Die-hard fans of Stephen King’s harrowing 1977 novel of the same name will likely disagree but, to many, Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining delivers two of the most frightening hours in the history of American horror.
Jack Torrance (Jack Nicholson), an out-of-work writer who is desperately in need of a job, drags his meek wife Wendy (Shelley Duvall) and eight year-old son Danny (Danny Lloyd) to the historic and secluded Overlook hotel where Jack is to act as caretaker for the long lonely winter. The hotel manager warns Jack that some caretakers in the past have experienced some cabin fever as a result of the isolation, resulting in (at least) one murder-suicide. Jack (Torrance), with that famous Jack (Nicholson) grin, assures the manager that this will never happen to him but we as the audience already aren’t so sure. We’ve already learnt from Wendy that Jack has a bit of a temper and once dislocated Danny’s shoulder in an accident that “could have happened to anybody”. What’s worse, Danny has a special ability to see both the past atrocities of the hotel’s history and all all the horrors to come but, despite his frequent chants of “Redrum”, no one will listen.
King famously hated Kubrick’s adaptation of his cherished novel. Kubrick took what was useful from the book and scrapped the rest, in favour of a more surreal, ambiguous, and visceral version of the story. As a fan of the novel, It’s a chilling, exceptionally well-made horror film that so many have embraced over the years and can easily be enjoyed as such. The Shining is most unsettling, however, for those who are willing to dig a little deeper and continue to reflect on the film’s mysteries as it continues it’s work on you.
Which brings me to Room 237, a 2012 documentary by Rodney Ascher about people who have never been able to stop delving into the mysteries and symbolism of The Shining. Six participants share their elaborate theories through voice-over almost entirely over footage of the film. The choice of brands in the pantry, posters on the wall, faces in the clouds, missing chairs, impossible windows, and hidden erections are all under intense scrutiny.
The theories of Room 237 run the gamut from thought-provoking to just plain silly. Some examples you’ll wonder how you yourself could have missed while other are almost painful to see as people who are clearly obsessed seem to be grasping so desparately at straws. So many who were involved in the making of The Shining have insisted that there are no answers to be found in Room 237 but, one way or another, it is sure to change the way you experience Kubrick’s classic.