Stanley Kubrick was legendary for being absolutely meticulous with everything in his films. And so things that might be random or tiny, nearly imperceptible goofs in anyone else's films are imbued with secret meanings in his films. And in no film has that been taken to such a degree as THE SHINING (1980). Where everyone else sees a pantry that just happens to include a can of Calumet baking powder, a few viewers (well, one in particular) might see significance in the Indian head logo and the fact that "calumet" means "peace pipe." And so you can read messages into whether the logo is seen head on or obliquely (spoiler alert: THE SHINING is actually about the genocide of the Native Americans by the European settlers.) Or you can read it as a metaphor for the atrocities of Nazi Germany. Or you can see it as an exploration of the entirety of human history--even the philosophical concept of living with the past (which really only "exists" in the minds of people in the presence--maybe even only in your own mind.) Or it's a coded confession that Kubrick faked the Apollo 11 footage, using 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY as a test run of the techniques he eventually used (this theorist stresses that he actually believes we meant to the moon, he just believes the footage we all saw was faked.) Or maybe Jack Torrance is a secret homosexual who has been sexually molesting his son (there's allegedly a scene where he's reading a copy of Playgirl which has an article about incest in it.) One thing that's certain, the architecture of the Overlook Hotel is physically impossible (although this movie doesn't get into how that was discovered by attempting to build a custom video game level based on it.)
But enough about THE SHINING. This is actually about ROOM 237, a movie about THE SHINING, and specifically all the various theories about its hidden meanings. He has many people talking about their theories, but this isn't a talking heads movie. In fact, none of the theorists/analysts/investigators/students of the film (call them what you will) are ever seen on screen. Their names are flashed once when you first hear their voices, which makes it a little difficult to keep track of who's who just based on their voices. But what you see on screen is all clips (sometimes modified) from other movies, including nearly all of Kubrick's films. And they've all (well, except for maybe the ones from THE SHINING itself) been repurposed to change their original meaning. So when in the opening scenes Tom Cruise is outside a theater (I think from a scene in EYES WIDE SHUT, I haven't committed that movie to memory) the scene becomes a reference to our first reviewers experience of watching THE SHINING for the first time. And this goes on throughout the entire film. In fact, director Rodney Ascher has created a movie entirely out of clips taken out of context in order to change their meaning. I love that! And I love that I can't tell if he's doing that to emphasize the theme of hidden meanings, or to mock it! Maybe both--some theories aren't worth more than a scoff (for my money, I can't see Kubrick's face in a cloud in the opening credits, and the experiment of playing it overlaid forwards and backwards to see what lines up just illustrates how much Kubrick framed his characters in the center of the screen) but some really make you stop and think--maybe it is about the Native Americans...or about the Nazis...or about countless atrocities in human history.
In the end, I'm convinced THE SHINING is pretty much a Rorschach test. You see in it want you want to see. So for my money, I'm a fan of the theory that Kubrick is doing many things, but most of all kind of fucking with us. There are definitely odd, morbid visual jokes in there (the car that's a few feet away from hitting everyone as they cross the parking lot disappears in the opposite-angle shot.) I don't believe Kubrick faked the moon landing footage because...I believe our astronauts went to the moon and brought a camera there. But I also know that moon landing conspiracy theories were around in the mid 1970s, well before he made THE SHINING. So why not fuck with the conspiracy theorists and plant a fake, coded "confession" in an completely unrelated film. That's what I would do if I were genius enough to make a movie anywhere near as good as THE SHINING. But then, that's just me.
ROOM 237 plays at the Roxie for at least one more week, and there will be a one-night-only double feature of ROOM 237 and THE SHINING at the New Parkway on May 10th.
Running Time: 102 minutes
My Total Minutes: 324,286