“A movie about audience participation.”
–trade ad for the home video release of “Demons”
The Shining, like director Stanley Kubrick’s other masterpiece 2001: A Space Odyssey, seems to offer up as many meanings as there are willing interpreters to expound them. Is there any inherent “darker” message to The Shining than the darkness already on display? Or perhaps is it, like 2001, simply a “mirror” to the ideologies and subconscious drives of those who view it?
Enter Room 237. A 2012 (yep…2012) documentary exploring a wide range of Shining theories, the most compelling bit of testimony within it as to the preternatural quality of Kubrick’s work may not be the manifold interpretations on display…but the presentation of the raw, decontextualized film footage itself.
My main interest in seeing the Room 237 involved the Stanley Kubrick moon landing theory (which needs its own post, to be sure) that have been floating about for decades. The documentary interviews filmmaker Jay Weidner, who believes a) that Kubrick helped the U.S. government fake the Apollo 11 moon landing and b) that out of guilt the director “confessed” his complicity via the movie version of The Shining.
Further, those who believe the aforementioned theory often then see the movie Eyes Wide Shut as the director’s final (with good reason) word on the secret societies that may or may not have co-opted him in making of said fake footage. So it’s no surprise that Room 237 opens with Tom Cruise’s character from Eyes Wide Shut checking out a movie poster for The Shining.
There are many call-outs to Kubrick’s other films in Room 237, as well as that of other movies that might only be related because of a brief scene or image (check out this site for a full list). Of particular interest to me was the extensive use of footage from the 1985 Lamberto Bava film Demons—which, as we will see later, may contain a greater “message” about Kubrick’s films in general.
We get a whole host of different theories in Room 237 about The Shining—not only the moon stuff, but “readings” based on the film identifying it as:
* A comment on the “white man’s” treatment of Native Americans
* An analogy for the Holocaust
* One huge mind fuck (and, even if you believe none of the other theories, this one will probably stick)
* Meant by Kubrick to be played simultaneously backwards and forwards (which, when you think about it, is still a mind fuck)
And so we see some key scenes from the film—like Jack Torrance meeting the manager of the Overlook for the first time, or Danny riding on his Big Wheel, many many many times. So many times, in fact, that merely the repetition alone—leaving out the theories themselves for a second—becomes a powerful part of the documentary.
You might even feel spooked or even physically ill as a result (oh, and we’ll get to that). Why? What makes these scenes/images so powerful?
I would put forward my own theory: that The Shining is, in itself, an occult artifact. More than an artifact: in a sense, a dynamic and “living” occult entity.
How did this happen? Was Kubrick, on his time off from fave filmmaker for NASA/the Illuminati, also a sorcerer?
I believe the act of filmmaking can be a powerful kind of sorcery in itself.
It’s like a ritual, a “spell” recorded on film that derives its potency from repeated viewings (much like the clips in Room 237). Combine that, the darkly metaphysical subject matter of the film, and the legendary perfectionism of Stanley Kubrick—every minute detail carefully orchestrated and flush with meaning—and you have the perfect formula for an “occult” film.
This brings us back to the use of footage from the film Demons in Room 237. As any buff of cult horror films knows, Demons is about a “cursed” movie that “infects” the audience with demonic possession. As the plot-within-a-plot unfolds, so the increasing drama and mayhem in the locked theater increases.
And this, I think, is what the filmmakers of the documentary are ultimately trying to say. Regardless of what the “real” meaning of The Shining is…it is obvious that there is some sort of profound esoteric “stuff” tightly interwoven within the movie. And that, possibly, the various interviewees/theorists in the documentary might have been “caught” within this web of occult allure and obsession.
Further: as each person pours their attention and energy into these “deep studies” of the film, complete with playing the same key scenes over and over (and frame by frame), they are only adding to the “power” of the movie—infusing The Shining with a potency that can only be created by reenacting the “ritual” (scenes, images, sounds) repeatedly (compare to the brainwashing of Alex in A Clockwork Orange).
Not that there’s anything wrong with that. Unless you find yourself taking a leap off Chapel Perilous and finding yourself at an eternal New Year’s party at the Overlook.
As a final note on Room 237, I should point out that the person I saw this documentary with became immediately “sick” after viewing it—both physically, and with a deep punctuated sense of panic and dread that lasted for the rest of the day. He cited the repeated, hypnotic imagery in the film as the probable cause. I too felt “weird” after seeing it—uneasy and creeped out.
Now, obviously…The Shining is a horror movie. It’s supposed to creep people out. But I’m very curious if anyone else has had similar reactions to Room 237. Why not try it for yourself?