Stanley Kubrick’s 1980 Stephen King adaptation “The Shining” endures for many reasons — from its supremely horrific mood to the technical feats used to create it. However, the lively voices in “Room 237” take that admiration to an entirely new plane of awareness. A search for deeper meanings in Kubrick’s movie, Rodney Ascher’s film is a brilliant collage of interviews with academics and other experts in the art of textual analysis.
[Editor’s Note: This feature was originally published during the 2012 Sundance Film Festival, where “Room 237” world premiered. IFC Midnight releases it in select theaters on March 29th.]
Jazzing up a process usually reserved for scholarly pursuits, Ascher combines reasonable interpretations of “The Shining” with hilariously extreme conclusions — but in every case, the narrator’s authority over their own ideas makes even the battiest theories sound credible.
The takeaway isn’t just that “The Shining” is a rich text, but that it can be as rich as you want to make it. Here are some of the most amusingly outlandish theories presented in the film, which is currently screening to great acclaim in Sundance’s New Frontiers section.
Kubrick in the Clouds
In the opening shot, a car zooms down the road toward the Overlook Hotel, viewed from above in an apparent helicopter shot. As the credits scroll by, they lead your eyes straight into the clouds at the top of the frame. According to one observer, Kubrick has embedded an image of himself into a single frame within the clouds; if you look closely enough, you can see the outline of his beard.
Dopey Is Missing
When the camera slowly crawls into young Danny’s bedroom, it passes by a few stickers adorned to his door, including one of Dopey from the Seven Dwarves. A later shot, after poor Danny has endured many of the frightening things lurking in the Overlook Hotel, reveals that Dopey has vanished from the door. Explains the narrator who discovered the disconnect: “Continuity error? I don’t think so. He’s no longer a dope; he has been enlightened.”
Shining the Holocaust
The prospects of “The Shining” as a Holocaust allegory start to make sense when one devotee explains in voiceover that the movie dedicates itself to showing “how not to be a victim of history.” Terrible events happened at the Overlook, but Danny learns that they go away if he closes his eyes. There are reasons to believe that Kubrick felt uncomfortable confronting the Holocaust head-on, and may have found a method to embed it in unlikely places. This theory is close cousin of the interpretation that the whole movie revolves around the systematic destruction of the American Indian.
One of the more spectacular theories in the movie: That Kubrick was hired by the American government to fake the Apollo moon landing, and “The Shining” is his way of explaining himself. An interviewee says that owning “The Shining” on Blu-ray allows one to see enough detail to reach this conclusion. Jack Torrance’s constant bickering with his wife about his job responsibilities voice Kubrick’s own justification for why he had to comply with government orders. Other pertinent details: At one point Danny wears a sweater with images of the Apollo 11 on it, and the infamous Room 237 contains a key with the label “Room No 237” — letters that could be rearranged to spell “moon room.”
Beware the Number 42
There are 42 vehicles visible in the Overlook parking lot. Danny and his mother watch “Summer of ’42” on TV. The hotel was built in 1907, and 42 is… a multiple of seven! And the final shot of the movie features a photograph taken in July… the seventh month of the year! The movie uses Thomas Mann’s novel as a constant reference point, and Mann uses the number seven as a means of indicating danger. Taking that belief for granted, Kubrick has burrowed into our minds with numerical specificity.