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The Shining/Hour of the Wolf

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Edited: Oct 6, 2007, 3:58pm Top

I hope I'm not overstepping my bounds in comparing a book to a movie, but the discussion over at Writer-readers has caused my interest in these two "texts" to become quite intense.

The Shining is a novel by Stephen King and was also made into a movie (actually, two movie versions of the novel have been made). The Hour of the Wolf is a film by Ingmar Bergman.

Both The Shining and The Hour of the Wolf are about artists. In both cases, the artist falls prey to inner chaos, causing complete personality disintegration.

In The Shining, Jack Torrance takes a job as a caretaker at the Overlook Hotel. He wants quiet time in order to devote to writing his novel. He is also attempting to escape personal and social problems stemming from an incident of abusing his son. In The Hour of the Wolf, Johan Borg goes to a remote island in order to paint. He is also escaping elements of his past, including a love affair which turned out badly. Both artists live in seclusion with their wives and slowly go mad. There are also erotically charged elements to both works. For instance, in The Shining, Jack finds himself seduced by a woman who at first appears to be beautiful and young, but who shifts into a hag resembling a rotting corpse. In The Hour of the Wolf, Johan finds himself in an embrace with an old woman and, later, confronts his former lover who at first poses as a corpse.

I believe the artist must go through a death embrace in order to create. The ego must dissolve and part of the consciousness of the artist must die. But there is a danger, too, in losing the ego all together. Somehow, a balance must be struck within the artist if he or she is going to survive the creative process in tact.

Ingmar Bergman said in a late-life interview that he felt as though he was always only a few steps from chaos. His fear of losing control is dealt with in several of his films, including The Hour of the Wolf. All artists, to some degree, recognize the danger of what they do. In order to create, the artist has to draw from the dangerous well of the unconscious. There be dragons. The passion for creating art can be destructive as well as creative.

Both The Shining and The Hour of the Wolf show what happens when the destructive quality of passion is allowed to take over. The artist becomes a prisoner of the imagination, just as Jack Torrance becomes a prisoner of the Overlook and as Johan Borg becomes a prisoner to his humiliations.

Both artists "die" because they cannot reconcile the dark forces of the imagination with Apollo, the light of reason. Indeed, in The Hour of the Wolf, Bergman touches on the idea of darkness and light by integrating elements of Mozart's The Magic Flute into the film. Jack Torrance quite literally freezes to death. Apollo, the Sun god, is no where in evidence. Torrance is slain by the dark forces within.

Both works are instructive to artists and fascinating to me, especially as I began to compare them. I know there are some artists who won't relate to this idea of the dark forces within, but many artists will.

Oct 6, 2007, 9:03am Top

They have a major difference though - 'Hour of the Wolf' is told through the character of Alma, Borg's wife. This leads to an interesting question - is this real or is it purely a figment of Alma's imagination?
Another reading is that Bergman is mocking the narcissistic 'artist'.

Have you seen "Persona"? From what I have read, "Persona" and "Hour of the Wolf" were intially developed in the same script.

Oct 6, 2007, 3:14pm Top

#2: I've been on a Bergman jag the last few days (I'm on Fall break, and that's how I've been spending it!). What I like about Bergman is that he doesn't tell us how to react or feel but leaves us to make our own judgments. The DVDs that I purchased have interviews with Bergman on them, and from what I can gather, Bergman went through a lot of struggles personally and artistically. There are interviews with Ullmann, also. One of the things she says in her interview about THE HOUR OF THE WOLF is that she should have listened to her character, Alma. If she had, she might not have spent so much time trying to work it out with Bergman, trying to live with a man who had many issues he was trying to work out. I thought his comment was telling.

Another thing Ullmann talks about is that when one lives with a person who is disentegrating, one runs the danger of being prone to the same forces as the disentegrating person. In other words, if you live with a disturbed person, you can take on qualities of being a disturbed person yourself. THE HOUR OF THE WOLF, like so much great drama, exaggerates the crisis, and to great effect, I think.

King plays around with the idea a bit more, gives the Torrance child a special ability to see into another reality. So the situations in the two films aren't parallel right down the line, but the camparisons between the two are pretty fascinating.

It makes me think about a comparison that I didn't mention in my initial post: that in both THE SHINING and THE HOUR OF THE WOLF, the wives are enablers. They believe that if they love their husbands enough, help them enough, support them enough, then things will turn out fine in the end. This is a dangerous assumption.

Narcissism in an artist *is* dangerous because it kills the art he or she is trying to create. I think it's interesting that in both works, the artist either kills or attempts to kill a child. What does the child represent? Perhaps his creative effort? It's hard to say, but intriguing to think about.

Yes, I did see Persona and quite a few others besides, concentrating mostly on the films from his darkest period. There are many similarities among them.

Oct 6, 2007, 9:46pm Top

Thank you for a really fascinating comparison, Theresa.

The element of the beautiful young woman who turns into a hag reminds me of Celtic legends in which a man gains royal power by kissing a young woman who turns into an old hag - her true form. According to some ancient Celtic traditions, it was the queen who had the power to make a man king by marrying him. The young/old woman in the legend is a symbol of the land and its power to bestow sovereignty. This has so much resonance with the idea of the artist, who exercises a kind of sovereign (even god-like) power over his work, and yet is also in a kind of thrall to it.

You have brought up so many interesting ideas, I know I'll be reflecting on them for a good while. There are probably many other works that can extend this comparison. For example, Medea, in Euripedes' play of the same name, was a sorceress who killed her children. It may not be an entirely apt comparison, because she did it specifically to hurt her husband after he set her aside for another woman - but at least symbolically, socerers and artists do have a lot in common.

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