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Seriously Exhaustive Analysis of 'The Shining' Shows Kubrick's Inversion of King's Novel

Room 237The documentary Room 237 has been called a “DIY mashup” of the many theories put forward over the years as interpretations of Stanley Kubricks’s 1980 horror classic, The ShiningAnd there is good reason for viewers to puzzle over the film 33 years after its release: The Shining tends to be opaque, even though its corridors are well-lit. I recently found what is arguably the most exhaustive examination of how Kubrick adapted Stephen King’s novel into the script he wrote with Diane Johnson. Click below to read the post and see how Kubrick took King’s novel and made movie history!

Unlike Kubrick’s famously unrealized biography of Napoleon, The Shining got made. Stanley Kubrick wrote and directed The Shining with the intention of turning out a blockbuster, after the lush but relatively financially unsuccessful Barry Lyndon. The Shining, more than any other of his films, has inspired hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of words devoted to finding the meaning behind the film, even though, or, especially because, Kubrick himself was reluctant to discuss possible interpretations of his films, leaving it to the viewer to make up their own mind. (Allow me to say that I do not favor any of these theories over any other. I don’t want to get pilloried in the comments!) None of which stopped blogger Jonny53, whose epic post (it took me almost 12 hours to read) is certainly the most exhaustive Shining analysis on the internet. It will definitely, as Jack Torrance promised Wendy, “Bash your brains in,” (With exacting attention to detail, of course). Prepare to go through the looking-glass, people.

Read, And Ye Shall Find

The problem with criticism of The Shining is that almost every interpretation tends to go off the rails at some point, i.e., the film is really about Native American Genocide, or Kubrick’s guilt over faking the moon landing:


This one is no different. Jonny53′s final conclusion seems to be that the numbers in the film point us towards 12/24/11, which apparently was the date of the Mayan Apocalypse back in the 70s, before cooler heads prevailed and it was moved to the far more accurate date of 12/21/12. He does make the excellent point that most of the people who have put forth interpretations of the film over the years have never actually read the novel, and that what Kubrick did with the novel, and what he did with all of the novels he adapted to the screen, was to alter the content so that the story would be cinematic rather than literary. This is a challenge facing all filmmakers who are adapting someone else’s work (or even their own, from a different format).

So while many have noted the mysteries of the moving furniture:

And “impossible window” behind Ullman’s office:

Jonny53 maintains that all of these puzzles and more can be solved by first reading the novel:

I can’t think of any other movie where reading the source novel was so enlightening…Many writers skim the surface when trying to compare the novel with the movie and then simply give up. You absolutely cannot have a thorough understanding of Stanley Kubrick’s Shining without looking at what he did to Stephen King’s story. Ignoring the novel is crazy…[He] didn’t randomly alter things from the novel as many readers think. He’s inverted them.

Here is an exhaustive list of all the changes between novel and film.

According to Jonny53:

In the novel they’re brought to The Overlook in a red VW and have a yellow snowmobile up at the hotel. In the movie they’re brought to The Overlook in a yellow VW and have a red Sno-cat up at the hotel. They’re also saved in a red Sno-cat. In the movie Jack throws his yellow ball and in the novel Danny plays with his red ball. Stanley Kubrick didn’t just change the colors, he inverted the colors Stephen King uses in the novel for these major props. Look once at the VW in the opening credits of the movie; you’ll never forget that yellow color. Ask anyone who’s seen the film, they will be able to tell you what color the VW is. Ask anyone who’s read the novel and they probably won’t.

Hiding in Plain Sight

In the novel, the scrapbook containing The Overlook’s sordid past is a major plot device, and Jack becomes obsessed with it and Screen Shot 2013-05-25 at 9.03.27 PMpossessed by it. In the movie, it’s seen only in passing, but has the same effect. When Jack discovers the scrapbook, he loses interest  in writing anything but that one phrase, and becomes obsessed with doing the “duty” of hotel caretaker, even if that means killing his wife and child. This is how, according to Jonny53, Jack “shines” the apparitions of Lloyd and Grady: he has seen them before, in the newspaper clippings in the scrapbooks. But we barely see the scrapbook, an element from the novel Kubrick made subtly cinematic and almost subliminal without the heavy exposition of the novel, in which the provenance of the scrapbook is related in exacting detail.

