viewing experience.