For a film buff, there is a joy in finding hidden meanings in films. It’s so much fun to see a film in a unique perspective, filmmakers’ intention be damned. For example, Total Recall is enjoyable whether the viewer thinks the action is real or a simulation in Arnie’s head. But when there’s an essay linking the philosophy of Homer with My Little Pony, one has to ask: At what point is someone reading too much into a film? That question is the subject of Room 237, a documentary about the alleged meaning of Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining.
“The wave of terror that swept across America is here” was the tagline for The Shining. As most people know, it is based on the Stephen King novel about Jack Torrance (Jack Nicholson), a struggling writer who resides in an isolated ski resort and is driven mad by ghosts(or his delusions), terrorizing his wife Wendy (Shelly Duvall) and son Danny (Danny Lloyd). Even those who haven’t see the film knows of a scene or two, especially “Here’s Johnny”.
But what is the wave of terror? For fans, the terror is Nicholson’s psychotic performance. And the wave is the popularity of the movie or novel. For ABC Correspondent Bill Blakemore, historian Geoffrey Cocks, writer Juli Kearns, Blogger John Fell Ryan and Conspiracy Theorist Jay Weidner, the terror is more than what Kubrick is showing. What is Kubrick trying to convey?
Room 237 serves as a series of video essays for each person to state their case. As scenes from the movie play, each person narrates his/her opinion, using the scenes as evidence. Scenes are played forwards and backwards and slowed down throughout the film.
So what is the wave of terror? According to Blakemore, it’s the genocide of Native Americans. He notes that Native imagery fills the screen. The most notable is a can called Capulet (meaning “peace pipe”), which he regards as a symbol of a broken treaty. Considering that the hotel was built on an ancient burial ground, he may not be too far off.
In Cocks debate, The Shining is Kubrick’s symbolic commentary on the Holocaust. He sees Danny and Wendy’s terror as Kubricks’ attempt to capture the terror on a personal level. Cocks displays the Nazi symbols in the movie, especially the number 42 and eagles, especially Jacks’ typewriter, “Adler” (German for Eagle).
But isn’t it possible they are just grasping at straws? Most likely, but each person does a good job of stating their case. Still, Weidner’s case is a pill too hard to swallow. He believes that the moon landing footage was faked and Kubrick directed it. He is convinced that Kubrick was conveying his burden of confidentiality through Jack. His notable debate is the title Room 237, which he believes is the room where the moon landing was filmed.
The most interesting moment is when Ryan plays the whole film forwards and backwards, beginning and ending overlapping. This creates some interesting images, especially the “All Work and No Play” Scene overlapping a close-up of the typewriter.
It is safe to say their opinions are unlikely to match Kubrick’s true vision. In fact, it’s doubtful that director Roger Ascher himself shares the same beliefs as the narrators. Despite this, he never judges them or takes sides. He just lets them have their say and the viewer makes their own decisions, creating a fascinating look at how one movie could be seen in many perspectives. Like a scientist going into a project, it’s best to go into this film with curiosity, skepticism and open mindedness.
Room 237 Website