I love Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining — even though the man who wrote the original story, Stephen King, does not. I have never understood King’s disdain for the 1980 film adaptation of his novel. King’s stories, after all, have been bastardized on screen many times (sometimes by King himself), from Sleepwalkers to Thinner to Maximum Overdrive. And yet, this is the movie that rankles him?
But much as I like Kubrick’s movie, my admiration is nothing compared to that of some fans, five of whom describe their Shining obsession in Room 237, a documentary about hidden messages in the film. Or so these people believe.
According to these conspiracy theorists, who have laboriously studied the movie (often frame-by-frame), Kubrick, a meticulous filmmaker, planted subliminal messages throughout his movie. The Shining, they say, is an allegory about the Holocaust (look how often the number 42 appears!). Or, The Shining is a commentary on the “white man’s burden” — a burden our ancestors relieved by committing genocide against the American Indian (see those cans of Calumet in the background of the pantry?). But wait: Kubrick is the man who helped the United States government falsify footage of the 1969 moon landing, and the evidence of that hoax is scattered, confession style, throughout The Shining.
A problem with Room 237 is that there are so many conspiracy theories proposed that they tend to cancel each other out. Assuming Kubrick did insert subliminal comments about the Holocaust, did he also plant messages about manifest destiny, and about Apollo 11? Not likely.
Personally, I was intrigued by the patterns in the carpeting of Kubrick’s Overlook Hotel and their alleged symbolism. Then again, if you are going to spot Minotaurs in pictures of snow skiers on the wall, you might as well analyze every other picture on the walls of the hotel — or every cloud in the sky, for that matter. Wait, someone does analyze the clouds … and spots Kubrick’s “face.”
When I was in college, I took a film class where we studied Hitchcock’s Psycho. I noticed something in a scene in which Norman Bates disposes of evidence by pushing a car into a swamp. As the vehicle sinks, Hitchcock shows a close-up of the license plate, and we can clearly see the letters “NFB.” In my class paper, I speculated that the letters might be a wink from the director to his audience: NFB = Never Find Body. My professor loved this theory and gave my essay an A.
But who knows? Maybe the letters NFB were completely arbitrary. Maybe The Shining is simply a great horror film littered with continuity errors and an art director’s whimsy. Sometimes a monkey tossing a bone into the air is just a monkey tossing a bone into the air. Grade: B
Director: Rodney Ascher Featuring: Bill Blakemore, Geoffrey Cocks, Juli Kearns, John Fell Ryan, Jay Weidner, Buffy Visick Release: 2013
Can you see the electrical cord for the TV? Of course not, because there isn’t one.
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