The Shining, today regarded as one of the greatest horror movies ever made, tells a story of isolation, paranoia and paranormal activity involving a family of three at the snowbound Overlook Hotel.
Early on in the movie, the hotel manager Stuart Ullman shares some of the Overlook Hotel’s grisly history with Jack Torrance, who is interviewing for the position of winter caretaker. During the interview, Ullman tells Jack his predecessor hired a man named Charles Grady who appeared totally normal with no prior history of violence. During the winter, Charles apparently experienced cabin fever and murdered his wife and two daughters with an axe before neatly stacking them in one of the rooms and killing himself with a shotgun.
Throughout the film, Jack’s psychic son Danny experiences visions of two twin girls, including one instance where they say “Come play with us, Danny” and another where Danny sees their murdered bodies in a bloody mess in the hall.
Eventually, Jack encounters a ghost who says his name is Delbert Grady, who Jack initially says is the caretaker, saying he recognized Delbert from the newspapers and presumably Ullman’s story. However, Delbert instead tells Jack “you’ve always been the caretaker, sir.”
So here we have apparently two different Grady’s, but is it a plot hole, a filmmaker’s mistake, something that was lost in the adaptation from the book of The Shining or yet another clue in an extremely multi-layered film? The question is one without a definite answer, and yet there may be enough hints throughout the film to suggest the truth behind Charles and Delbert Grady.
One issue is how Jack tells Delbert he saw Delbert’s picture in the newspaper. If the murder were in a somewhat recent newspaper for Jack to have read it, wouldn’t the picture be of Charles Grady instead of Delbert? The answer is Jack found a scrapbook (which is briefly seen next to his typewriter) which explains some of the hotel’s dark history, which is where Jack saw the newspaper and not in a recent publication. Though it is a bigger part of the book, the scrapbook only makes a brief appearance in the film.
The end of the film could provide a clue as to the two Grady’s. While attempting to explain the ending of The Shining would warrant an article of its own, it is important to note the date which appears on the photograph: July 4, 1921. At one point, Jack appears to have a vision that he is in a large party, which is presumably the same party in the photograph. Why Jack’s image is in the photograph is another discussion entirely, but because the party in the photo was from July 4, 1921, we can safely assume it’s probably the same party where Jack meets Delbert.
In the book, Delbert Grady was the first winter caretaker under Ullman in 1970-71. Like Jack, Delbert was an alcoholic but managed to kill his wife and daughters. Though according to Ullman in the film, it was his predecessor who hired a man named Grady, though his predecessor was probably not the manager as far back as 1921. Not to mention Ullman specified Charles was the winter caretaker and apparently suffered from cabin fever. Delbert however says one of his daughters attempted to burn the hotel down, so he “corrected” them, and “corrected” his wife when she attempted to interfere.
The dialogue during Delbert’s and Jack’s first meeting can also provide some clues as to what’s going on. When Jack accuses Delbert of being the caretaker, Delbert responds “You’ve always been the caretaker” and later says “I’ve always been here.” Delbert could have been saying he himself (as a ghost) has “always” been at the Overlook because he’s a spirit, but he could have also potentially been referring to reincarnation.
One of the theories as to why Jack is in the photo from 1921 is that Jack Torrance is the reincarnation of someone who previously worked at the Overlook, a theory which is supported from the way Jack tells his wife Wendy he felt like he had been at the Overlook before. This would mean in terms of the photo, it’s not Jack himself being absorbed into the photo, but someone Jack was in a past life who was at the party in 1921.
If it is indeed reincarnation, then it is almost a certainty that there were two different Grady’s, the Delbert Grady from the 1920’s and Charles Grady who was hired by Ullman’s predecessor, possibly during the 1970’s, the 1960’s or earlier. Jack Torrance is merely the most recent reincarnation of a spirit that keeps returning to the Overlook and attempting to kill their wife and children.
It is important to note that there has never been an official explanation as to why Charles Grady is only mentioned once while Delbert Grady is actually seen on film, so the decision is ultimately up to the viewer. However, it is definitely more interesting to speculate who the two individuals are than merely chalking it up to a filmmaker’s error.