Room 237


Stanley Kubrick’s 1980 epic horror movie The Shining has terrified and puzzled audiences for four decades. Stephen King, who wrote the novel that Kubrick adapted, called the movie “maddening and perverse”, and like watching a brilliant ice skater doing nothing but endless figure eights. Steven Spielberg, a close friend of Kubrick’s, admitted he didn’t get it, that it was histrionic and too over the top to be an effective horror film. The film critic Kim Newman in his mammoth study of horror films Nightmare Movies summed it up:

The most eagerly awaited horror movie of (the eighties) was The Shining. The project united Stephen King, America’s foremost modern horror writer, Jack Nicholson, the world’s highest paid actor, and Stanley Kubrick, the galactically renowned, trend setting director who has surrounded himself with a mystique of colossal independence. After the usual three years of multiple takes, precision editing and nitpicking craftsmanship, Kubrick allowed The Shining to be released, only to face audience and critical incomprehension.

By 2012, so many outlandish theories on what the film might actually be about gave American filmmaker Rodney Ascher the idea to make a documentary about the multitude of subtextual readings of The Shining. These ranged from the sublime to the ridiculous. Room 237, named after a room in the Overlook Hotel where psychic child Danny is warned not to enter, is comprised of footage from the film with voice overs from the various analysts, as their obsession with the ‘truth’ of Kubrick’s movie is both laughable and somewhat disturbing.

Kubrick’s abandoned project about the holocaust The Ayran Papers and his extensive research into the Nazi death machine, gives one conspiracy theorist the conviction that The Shining is actually ‘about’ the holocaust. They point to the cascade of blood erupting from the elevator to represent the blood of the six million Jews liquidated by the Nazis, Jack Nicholson’s anti semitic wolf impersonation as he’s hacking at the door with an axe, and the German typewriter that inexplicably changes colour where Jack Torrence endlessly types All Work and no play makes Jack a Dull boy.

In a similar vein another analysis maintains that the movie is actually ‘about’ the genocide of the American Indians. They point out the multitude of Indian iconography and artwork peppered around the film, the fact that the Overlook was built on an “Indian burial site”, and the clever placing of Indian Calumut cans at key spots during the film.

The most controversial conspiracy theory argues that The Shining is Kubrick’s coded ‘confession’ that the famed director actually faked the NASA 1969 Lunar Landings. The theory states that nobody but Kubrick, who completed the breathtaking 2001: A Space Odyssey with the most advanced special effects in cinema up to that point, would be able to create what were clearly the ‘faked’ moon landings. The theory goes that there are telltale signs of ‘front projection’ in the lunar footage, which Kubrick had mastered in 2001. The conspiracy is ‘proven’ by Danny wearing an Apollo 11 knitted jumper at the key scene where a ghostly force rolls a ball onto the inexplicably reversed carpet, that resembles the Apollo Launching Pad. 237 also refers to the mean difference from the earth to the moon, 237,000 miles.

One of the strangest conspiracy theories in this bizarre and compulsive documentary is that The Shining was the first film intended to be watched backwards as well as forwards. ‘Proof’ of this is sketchily ‘proven’ by a sequence where Jack Torrence appears to have morphed into a clown with his red nose provided by blood, and Danny ‘walking in’ on Grady and Torrence discussing his murder.

Whether or not you believe these theories is less important than seeing the result of postmodern analysis disappearing down a subtextual rabbit hole, taking with it a number of obsessive Kubrick fans who have devoted their lives and careers to solving a puzzle that was probably never intended. The hero worship of the mysterious Stanley Kubrick, a filmmaker the likes of which we’ll never see again, means that his thousands of obsessive acolytes will never find their way out of the deceptively ambiguous labyrinth of The Shining.

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