37 + years after its release, The Shining remains one of the most extensively analyzed and hotly debated films in cinematic history. It’s a movie full of riddles, and none is more perplexing than that man in the bear costume performing a sex act. While many believe this is a reference to a subplot in the novel by Stephen King, one about a partygoer in a dog costume having an affair with one of the Overlook’s previous owners.
Film critic & academic Rob Ager, however, has a very different interpretation of the man in the bear costume. For starters, he points out that Stanley Kubrick stated he wasn’t referencing King’s novel, as well as the fact that the man is dressed as a bear and not a dog. By investigating the reoccurrence of bears in The Shining with this in mind, Ager believes the scene is a symbolic representation of sexual abuse; specifically, Jack’s (Jack Nicholson) abuse of his son, Danny (Danny Lloyd).
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While this might seem like an outlandish postulation, Ager backs his theory up with a ton of compelling evidence. Even if you disagree with his thesis, it’ll forever change the way you look at the man in the bear costume. Give it a watch and let us know what you think in the Comments section!
If you can’t stream, the key points are briefly summarized below the video. Enjoy!
Official Synopsis: The Shining film analysis. Danny’s ordeal and the bear costumed man, exploring hidden abuse theme in the movie. By Rob Ager
The Reoccurrence of Bears in The Shining: Besides the man in the costume, bears appear throughout the film, most significantly, on Danny’s bed when he is talking to the female Dr./Psychiatrist. We see an image of 2 bears in a framed picture over Danny’s bed at The Overlook, and Ager believes this corresponds to an image of 2 naked children dancing. There is also a bear skin rug (with an open/gaping mouth) on the floor of the lobby.
Much has been made about the fact that Jack is reading a copy of Playgirl in an early scene. One of the articles listed on the cover is: “Incest: Why Parents Sleep with Their Children”.
Jack assaults Danny sexually and strangles him when the boy is retrieving his toy firetruck and his father asks him to sit on the bed with him. Danny’s experience in Room 237 is a twisted vision of his assault wherein he externalizes his abuser.
Jack’s experience in Room 237 is also a dissociative nightmare wherein the father indulges his sexual impulses before accepting the brutal truth of his actions.
Ager notes references to pornography and choking throughout The Shining.
The Apollo rocket ship on Danny’s sweater has been cited as proof Kubrick faked the moon landings, but Ager argues is a phallic symbol.
All of this culminates at the moment Wendy (Shelley Duvall) sees the man in the bear costume; whether she realizes that Jack has sexually abused their son is open to interpretation.
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Official Synopsis: Jack Torrance (Jack Nicholson) becomes winter caretaker at the isolated Overlook Hotel in Colorado, hoping to cure his writer’s block. He settles in along with his wife, Wendy (Shelley Duvall), and his son, Danny (Danny Lloyd), who is plagued by psychic premonitions. As Jack’s writing goes nowhere and Danny’s visions become more disturbing, Jack discovers the hotel’s dark secrets and begins to unravel into a homicidal maniac hell-bent on terrorizing his family.