Original release: May 23rd, 1980
Running time: 146 minutes
Director: Stanley Kubrick
Writers: Stanley Kubrick, Diane Johnson, Stephen King
Cast: Jack Nicholson, Shelley Duvall, Danny Lloyd, Scatman Crothers, Barry Nelson
Danny enters Room 237 00:40:55 to 00:42:26
Have you ever had an experience that you later came to doubt happened at all? We’ve all had them; whether it’s a childhood memory mis-remembered, a drunken night out as a teenager, or just a sign of our age as we get older – and we think nothing more of it than that. But what if it was more than that? What if there was event we all bore witness to, for example a scene from a film, a news report or even a historic event – what if what we saw had another meaning to it or maybe didn’t even happen at all?
With the films of Stanley Kubrick this can sometimes be the case. By far he’s one of the most perplexing filmmakers to have graced cinema; but while his body of work is something that continues to give us pleasure as film audiences, we always wonder what lies at the core of films such as 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), A Clockwork Orange (1971) and Eyes Wide Shut (1999). Yet it’s The Shining which continues to pop up in social and academic discourse more frequently than those aforementioned films.
Based on the novel by Stephen King – with some notable changes by Kubrick – The Shining, on first look, is a story about a writer who descends into madness and tries to murder his wife and son. On closer look though, it reveals something more, and with the changes by Kubrick in the screenplay, it could possibly point to the filmmaker’s part in another well-known piece of film from 1969 we’ve all seen and have taken at face value.
The Shining’s story focuses on struggling writer Jack Torrance (Jack Nicholson) who’s given up drinking and accepts a job as the winter caretaker at the remote Overlook Hotel. Together with his wife Wendy (Shelley Duvall) and young son Danny (Danny Lloyd) they take up residence there and once all the guests have left, Jack hopes the quiet period will be a creative one for his writing. Although he’s been informed by manager Stuart Ullman (Barry Nelson) that the previous caretaker had a psychotic break; chopping up his wife and daughters to bit before turning a double barrelled shotgun on himself, Jack chooses to keep this information to himself. Meanwhile Danny has a chat with chef Dick Hallorann (Scatman Crothers) and we learn they both share a remarkable gift.
I’m not supposed to.
Danny goes on to tell Halloran about Tony, his friend that nobody else sees and who tells him things. Halloran wants to know if Tony’s ever told or shown Danny anything about the Overlook Hotel. Danny’s not sure though, but he asks Halloran if he’s scared on the hotel. He replies “I guess you could say the Overlook Hotel here has something about it that’s like shining.”
What about Room 237?
This conversation becomes a very important one when we begin to look back on the film as a whole, especially with regards to the mysterious Room 237, which Halloran warns Danny to stay out of, and what it is Kubrick might’ve been trying to tell us about with his own way of “shining” (telling something without having to open his mouth). These ideas however remain controversial and continue to be ridiculed by the mainstream media and scientific community. However, they offer an interpretation of the film which, when taken as one plausible explanation, makes us question a lot of what’s usually accepted as the truth about history as its told to us.
With a snowstorm trapping the family within the boundaries of the Overlook Hotel, Jack gradually breaks down. We see the environment taking its toll on him and he grows more dishevelled, resembling Kubrick and the physical changes he’d undergone in the years between Dr. Strangelove (1964) and The Shining, released in 1980. As we watch this unfold, a keen eye will also notice the film is filled with symbols that all point toward telling a different story entirely –namely Apollo 11 and its historic Moon Landing on July 20th, 1969.
It’s been noted by many, including renowned author and filmmaker Jay Weidner, that Jack and Danny are aspects of the same personality – Kubrick’s – so what we’re seeing here is a representation of that. Jack will do anything to accomplish his goal of being an artist; he’s temperamental and even smokes the same brand of Marlboro cigarettes as the director. Danny, on the other hand, is youthful and sees things that no one else sees, and he has a tendency to tell people things that should be kept quiet.
