Kubrick's The Shining holds up to intense interpretive scrutiny.
Director: Rodney Ascher
Cast: Bill Blakemore, Geoffrey Cocks
Runtime: 102 min.
by John DeSando
“There ain’t nothing in room 237.” (Scatman Crothers in The Shining)
According to the fascinating documentary, Room 237, there is much in that room, at least as it’s a metaphor for Stanley Kubrick’s around 200 IQ that put together the wildly fantastic The Shining. Even Stephen King was mystified by the changes Kubrick made to King’s novel.
This mash up of the symbolic interpretations of the movie reveals the lengths those who are obsessed by subtext can go to create an English major’s erotic dream of meanings behind an arguably brilliant novel set to film by a brilliant filmmaker. And that he is, evidenced this year in an exhausting exhibit at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art in which his attention to detail and his willingness to save the minutiae of his notes on his films are on mesmerizing display.
In Room 237, five narrators, all some form of obsessive, comment on the significance of such objects in the film as the Calumet tins behind Jack Nicholson’s head representing the subjugation of the Indian to the white man or the Adler typewriter, whose German name means eagle and can represent Nazi Germany. Supporting that seemingly bizarre interpretation is the dissolve shot of people and suitcases, a reference to holocaust images of concentration camp victims. The recurring number “42” may represent the year the Nazi’s formulated their plan for the extermination of Jews.
Most provocative is the contention that Kubrick directed a phony walk on the moon, used by the USA to show the successful Apollo 11 mission. I don’t know about that. I can more easily accept the apparent continuity mistake of a missing chair showing Kubrick’s wish to throw us into horror film formula, or I can happily be made aware of the reliance Kubrick had on deep focus that allowed a full use of mise en scene for symbols.
It’s all good because even wild interpretations enhance my appreciation of the work of a genius adapting another genius and delighting my little English major mind with meanings and motifs:
“I’ve been trapped in this hotel forever. I dream about this place.” John Fell Ryan
John DeSando co-hosts WCBE 90.5’s It’s Movie Time and Cinema Classics, which can be heard streaming and on-demand at WCBE.org. He also appears on Fox 28’s Man Panel. Contact him at JDeSando@Columbus.rr.com