Jack Nicholson Wrote His Real Life Into One Of The Shining's Most Haunting Scenes

As much as Stephen King himself may not like Kubrick's adaptation of "The Shining," most writers can probably relate to the beloved horror movie more than the typical viewer. The movie is, after all, a movie about writer's block. The plot follows Jack Torrance (Jack Nicholson) as he's given a job that allows him to be isolated from society for seven months straight, finally giving him the time to write seriously. With no more distractions, no more excuses to point to, he tries to write his novel and ends up accomplishing ... nothing. It's not the only reason he went crazy and tried to kill his family (there were some ghosts or whatever), but it certainly didn't help.

Jack's frustrations around his writer's block are on clear display in the scene where Wendy (Shelley Duvall) walks in on him while he's writing. She asks him innocuous questions like "how's it going?" and tells him she'd like to read some of his work. She means well and it sounds like the sort of the stuff a writer would find encouraging, but to Jack it's the most aggravating thing in the world. When you know you haven't written anything worth reading despite having already sat at a typewriter for hours, someone pleasantly asking to read your work feels like a personal attack. 

Jack responds to Wendy with concealed contempt at first, before fully letting loose. "Wendy, let me explain something to you," he says. "Whenever you come in here and interrupt me, you're breaking my concentration. You're distracting me. And it will then take me time to get back to where I was. You understand?" The words alone don't do the scene justice: Nicholson smacks his head and furiously tears the paper in half as he delivers these lines.

Drawing from genuine frustration

The scene was written by Nicholson himself, inspired from a moment between him and his ex-wife. "I was writing a movie at night and I'm back in my little corner and my beloved wife, Sandra, walked in on what was, unbeknownst to her, this maniac — and I told Stanley [Kubrick] about it and we wrote it into the scene," he told the New York Times

At one point he apparently said to her, in much the same tone as Torrance in the scene, "Even if you don't hear me typing it doesn't mean I'm not writing. This is writing." Nicholson attributes his behavior here as part of the reason for his real-life divorce, and he drew on the experience to make his depiction of a character destroying his relationship with his family (albeit, in a much more extreme manner) feel all the more real. 

"Now, we're going to make a new rule," Jack tells Wendy. "When you come in here and you hear me typing, or whether you don't hear me typing, or whatever the f*** you hear me doing: when I'm in here, it means that I am working, that means don't come in. Now, do you think you can handle that?" Wendy, at this point terrified, says, "Yeah," and Jack says, "Good. Now why don't you start right now and get the f*** out of here? Hm?" 

Although Jack seemed a little unhinged even at the start of the film, this was the scene where he was really starting to go off the rails. Nicholson's performance is vital to setting the tone for what the character would quickly devolve into, and it was the frustration from real-life writer's block that helped him pull it off.