Young movie fans often discover the existence of auteurs through one auteur in particular: Stanley Kubrick. Often, they discover him through one film in particular: The Shining. Adapted — loosely adapted, to the point of reinvention — from Stephen King’s novel, Kubrick’s first picture of the eighties found itself marketed as a straight-on horror movie. Kids savor few experiences so richly as getting scared by a story, but when they sit down to get scared by The Shining, they don’t feel quite what they expected to. The movie may fill them with fear (I’ve personally experienced no greater disturbance than the stare of that 1920s fellow in the dog costume toward the end), but it also fills them with the sense that it doesn’t quite align with all the horror movies they’ve watched before. Some of these kids want to find out why. Sooner or later, they stumble upon Bill Blakemore’s well-known essay “The Family of Man,” which examines The Shining and finds it brimming with symbolism pertaining to Native American dispossession and slaughter. These kids surely all grow up to become cinephiles, but I like to think that some grew up to become the subjects of Room 237, Rodney Ascher’s new documentary about Shining obsessives, whose trailer you can watch above.
“In 1980 Stanley Kubrick released his masterpiece of modern horror The Shining,” reads the trailer’s crawl. “Over 30 years later, we’re still struggling to understand its hidden meanings.” John Powers’ NPR piece on the documentary can tell you more. “Where you may think it’s merely a horror story — remember that blood flooding out of the elevator? — these devotees argue that Kubrick’s movie is really about more than a writer going homicidally bonkers,” Powers says. “For one, it’s about the genocide against Native Americans; for another, it’s about the Holocaust; yet another says the film is Kubrick’s admission that he helped fake footage of the Apollo 11 moon landing. By way of evidence, these folks point to all sorts of ‘clues,’ from the presence in several shots of the Calumet Baking Powder logo — with its distinctive tribal chief in a feathered headdress — to apparent continuity errors involving misplaced chairs that, this being Kubrick, can’t possibly be mere errors.” Whether you credit Shining theories or not, you might consider prefacing your own Room 237 screening with a watch of The Shining Code, an hour-long video essay on Kubrick’s film that puts this mindset on display. Just promise us you won’t get involved with any moon hoax people.
Colin Marshall hosts and produces Notebook on Cities and Culture and writes essays on literature, film, cities, Asia, and aesthetics. He’s at work on a book about Los Angeles, A Los Angeles Primer. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall.