Like the blood that gushes from the elevators of the Overlook Hotel, brilliant/ridiculous theories of what Stanley Kubrick's The Shining is really about have for years surged madly and memorably -- especially online, where the Internet's dead ends, blind links, and circular arguments just might be another part of the impossible labyrinth Kubrick planned all along. (They're not.) The most compelling of these theories have been assembled into the remarkable film Room 237, a copyright-flouting film essay. According to one of the theorists interviewed in it, Kubrick was "the megabrain of the planet" boiling down all of existence into a "movie dream" that he "shines" into us even today.
Room 237 comes to O Cinema April 12, capping off a weeklong Kubrickfest that includes screenings of Dr. Strangelove, 2001: A Space Odyssey, A Clockwork Orange, Full Metal Jacket, The Shining, and Eyes Wide Shut. The films will be paired with a series of panel discussions incorporating experts such as Lisa Leone, who worked alongside Kubrick on Eyes Wide Shut for four years.
So, just how far down the rabbit hole can Kubrick's films take you? Let these theories from Room 237 be your guide.
Theory: The Shining is about the genocide of Native Americans.
Evidence: The Overlook Hotel's Navajo décor; Calumet baking powder cans (logo: an Indian chief) appear at moments when characters are "making treaties"; Nicholson's Jack Torrance asks a phantom bartender to commiserate about "the white man's burden"; the Overlook is built over an Indian burial ground, which must be where the elevators get the blood.
Least Compelling Evidence: The silent summer caretaker who sulks through Torrance's job interview and walks several steps behind his boss has skin that, on a muddy VHS copy, could possibly seem nonwhite.
Theory: The Shining is a retelling of the myth of Theseus.
Evidence: Nicholson's Torrance looming over the hedge labyrinth; the hotel's maze-like structure and impossible architecture; a ballroom is called the "Gold Room," and Theseus followed a golden thread through the maze.
Least Compelling Evidence: If you squint, a poster of a skier looks kind of like a Minotaur.
Theory: The Shining has "a deeply laid subtext that takes on the Holocaust."
Evidence: Torrance uses a typewriter from the German manufacturer Adler, the name "Adler" being German for "eagle," the bird that represents Nazi Germany and no other country anywhere ever; Schindler's List had typewriters in it; the frequent appearance of the number 42; an early dissolve from one scene to another seems to show Overlook Hotel tourists being turned into a stack of luggage; in the dissolve into the film's last shot, Nicholson's receding hairline in the penultimate image becomes a Hitler mustache on his face in the final one.
Least Compelling Evidence: In an establishing shot, there are 42 cars and trucks in the hotel parking lot.
Theory: The Shining contains Stanley Kubrick's admission that he helped fake the moon landing.
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Evidence: All of 2001: A Space Odyssey, which was an R&D project to perfect the front-screen projection techniques Kubrick would use when filming Neil Armstrong on a soundstage; curious lights in the background of NASA's moon-landing footage; the assertion that the fakery occurred on some studio's stage 237; the fact that Kubrick changed Steven King's room 217 to room 237; the fact that the moon, according to older science textbooks, is some 237,000 miles from Earth; the no-joke, pretty-goddamn-amazing way the carpet young Danny Torrance plays on resembles satellite photos of the Apollo 11 launch site; Danny wears an Apollo 11 sweater as he marches into room 237.
Least Compelling Evidence: A keychain reading "ROOM No 237" has the letters M-O-O and N capitalized on it.
O Cinema's Stanley Kubrick Retrospective begins April 8 with a screening of Dr. Strangelove, followed by "Working With & Learning From Stanley Kubrick: A Conversation With Lisa Leone." Visit o-cinema.org.