If we take the Overlook Hotel to symbolise America, then we arrive at the conclusion that Ullman (whose initials transposed reads as “U.S.”) is symbolically the face of the government of the United States and that Jack’s cut a deal to prevent the country from appearing like it’s decaying. With Jack soon beginning to feel the effects of this deal, Danny, in a crucial scene n the film, is seen in the hallway playing with his trucks when a ball is rolled to him out of nowhere, as if gesturing to the boy that he should join the game. It’s also the same ball that Jack was seen throwing in his study earlier, before it disappeared.
Throughout the film, title cards appear before the scenes to tell us what day and month it is. Though the film plays out during the winter reason, it should be noted that the day this particular scene plays out is on a Wednesday. Apollo 11 took off on Wednesday, July 16th, 1969. Danny’s sitting on the carpet and if we look closely he’s at the centre of a pattern that resembles Cape Kennedy in Florida where Apollo 11 took off from. Danny looks to see who rolled the ball to him and all we see a long empty corridor in front of him. He slowly rises and it’s only now we see what he’s wearing. It’s a blue knitted sweater with stars on it, but on the front it has a rocket with “Apollo 11 USA” written on it.
It’s as if we’re watching the symbolic lifting off of Apollo 11 as Danny makes his way down the corridor to find the door to Room 237 open. He peers inside before entering and the scene fades into the next one. What does this tell us? What is this master filmmaker trying to show the world? Is he revealing, by way of “shining”, his part in the hoaxing of the Moon Landing footage? Speculations are aplenty when it comes to what Danny saw inside Room 237, and also about why Kubrick changed it from being Room 217 in the novel to such a seemingly random number. It’s suggested that Room 237 represents the Moon and that Kubrick chose this number because it’s the average distance from the Earth to the Moon is 237,000 miles – although 238,857 miles is more accurate.
When we put it all together we have Wednesday at Cape Kennedy with Apollo 11 lifting off and heading toward the Moon. However, is what happens in Room 237 real and if not, what does this lead us to believe about the Moon Landing, if anything?
There are as many compelling reasons for believing the Moon Landing to be hoaxed, and that Kubrick had a part to play in it, as there are reasons for believing it to be genuine. But what does it matter? Either way The Shining remains one of the greatest, if not the greatest, horror films, but once we begin to look beyond the film’s cinematic impact and at the wider implications of why the U.S. government would want Kubrick to create a studio version of the landing in London to broadcast to an awaiting world, and why he would feel the need to reveal the details of this in such a mind-boggling way, the film, and the world at large become much more fascinating with the possibility of all the secrets.
Among those interviewed in the documentary are Donald Rumsfeld and Henry Kissinger, who were both on Nixon’s staff in 1969 and are shown in archive footage as the men who flew to London to set up the deal with Kubrick under the president’s orders. Others on Nixon’s staff at the time appear in the documentary with Kubrick’s widow Christine and her brother Jan Harlan, and they all confirm this was Nixon’s plan and was carried as such. It’s a hell of a story, but was it really one of those clandestine affairs that are destined to remain forever covered up and never spoken of by the mainstream? Or was the documentary part of a more elaborate a hoax? Is Kubrick only guilty of making a great and multi-layered film that he knew conspiracy theorists would continue to scrutinise over 30 years after its release based on its misleading fictional subtexts alone?
Whatever the case might be, it’s easy to deny Kubrick’s involvement in the Moon Landing footage and that The Shining was his way of revealing this to us, but what’s harder to deny is that the film remains one of the most effective exercises in horror and suspense. With its tense and eerie atmosphere, coupled with Nicholson’s chilling performance and all the other unsettling aspects of the film, it’s the best example I can think of why “All work and no play” can make us go a little bit crazy sometimes.
The founder of Static Mass Emporium and one of its Editors in Chief is a composer and music producer with a philosophy degree. Static Mass is where he lives his passion for film and writing about it. A fan of film classics, documentaries and World Cinema, Patrick prefers films with an impeccable way of storytelling that reflect on the human condition.
You can find his music on Soundcloud .