‘Room 237’ debates and speculates about the hidden meanings of Stanley Kubrick’s ‘The Shining’, which still stimulates conversations more than 30 years after its original release.
Director Stanley Kubrick's films are the subject of academic scrutiny in cinema studies courses around the world. From his artistic eye to layers of meaning, Kubrick was an auteur whose works have stood the test of time and will continue to challenge viewers for years to come. In Room 237, five people critically discuss the underlying significance and hidden meanings of The Shining (1980).
The Shining is the big screen adaptation of horror writer Stephen King's novel of the same name. Kubrick modified numerous aspects of the original with two of the most significant changes being the central room number and the picture's ending. But according to these theorists, the film was far more than a simple horror movie; though they have very different points of view.
Bill Blakemore believes the film is a commentary about the genocide of Native Americans, sighting various native imagery sprinkled throughout scenes as evidence for his theory. Conversely, Geoffrey Cocks explains the movie is about the Holocaust and its residual impression on the human experience, highlighting the use of a German typewriter and appearances of eagles, a Nazi symbol. Juli Kearns is fascinated by the architectural inconsistencies of the hotel and their meaning to the overall narrative. John Fell Ryan examines the dissolves in the picture and how the resulting superimpositions are expressive of veiled importance. Jay Weidner attributes many of the film’s symbols, including the room number and an Apollo sweater, as proof that Kubrick directed the moon landing as conspiracy theories suggest.
Even though this is a film about critical analysis, there are no talking heads typical of the genre. The interviewees are just voices laid over generally corresponding images from films including The Shining, some of Kubrick’s other works such as Eyes Wide Shut, Full Metal Jacket and Clockwork Orange, and additional unrelated movies.
The range of interpretations reinforces the idea that watching a film is a subjective experience that won’t be the same for everyone. In many of these cases, the speaker’s prior history and knowledge influence their reading of the film. Shown the same scene – such as the meeting in the manager’s office early in the story – each person focuses on a different element that supports their analysis – from the position of a file tray to an “impossible window.”
At times the interviewees seem to be reaching to back-up a particular theory or conclusion (sometimes a continuity error is just a movie mistake), though their points of view are thought-provoking. Is the overturned Volkswagen really a message from Kubrick to King? Whether you agree with their explanations or not, you will certainly never watch The Shining the same way again.