A documentary about the various — and entertainingly outrageous — interpretations of Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining; directed by Rodney Ascher
Here are some theories about the film Room 237, which presents a number of theories about what Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining was really all about:
• If you notice, none of the conspiracy theorists — who speculate that The Shining was really about the Holocaust, the tragic treatment of Native American Indians, the “faked” moon landings, the unreality of reality and the past, experimenting with subliminal sexual messages, etc. — are actually seen speaking on camera. This can only mean that the theories are all made up and none of the people purportedly espousing them actually exist in the real world. As a result, the film stands for the proposition that anyone who believes what they see, read or hear in the media or in entertainment is a gullible sap.
• The film uses snippets and clips from The Shining as evidence to piece together these various competing and incompatible theories. But, if you look carefully, it also uses clips from a variety of other films by director Kubrick (Eyes Wide Shut, 2001: A Space Odyssey, A Clockwork Orange, Paths of Glory, Barry Lyndon, Full Metal Jacket). It even tinkers with the images of these other films to suggest that these scenes were in fact connected with The Shining (such as Tom Cruise’s character from Eyes Wide Shut gazing at a theater window display advertising the showing of The Shining; the rooms at the end of 2001 where astronaut Dave Bowman rapidly ages as being synonymous to room 237 from The Shining where Jack Torrance encounters an aging naked woman). Naturally, this means that Kubrick knew The Shining was going to be his seminal film and so placed references to it in all his other films — including ones he hadn’t yet made.
• The film goes into great detail about all of the various theories that have been propounded about The Shining. It even dissects the entire layout of The Overlook Hotel and how that layout could not be physically possible. The Overlook Hotel is based on The Stanley Hotel in Estes Park — but it’s also based on The Timberline Lodge on Mount Hood in Oregon. In a similar vein, could it be that Room 237 is really about how a novel (Stephen King’s “The Shining”) cannot possibly physically occupy the same space as the film The Shining? Kinda creepy, isn’t it?
• Room 237 suggests that The Shining was not really a true horror film. None of the horror elements of the film are examined in detail for their ability to convey true horror. The theorists were not scared by the film, but were rather baffled by its weirdness, incomprehensibility, illogic, unrealism, goofiness, etc. As The Shining has to mean something (if it’s not about horror, then it must be about something else, hence the many concocted theories developed by the theorists struggling to make sense of it all), the human mind must fabricate a meaning. Hence, Room 237 is not really about The Shining, but is really about the human capacity to find patterns and meanings in the incomprehensible. Whoa!
This all must mean that Room 237 cannot really be about The Shining. And yet, my feeble human mind struggled to find meaning in its lack of meaning.
And then it hit me: Room 237 is really about how The Shining is actually about hydraulic fracturing — the process of breaking rocks deep underground to liberate the oil and gas trapped within.
Think about it. Fracking is a scary and mysterious process — just like the scary and mysterious The Shining and the scary and mysterious theories in Room 237. That’s right, folks. Room 237 stands for the proposition that Kubrick was way ahead of his time and anticipated the controversy swirling around this method of extracting energy from deep underground. Think I’m just venting? Let’s drill down on this theory:
1. When Jack Torrance whacks away at the bathroom door with an axe to gain access to Wendy and Danny (his wife and son) trapped inside, how is this not about the drilling and pounding through the earth’s strata to get at the oil and gas trapped within? And, as the axe splinters and punctures the door, Wendy looks on with horror (representing the reaction of many at this energy extraction process) while Danny escapes (representing the purportedly escaping chemicals from that process).
2. Wendy and Danny have visions of a red toxic fluid slowly gushing from an elevator, the shaft of which plumbs the depths of ground below the hotel. Makes you think of the voluminous hydraulic fracturing fluid that is drawn up from the depths after slicing open the earth and making it bleed.
3. The hotel is built over an Indian burial ground. These spirits torment the Torrance family and the previous occupants of the hotel who became exposed to these powers. Could it be we are unleashing similar troubles when punching holes in the ground disturbing what lies beneath?
4. Danny writes “REDRUM” on a door with red lipstick and, with his index finger flexing, chants the same with a spooky and ominous voice to warn his mother about impending doom. Clearly, this is a reference to a “red” “drum” of oil laced with toxic red fracking fluid.
5. The pattern of the carpeting on the floor of The Overlook Hotel is amazingly similar to the outline of hydraulic fracturing drill bits. The pattern shows these drill bits interlocking over and over ad infinitum just like how this development is proliferating all over the country.
6. Jack Torrance fantasizes about opulent parties full of rich people enjoying the highlife in elegant gowns and expensive suits. Clearly, this represents the profits being made by the fracking industry. At these parties, he is also seen drinking alcohol at a bar where there are rows of shelves with copious amounts of liquor bottles on them. At this same bar, as he is enthralled with celebrating his good fortune in discovering this liquid, he bumps into a waiter carrying a tray of other liquid whereupon it’s spilled on him, which then has to be cleaned off of him by the waiter (Mr. Grady), a servant at the opulent party. Naturally this is about how people can become intoxicated by this abundant natural resource and the liquid that is used to extract it, and how blue collar jobs are created to perform the work and have to clean up after it.
7. In room 237, Jack Torrance encounters a young naked woman emerging from a bathtub. They embrace, and opening his eyes after kissing her, he finds that she has morph-ed into a wizened, desiccated elderly woman with sloughed off skin and sores all over her body. You suppose this is symbolic of the industry’s embrace of fracking technology and the toxic results from that process?
I could go on and on with 230 other examples from the film and how they correlate to fracking, but you get the picture. Don’t you?
Doug Young is the Senior Policy Director for Gov. John Hickenlooper’s Office of Policy and Research. He is also an award-winning film critic whose creativity has helped him earn multiple column writing awards in The Colorado Press Association’s Better Newspaper Contests over the years.