I just took one of my daughters to see Room 237, which dissects Stanley Kubrick’s classic 1980 horror film, The Shining. She is 13 and has been Stanley Kubrick-obsessed for over two years. My daughters are budding hidden-meaning nerds, they have been since they were about five and I pointed out all the “Paul is dead” clues on Beatle albums, giving them happy nightmares for years, just like it did for me. They are twins, not identical like the twins in The Shining, they are nocturnal twins. We saw Room 237 on West Third, about a block from the Pink Pussycat boutique, which we passed on the way to the theater and saw minutes later in the documentary in a clip from Eyes Wide Shut, another favorite with Kubrick konspiracy buffs.
The director of Room 237, Rodney Ascher, is a geek. A Kubrick nerd. The hours he must have spent watching and re-watching The Shining surely boggled his own happily obsessed mind. I am an unabashed Stephen King reader and an avid Stanley Kubrick watcher. I loved The Shining. I loved the movie. I loved the book. I love conspiracy theories, I don’t particularly believe them, but I love them. For all this, I always thought The Shining was a horror movie. Or a Christmas movie, as I said in my own look-back review of the film.
Some might see Room 237 as a glorified YouTube video, but it is witty and well-made. There are no talking heads, just clips and stills from the movie and other films, a blueprint of the Overlook Hotel and shots of a mock movie audience. It doesn’t lag and throws wonderful light on a movie that should be pored over, if only for the subtle subliminal jokes from Kubrick himself. Kubrick was more than a perfectionist and his attention to the minutiae of every frame is legendary. Kubrick was from the Bronx. Raised on the Grand Concourse, he spent his teens hustling chess in Washington Square Park. The day after the death of FDR he convinced a guy at a newsstand to look sad while surrounded by headlines of the president’s death, snapped a picture, sold it to Look magazine and spent the rest of his life behind a camera.
I don’t know why I never pored over The Shining. I certainly spent enough time deconstructing Eyes Wide Shut after I’d heard that it was about Illuminati rituals. But I should have. I saw the clues like everyone else. I noticed the helicopter in the opening sequence but never gave it a thought. I saw the Apollo 11 T-shirt and the Tang and it even occurred to me that Kubrick was playing with the rumors that he’d faked the 1969 moon landings (the moon is 237,000 miles from Earth) for Nixon. I mean, Tang, come on. You have to go through astronaut training just to hold it down. Ed Harris might have been able to keep his balls floating as John Glenn, but the Tang probably cost him an election. Author and scholar Jay Weidner puts forth the theory that The Shining was Kubrick’s apologia and confession for faking the landings.
Even at my most compulsive I never counted how many times Wendy Torrance swung the bat at her husband in The Shining. I also never filled in all the Os in a book in an OCD rampage. (I once tried to count the number of times Grand Funk sang I’m getting closer to my home, but lost the count and interest after a particularly good drum fill.) If you multiply 2, 3 and 7, you get 42, the number Danny has on his T-shit in several scenes. It is also how many cars are in the parking lot at the Overlook Hotel when the Torrances pull in. It is also the number you get if you add the 7s in a stack of cases of 7-Up in the kitchen of The Shining’s Overlook Hotel. It is also the year that Hitler commenced The Final Solution, the extermination of the Jews.
Kubrick was said to be obsessed with the Holocaust and had a few false starts making a film about it himself, including The Aryan Papers which was to be based on Louis Begley’s novel Wartime Lies. Kubrick referenced the final solution in Dr. Strangelove, or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb and showed Nazi clips from Leni Riefenstahl films in A Clockwork Orange. One of the theories explored in Room 237, from Geoffrey Cocks, a history professor at Albion College is that it was an allegory for the Holocaust. Jack Torrance writes on a German-made Adler typewriter that changes color.
Bill Blakemore says that Room 237 is an allegory for the “wave of terror that swept across America,” the genocide of Native Americans by the ax-wielding white men who built the Overlook Hotel over an Indian burial ground in 1907. The elevator that drips blood is a stake in the heart that is pumping blood from a massacred nation. He was first clued in by the cans of Calumet baking powder which represent kept or broken treaties. Blakemore grew up in Chicago, near the Calumet Harbor and knew that Calumet meant peace pipe. Drinking from The Overlook’s stock is, as Jack Torrance tells the “best bartender from Timbuktu to Portland, Maine, or Portland, Oregon” for that matter, the “white man’s burden.”
In The Shining, Wendy Torrance tells Dick Halloran she might need to leave a trail of breadcrumbs to find her way around the kitchen. Juli Kearns follows those crumbs to a Monarch skiing poster to discover that Kubrick was telling the story of the Minotaur and his Maze, a Greek myth about a Cretan half-bull, half man at the center of a labyrinth. The Minotaur was slain by Theseus. The grounds of the Overlook Hotel contain a hedge-labyrinth. That’s where Danny finally eludes his father after he’s gone off the deep end. The architecture of the hotel is also a maze itself. The hotel also has a window that’s impossible, not impossible to clean, it’s just impossible that it could possibly be where it is in the interiors of the film, when you match it against the exterior. Kind of like the window in the Bunker house on All in the Family, but scarier. And sexier, it gives the hotel manager an erection just to shake hands in its glow.
The Shining also could have been about the South Bronx, alcohol as it was in the book, or child abuse. It could have been a Christmas parable. It could have been a horror movie. The good thing about Room 237 is that it presents all these theories and invites more. It invites conversation and it is a cordial invite. Now that I’ve finished my 1,000 words, I’m going to re-watch The Shining, which I haven’t seen since Christmas. With my kids. I’m going to make them count how many times Danny says Redrum.
Den of Geek Rating: 3.5 Out of 5 Stars