Jack Torrance (Jack Nicholson) arrives at the Overlook Hotel to interview for the position of winter caretaker, with the aim of using the hotel's solitude to work on his writing. The hotel itself is built on the site of an Indian burial ground and becomes completely snowed in during the long winters. Manager Stuart Ullman (Barry Nelson) warns him that a previous caretaker got cabin fever and killed his family and himself. Jack’s son, Danny (Danny Lloyd), has ESP and has had a terrifying premonition about the hotel. Jack's wife, Wendy (Shelley Duvall), tells a visiting doctor that Danny has an imaginary friend called Tony and that Jack has given up drinking because he had hurt Danny's arm after a binge.
The family arrives at the hotel on closing day and is given a tour. The African-American chef Dick Hallorann (Scatman Crothers) surprises Danny by telepathically offering him ice cream. He explains to Danny that he and his grandmother shared this telepathic ability, which he calls "shining." Danny asks if there is anything to be afraid of in the hotel, particularly Room 237. Hallorann tells Danny that the hotel itself has a "shine" to it along with many memories, not all of which are good. He tells Danny to stay out of Room 237.
A month passes; while Jack's writing project goes nowhere, Danny and Wendy explore the hotel's hedge maze. Wendy becomes concerned about the phone lines being out due to the heavy snowfall and Danny has more frightening visions. Jack, increasingly frustrated, starts acting strangely and becomes prone to violent outbursts.
Danny’s curiosity about Room 237 gets the better of him when he sees the room's door open. Later, he shows up injured and visibly traumatized, causing Wendy to accuse Jack of abusing Danny. Jack wanders into the hotel’s Gold Room where he meets a ghostly bartender named Lloyd (Joe Turkel). Lloyd serves him bourbon on the rocks while Jack complains to him about his marriage.
Wendy later tells Jack that Danny told her that a "crazy woman in one of the rooms" was responsible for his injuries. Jack investigates Room 237 where he encounters the ghost of a dead woman, but tells Wendy he saw nothing. Wendy and Jack argue about whether Danny should be removed from the hotel and a furious Jack returns to the Gold Room, now filled with ghosts having a costume party. Here, he meets the ghost of the previous caretaker, Grady (Philip Stone), who tells Jack that he must "correct" his wife and child.
Meanwhile, in Florida, Hallorann has a premonition that something is wrong at the hotel and takes a flight back to Colorado to investigate. Danny starts calling out "redrum" frantically and goes into a trance, now referring to himself as "Tony."
While searching for Jack, Wendy discovers his typewriter; he has been typing endless pages of manuscript repeating "all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy" formatted in various styles. She is confronted by Jack, who threatens her before she knocks him unconscious with a baseball bat. She manages to drag him into the kitchen and lock him in the pantry, but this does not solve her larger problem; she and Danny are trapped at the hotel since Jack has sabotaged the hotel's two-way radio and snowcat. Later, Jack converses through the pantry door with Grady, who then unlocks the door, releasing him.
Danny writes "REDЯUM" in lipstick on the bathroom door. When Wendy sees this in the bedroom mirror, the letters spell out "MURDER". Jack begins to chop through the door leading to his family's living quarters with a fire axe. Wendy frantically sends Danny out through the bathroom window, but can't get through it herself. Jack then starts chopping through the bathroom door as Wendy screams in horror; he leers through the hole he has made, shouting "Here's Johnny!", but backs off after Wendy slashes his hand with a butcher knife.
Hearing the engine of the snowcat Hallorann has borrowed to get up the mountain, Jack leaves the room. He kills Hallorann in the lobby and pursues Danny into the hedge maze. Wendy runs through the hotel looking for Danny, encountering several ghosts and a huge cascade of blood. Meanwhile, Danny walks backwards in his own tracks and leaps behind a corner, covering his tracks with snow to mislead Jack, who is following his footprints.
The final shot of the film shows a 1921 photograph of a smiling Jack Torrance in front of a crowd of revelers, as the song "Midnight, the Stars, and You" plays in the background.
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