Great Debate #11: Room 237 reveals The Shining’s secrets
In an effort to “explain things”, the documentary Room 237 starts a dialogue about The Shining by Stanley Kubrick, uncovering the many hidden themes and allegories buried within the visuals. This film was created by Rodney Ascher and it is insane, loaded with over-analyzation and oodles of thematic analysis, which hopes to show some deeper meaning. The reason there are so many possible explanations for the movie is because of the surreal nature of The Shining itself, and some of the unexplained visuals. Does The Shining have a secret? Room 237 provides many different theories to explain The Shining’s hidden meanings.
There are many theories given to explain themes and allegories hidden within The Shining, each one contributed by a guest analyst. I don’t really put much stock into any one of these theories, but explanations about larger themes are hard to ignore. Many of these contextual themes have an overarching purpose, and are really interesting to think about. I think the movie hints at some or all of these larger themes for use as a backdrop to the story, although Room 237 would have you think of the whole movie as an allegory for each of them.
For example, the genocide of Native Americans can be seen as a big theme in the movie. The hotel’s colors, paintings, and its environment, are all inspired by Native American culture. The props have Native American pictures or words. The rugs have an Indian motif. Room 237 would have you believe that the movie is an indictment of the genocide of Native Americans, making the movie into a deeper allegory. With this in mind, the props take on a different meaning, and are not just there for ambiance. They are hinting at these themes, these secrets. Is The Shining just really a horror movie about people trapped in a hotel? That’s kinda boring, isn’t it?
10. The Shining is an allegory for the genocide of Native Americans – This is the first (and the best) theory given in Room 237. It is explained by Bill Blakemore, who is a media journalist and reporter for ABC news. He cites the Calumet cans as evidence of genocide and betrayal by the American government of Native Americans. Calumet means peace pipe. The blood gushing up from the elevator could be seen as further evidence of the spilling of Native American blood.
9. Juli Kearns explains that the geography of the hotel is all off during the movie. This is true and quite striking once you start analyzing it yourself. She describes an “impossible window” in the interior of the hotel, where Jack meets the general manager for the first time for his interview. Inspired by the impossible location of this window, Kearns has mapped out every room and every scene in The Shining, topographically. Crazy.
8. The sounds and the soundtrack reveal the ghostly nature of the movie. In particular, the introduction contains the skittering voices of ghosts from The Past, which is what the movie is about. These ghosts later intrude on Jack’s life at the hotel.
7. Historian Geoffrey Cocks proposes that The Shining contains a subtext about the Holocaust. He cites Jack’s German typewriter as inspiration for his theory. He says the number 42, as in 1942, appears everywhere in the film, and this also supports his theory. I can’t see it myself, but he says 2 x 3 x 7 = 42. Room 237 refers to 1942 and the Holocaust. Right?
6. John Fell Ryan has a theory that most of the World War II newsreel footage has been faked, or embellished by Hollywood to create the snippets of film that have been shown for many years. He states that this element of “staged heroism” was an inspiration for Kubrick and used in the film. Kubrick plays on the audience’s ignorance of visual information, for one. He claims that many of the visuals are Kubrick’s jokes, such as the TV without a cord Danny is watching, or the “too much luggage” Jack brings for his stay at the hotel. Apparently, this is funny.
5. Stanley Kubrick used subliminal imagery in The Shining, as he read about in the book, Subliminal Seduction. This is an interesting theory. Apparently, there are “hundreds” of subliminal images about sexuality, murder, and death. Although not about sex, Stanley Kubrick himself was supposedly airbrushed into the clouds in the introduction to The Shining. I don’t see it, myself, but some of the imagery suggests Jack was sexually abused as a child.
4. Who lets Jack out of the locked freezer? The movie would have you believe that ghosts are responsible, namely Grady, the dead guy. However, Room 237 theorizes that Danny was responsible. Why? So Danny can consciously murder his father.
3. The posters to the right and left of the twins suggest a Minotaur and the influence of Theseus and The Minotaur, which is a Greek myth about the hero Theseus killing a minotaur to save Athens. He retraces his steps to get home like Danny does at the end of the movie. Room 237 also suggests that Jack takes on “bull-like qualities” in his descent into madness.
2. Stanley Kubrick was involved in faking the Apollo 11 moon landings, according to one theorist. He states that 2001: A Space Odyssey was a “research and development” project for Apollo footage. Danny’s Apollo 11 sweater is one big clue for this guy. The whole movie is Stanley Kubrick’s guilty admission of his involvement.
1. The number one theory proposed by Room 237 is that The Shining is a dream. It is our dream, society’s dream, boiling down many events and situations into symbols and images. This is why The Shining seems so jumbled. It is a movie about the ghosts of The Past. Stanley Kubrick gives us the solution to the “nightmare” of the past, first by retracing our steps, as Danny does in the hedge maze. We then learn from our problems.
All in all, Room 237 is mostly gibberish. It takes the smallest continuity error and turns it into a conspiracy. It is a classic case of overanalyzing your subject, but I really think there is something more to The Shining than a simple horror story. Why? Mostly because that seems to be Stanley Kubrick’s reputation. People have published whole books and articles dissecting this movie because they don’t know what it really means. Making movies that lack exposition seems to be Kubrick’s forte.
The Shining is surreal and weird in some parts, but admittedly does have a lot of symbols put it there arbitrarily. There are plenty of meanings to ponder, but if the images and metaphors make people think about larger themes and bigger issues, I think The Shining may have cemented its status as a masterpiece.