The following was written in April 2010 for a projected volume on Stanley Kubrick that was being prepared at the time by the Chicago-based magazine Stop Smiling, who commissioned this and a few other pieces by me for it. For a variety of reasons, including the discontinuation of the magazine, the book has never appeared, and the editor, James Hughes, has kindly given me permission to post it here. — J.R.
The reasons given most often of why Stanley Kubrick collaborated in 1979 with this woman on the script for The Shining are confirmed by Johnson herself (in an essay about her eleven weeks of work with him, “Writing The Shining” — one of the best accounts of working with Kubrick that we have): her 1974 psychological novel The Shadow Knows, which he briefly considered adapting, and her expertise about Gothic fiction. To this one should add her sharp critical intelligence, apparent in both her fiction and her non-fiction. The latter ranges from her superb 1982 collection Terrorists and Novelists to her 1984 Life of Dashiell Hammett, and from her introductions to novels by the Bronte sisters, Stendhal, Wharton, and Voltaire to her canny 2005 guidebook Into a Paris Quartier. The former includes both such recent novels about Americans and English people in Paris as Le Divorce (the first of her franglais titles, 1997, adapted six years later into one of the better Merchant/Ivory/Jhabvala movies), Le Mariage (2000), and L’Affaire (2004), and such earlier and more Gothic-like ones as The Shadow Knows and Lying Low (1978), among others.
A good sample of her critical intelligence can be found in the final paragraph of “Writing The Shining”) — which is actually about Eyes Wide Shut and which arguably qualifies as one of the best defenses and one of the most persuasive critiques that Kubrick’s final work has received to date: “The film is a kind of ground plan of the male psyche, mapping the fear, desire, omnipresence of sex, preoccupation with death, the connection of death with Eros, the anxiety generated in men by female sexuality — Freudian subjects, Schnitzler’s subjects -– and it seems to me that Kubrick took some pains to situate the action not in the real but in some dream version of the world, just as in Schnitzler’s story. It could be argued that this could have been clearer and more effective set in the period of Schnitzler’s writing, when certain ideas, for instance, that women had sexual desires, were less commonplace than they are today. In fact, the modern setting fades to a timelessness of décor and dress — Tom Cruise’s evening dress, the clichéd costumes of the orgiasts — and all the archetypes of the unconscious wear the costumes they might have worn for Schnitzler and Freud.”