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Laramie Movie Scope: Room 237

Geeks deconstruct The Shining

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by Robert Roten, Film Critic
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January 1, 2013 -- Geeks who worship at the tomb of Stanley Kubrick see deep, hidden meanings in Kubrick's 1980 horror film, “The Shining.” According to this documentary film, the Shining isn't really about ghosts and madness at the Stanley Hotel in Estes Park, Colorado, where Stephen King (the film was adapted from his book) once stayed, no, that's way too simple (Room 237, by the way, was haunted).

What “The Shining” is really about, according to this film is: 1. The genocide of the Native Americans by the whites. 2. The genocide of the Jews by the Nazis. 3. Kubrick's guilt over helping to fake NASA's manned moon landing TV broadcasts. That's right, we are actually supposed to believe someone who actually believes one of the most thoroughly debunked conspiracy theories ever (along with the 9/11 “inside job” theory). You notice I did not use the word “or” in this list. It isn't one of three that is being proposed in this film, but all three at once, even though they ought to be mutually exclusive.

At first, it seems like the film is asking the viewer to believe that Kubrick actually put all these subtexts into the film on purpose, but later on, that is softened to allow for the possibility that these subtexts were included by Kubrick subconsciously, which is a bit more plausible. When you see the scant evidence for these claims, however it becomes clear that the film should have allowed for a third possibility, and that is these subtexts don't exist at all.

The clues cited in the documentary include some cans of baking powder made by the Calumet Baking Powder Company, a name based on an American Indian word, and images of an Indian chief (part of the brand) on the cans. Another clue is an Adler Typewriter (shown by running the film backwards) a German brand which is a possible reference to the Nazis, along with a bunch of suitcases (You would never see a big pile of suitcases at a real hotel, so it had to be Holocaust reference, right?). Another clue is an “Apollo 11” shirt worn by one of the characters in the movie.

Over the course of the film, it becomes clear that much of the analyses of the film are based on slow-motion, reverse and frame-by-frame viewing of “The Shining.” When “The Shining” was released in 1980, this digital technology did not exist for the general public. The film was designed to be seen in a movie theater, at normal speed, in the forward direction, not backwards. In the documentary, we see “The Shining” played forwards and backwards at the same time, the images superimposed over each other, allegedly revealing more secrets. Kubrick must be turning over in his grave.

This sort of urban legend has happened before, and it will happen again. One of the more famous examples of this phenomenon occurred, starting in 1966 and continuing on for years afterward when many people believed that Paul McCartney of the Beatles band had died and was replaced by a look-alike. Paul McCartney is still very much alive, but people started playing certain Beatles records backwards picking up non-existent clues to prove to themselves that Paul was dead. One of the more famous clues was the Abbey Road album cover showing Paul walking barefoot, a sign that he was dead. It seems preposterous now, but many people believed this urban legend. They even made documentary films about the “Paul is Dead” urban legend.

In the future, people will feel the same pity for those who believe in the fake moon landing, or Elvis being alive, the 9/11 conspiracy, the global warming conspiracy and all the other “grand conspiracies” that require the participation of hundreds, if not thousands of people who must keep silent about it forever, many of them in the leak capital of the world, Washington, D.C., the same people, like former C.I.A. Director David Petreus, who was unable to keep his own extra-marital affair a secret.

A much funnier take on this conspiracy was recently offered by a wag calling himself “Dr. Emilio Lizardo” (after a character of the same name in the movie “The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the Eighth Dimension”). He wrote, “I think there probably is no moon, which is why the landings had to be faked. The moon appears bigger on the horizon because the satellite that is projecting the hologram of the moon on the atmosphere is in an elliptical orbit. It is farther away from the earth when on the horizon so the picture gets projected farther and appears bigger.” Makes sense to me.

Why would anyone believe this crap? I think a lot of it has to do with the feeling of empowerment one gets by having access to secret knowledge that is not available to most people. These people think they are “in the know” while everyone else has been deceived. That makes them feel smarter and thus superior to non-believers. This provides a powerful incentive to find ever more absurd “clues” to buttress their tottering structures of belief.

It becomes pretty obvious that some of these “clues” could have been planted inadvertently by people other than Kubrick, like prop people or costume designers, for instance. Film is a very collaborative art. Some of these clues could have been simple continuity errors, or errors necessitated by camera placements and budget restraints. Some of these clues seem to be the result of trying to reconcile the reality of a movie set with a real hotel. Some seem to be the result of confusion in comparing this movie set with two different real world hotels used as inspiration for the film, the Timberline Lodge on Mount Hood, Oregon, and the Stanley Hotel in Estes Park, Colorado. This is a good place to apply Occam's Razor (if you don't know what that is, it is explained in the movie “Contact”).

One of the mental limitations of true believers in urban legends and conspiracy theories is an inability to accept the possibility of coincidences. Noted intellectual Noam Chomsky has pointed out that coincidences happen all the time in real life, but not in the fantasy world of grand conspiracy theories and urban legends. These interpretations of “The Shining” depend on the belief that Kubrick controlled every tiny detail of the film and that no mistakes were made in terms of continuity errors or prop placement.

If you believe all that and make all those allowances, then some of these interpretations of the underlying themes of the film may be subjectively valid. If they are, my guess is that they are mostly, if not all subconscious choices made by a variety of people. The argument made in the documentary is that even if these clues are not consciously made, the interpretations are valid. Maybe so, but only in a very subjective sense.

I do not buy into the argument that the author of a novel, for instance, can be legitimately blamed for every single crazy interpretation of that novel. Likewise Kubrick should not be held responsible for somebody else's possibly libelous interpretation of his film. Neither should support be attributed to Kubrick for a nutty conspiracy theory, absent a statement to that effect by Kubrick himself. Kubrick is no longer around to defend himself from this kind of nonsense. If he was still here, he would probably have some harsh words about this film.

My first impression of this film is that these people don't have enough to do if they've got the time to go over this film frame by frame. Then I got to thinking that I admire these people for having the chutzpah to try to make money from their ideas, like those people who made the movie “Loose Change.” I believe in capitalism and admire anyone who can make any money at all out of an idea this stupid. They are entitled to all the money they can make off this scheme, but buyer beware. This film rates a C.

Click here for links to places to buy or rent this movie in digital formats, or to buy the soundtrack, posters, books, even used videos, games, electronics and lots of other stuff. I suggest you shop at least two of these places before buying anything. Prices seem to vary continuously. For more information on this film, click on this link to The Internet Movie Database. Type in the name of the movie in the search box and press enter. You will be able to find background information on the film, the actors, and links to much more information.

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Copyright © 2013 Robert Roten. All rights reserved.
Reproduced with the permission of the copyright holder.
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Robert Roten can be reached via e-mail at my last name at lariat dot org. [Mailer button: image of letter and envelope]

(If you e-mail me with a question about this or any other movie or review, please mention the name of the movie you are asking the question about, otherwise I may have no way of knowing which film you are referring to)