Stanley Kubrick’s 1980 horror chiller The Shining, adapted from the Stephen King bestseller, wasn’t well received at the time of its cinema release, least of all by King himself.
Many, if not King, subsequently revised their verdicts and the film is now widely hailed as a masterpiece. Yet for some viewers, The Shining isn’t simply a genre classic. As Rodney Ascher’s fascinating documentary reveals, there are those out there who reckon the film is crammed with hidden meanings.
Room 237 lays out the theories of five of them, each of whom finds all manner of secret codes and subtexts lurking within every frame.
For ABC news reporter Bill Blakemore, the presence of Calumet baking soda in the background of one scene indicates that the film is really about the genocide of the American Indian.
Historian Geoffrey Cocks maintains that Jack Nicholson’s German typewriter demonstrates that Kubrick was actually concerned with the Holocaust.
Playwright Juli Kearns digs up references to Greek mythology. Musician John Fell Ryan uncovers strange symmetries by screening the film backwards and forwards at the same time.
And self-described ‘hermetic scholar’ Jay Weidner exposes the film as Kubrick’s disguised confession for his role in faking footage of the Apollo moon landings.
For almost any other filmmaker, such theories could be dismissed right out of hand, but Kubrick’s obsessive-compulsive working methods make you pause and think again. Almost.
Illustrating the different theories with extensive clips from The Shining, Ascher doesn’t offer any verdicts of his own, but his use of clips from a host of other films, not just Kubrick’s, provides its own playful and witty commentary. Look out for the shot of Stephen King going bonkers in front of a TV from 1982’s Creepshow.
Room 237 probably won’t convert you into a believer of any of the theories expounded, but it will make you want to watch The Shining again. And when you do, you may well do a double take when you see Danny’s Apollo 11 sweater.
In cinemas from Friday 26th October.
The US-version of The Shining, previously unreleased in the UK and 24 minutes longer than the version originally shown in Europe, goes on release in selected UK cinemas on Friday 2nd November courtesy of the BFI.
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To activate the sound in the trailer: hold your cursor over the screen to reveal the control panel and click on the volume control in the bottom right-hand corner.