I just reviewed Stephen King’s new sequel to “The Shining,” “Doctor Sleep.” It’s an excellent novel—five stars out of five.
So this seemed like the perfect occasion to write a few words about “Room 237,” a documentary about various conspiracy theories supported by Stanley Kubrick’s landmark film of “The Shining.”
Stephen King hated Kubrick’s version. I seem to remember a quote saying something like “In the book, Jack Torrance slowly goes crazy. In the damned movie, he’s already crazy when he gets there.” Of course, Jack Nicholson could play Pope John Paul II, and he’d appear crazy from the first frame.
One of the lovely ideas presented here is that Kubrick knew he was making a movie that would infuriate King with its differences. I guess in the novel “The Shining,” the family drives a red VW Beetle. In Kubrick’s “The Shining,” there’s a red VW Beetle that has been crushed by a large truck—the Torrance family travels in a yellow VW.
The theories are utterly brilliant. Seriously. For some Film Theory and Criticism class (my Minor), I somehow ended up finding common threads between “2001: A Space Odyssey,” “Barry Lyndon,” “A Clockwork Orange,” and “Dr. Strangelove.” I spent long nights in a 24-hour Denny’s, guzzling coffee, books covering my entire table. I took pages of notes. I typed a sheaf of glorious words, and I couldn’t tell you what that damn paper was about. I know I passed the course, but I think I’ve suppressed the paper.
I mention this because the various theorists—and the film doesn’t mock them at all, just giving them time to promulgate their own nutso-ness—are 100% committed to their interpretational veracity. The guy who finds that “The Shining” is obviously about the genocide Europeans perpetrated upon Native Americans? Yup. He finds and shares visual clues, and his evidence is in plain sight.
There’s another man who points out clues Kubrick left us so we would know how he shot the lunar landings on a soundstage. He doesn’t really deny that we went to the moon, but he’s certain Kubrick filmed the footage so it would be more impressive.
My favorite was the guy who runs a film series, and he found some very odd scenes when you run “The Shining” forward and backward, overlaid on the screen. There were some admittedly interesting visuals.
I think Stanley Kubrick was a nonpareil filmmaker. His films from “Dr. Strangelove” through “The Shining” are gems, and the ones preceding and following those are brilliant in their own way.
Kubrick was a true artist. Like an American Fellini, Kubrick paid huge gobs of attention to how each frame looked in his films—his choice of lenses, film stocks, camera angles, framing, etc, were never haphazard.
I like this little documentary. As Dickens wrote about the Cratchit family, “There was nothing of high mark in this.” I didn’t come away from “Room 237” ready to believe that Calumet Baking Soda cans=Native American Genocide commentary, nor that a poster of a skier represents the Minotaur in the proverbial hedge labyrinth.
It was fun, though, to see how creative some people’s minds can be, and how if we notice one thing, we can find other clues, until the entire film is one giant allegory for (your crackpot theory here) .
I’ll give you one right here—and please note that you read it here first on www.booksandmoviesandcrap.com. “The Shining” is Kubrick’s statement that Barbra Streisand is evil and unworthy, and should never have tied for a Best Actress Oscar with Katherine Hepburn—Kate was ripped off. See, Scatman Crothers used his preternatural brain power to ask Danny if he wants some ice cream. Danny takes the ice cream—which was chocolate, and served in a stainless steel bowl to Danny by the African-American Crothers. Thus, the choice of ice cream proves that—because of the confluence of the wise brown man and brown ice cream showing transfer of paranormal wisdom—we know to be on the lookout for clues, while the stainless steel bowl shows that the truths we seek will be somewhat hidden. During the tour Scatman Crothers gives Wendy, he uses the common Bugs Bunny line, “What’s up, doc?” In 1972, Barbra Streisand costarred with Ryan O’Neal in the film “What’s Up, Doc?” Just to confirm we’re on the right track, O’Neal also starred in “Barry Lyndon,” directed by?? Yes! Kubrick. “What’s Up, Doc?” was considered to be a throwback to the screwball comedies of the 1930’s, specifically? “Bringing Up Baby,” who starred Carey Grant and??? Katherine Hepburn. Therefore, Kubrick’s version of “The Shining” shows how the world has gone to shit—i.e., all the ensuing murders and craziness at The Overlook Hotel—because Barbra Streisand had the gall to co-win the 1969 Best Actress Oscar with the OBVIOUSLY more deserving Ms Hepburn, who starred in the amazing “The Lion in Winter.” Also in 1969, the Best Director Oscar went to Sir Carol Reed for that stupid musical, “Oliver,” when the Best Director SHOULD have gone to?????
STANLEY KUBRICK, for “2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY!!”
So, “The Shining” is all about how horrible Barbra Streisand is.
Seriously, the only one of these theories (other than mine) that was really cool was the one overlaying forward-running and backward-running prints. That produced some pretty nifty scenes, but I suspect it’s rather like the whole “get really high and listen to Dark Side of The Moon along with The Wizard of Oz” thing. Our minds like patterns and organization. I think “The Shining” is just a cool as hell movie, not a parable about the Holocaust, Native American genocide, or any of the other odd theories here.
But it’s fun as hell to watch these folks argue their cases.
(Available on Netflix Streaming)
I may have to watch this movie — I love the kookiness of it. I think it’s always needled King that Kubrick usurped The Shining, especially since so many other adaptations have not done as well.
Watch the documentary! I’d say to save it for a rainy day, but as you live in SD, I’m certain those are especially rare. I think you’re right about King not liking Kubrick’s usurpation. (Holy crap! Spellchecker didn’t flag “usurpation.” Must be a real word. Who knew?) Kubrick really changed a lot. Unlike most people, I saw the movie first, at least a couple dozen times. When I read the book, I could see many of the differences, and King’s rancor seemed justified. The difference to me is that Kubrick’s “The Shining” is a timeless work of art. The original novel is just a really good novel.
I may watch this doc again, just for the “Indian genocide” guy arguing that Kubrick specifically used Calumet Baking Soda, with its Indian logo on the can, to make his point. These people are totally like “The West Wing” big block of cheese day citizens.
I should mail you my DVD of “The Shining” so you can see the “making-of” featurette. Kubrick was a loon, and he kept yelling at Shelley Duvall. Nicholson came off looking like a complete professional, and the little kid was as charming and normal as a kid can be. Kubrick really must have hated “Popeye” to go after Ms Duvall that way, but it makes for great entertainment, so who cares. 😉
So you really don’t believe in the Indian Genocide thread? I haven’t seen the documentary, but this to me is one of the most compelling theories about the film- the imagery comes up way too often to be merely coincidental, especially considering what we know of Kubrick’s meticulous intentionality. The decor of the Overlook is Native American themed. Ullman says that the hotel is built upon and Indian burial ground. The baking soda aligning with Halloran, an African American, another victim of oppression. Wendy, the target of Jack’s violence, wears Native American prints. At one point Jack violent and repeatedly throws a tennis ball at a massive Native American wall tapestry…