Even better for Kubrick, who was always playing games with the viewer, the first-time viewer will probably interpret Lloyd and Grady as ghosts, even though Kubrick has made his “ghost story” about anything but, at least according to Jonny53. To him, it’s a film about ESP and telekinesis (note the number of Calumet cans behind Jack and Halloran’s heads, respectively, while they are “shining.”)  The first scene occurs precisely :27 minutes into the film, and the second precisely :27 minutes from the end of film, in the US version: the parallel edits Jonny53 finds in The Shining are remarkable. Jack Torrance has four more cans than Halloran, meaning he “shines” more, which is why Halloran isn’t able to predict his impending death at the hands of Jack:

Screen Shot 2013-05-27 at 5.29.26 PMScreen Shot 2013-05-27 at 5.24.17 PM 1

It goes on and on. In the novel, Wendy is a smart, independent blonde; in the film, she is Shelley Duvall’s mousey doormat; in the book, there is no hedge maze, but rather hedge animals which move constantly; in the novel, The Overlook hotel wants Danny for his power, but in the film, the hotel has no power at all, only a sort of “shining” which affects the whole Torrance family, even though Danny is the only one to know about it. In the film, both Jack and Wendy have the power of “shining” (Jonny53′s basis for this is the line, delivered by Halloran, “But there are other folks, though mostly they don’t know it, or don’t believe it.”) Visually, Kubrick shows us this by subtly giving the characters telekinesis, even if they themselves aren’t aware of it. They can move furniture, and even make chairs appear and disappear at will (also note the scrapbook in the foreground):

Screen Shot 2013-05-25 at 9.01.42 PMScrapbook

Who Opens The Door?

For many viewers, the question of whether or not we are dealing with the traditional cinematic supernatural is answered in the scene where Jack is released from the freezer, evidently by the ghost of Grady, the former caretaker. This is never made totally explicit (in the novel, we see that it is a ghostly Grady who leaves a drink and mallet for him outside the door, while in the film, the opening of the door is deliberately ambiguous):

But Jonny53 has an answer for that, too:

Jack and Dick Hallorann both have the same supernatural ability. It’s no stretch of the movie’s reality to see that Jack also “shines” when he’s locked in the storeroom. It’s obvious that his ability to supernaturally move things (telekinesis), and not the ghost of Delbert Grady, is what unlatches the storeroom door releasing him…this is what The Shining is about, people with an unusual ability. There’s no law that says Stanley Kubrick can’t change, or hide from the audience, which cast members have this special ability, and just exactly what that ability is.

In the novel, Halloran lies in order to get up to The Overlook. In the movie, he always tells the truth (which means, if we believe what he says to his friend Larry Durkin, that Ullman can “shine,” since he called Halloran and told him to get up to The Overlook.) This is a very out-there theory, but is actually somewhat confirmed by the deleted scene cut by Kubrick a week into the film’s U.K. run. For any Shining fanatic, or anyone interested in how a master filmmaker took a classic novel and adapted it into a classic film, this is required reading. I personally think Jonny53 goes off the rails at the end with his theory that Kubrick is subliminally encoding the date of the impending Mayan apocalypse (that’s called apophenia), but Jonny53 has done all fans of The Shining, and moviemaking, a great service with his incredible eye for detail.

And, last but not least, a word from Stephen King:

What do you think? Is Jonny53 onto something here? What’s your experience been when adapting work? How did you handle the transition to a script or movie? What are some of your favorite theories about The Shining? 

Link: Jonny53′s The Shining Blog


We’re all here for the same reason: to better ourselves as writers, directors, cinematographers, producers, photographers... whatever our creative pursuit. Criticism is valuable as long as it is constructive, but personal attacks are grounds for deletion; you don't have to agree with us to learn something. We’re all here to help each other, so thank you for adding to the conversation!

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  • Amazing analytical work.

  • watched it last night and my head still hurts from the many sub-themes within that movie, also watch this short doc on the moving of the furniture on the movie

  • Darrell Ayer on 05.31.13 @ 11:43AM

    The best theory movie on the Shining that I’ve seen was “Kubrick’s Gold Story”. It’s about American currency switches off the gold standard.

  • john jeffries on 05.31.13 @ 12:35PM

    you know filmmaking has stagnated when there are like 5 stanley kubrick documentaries/themed films in the past 3-4 years but no new directors that are as good as kubrick when he was starting out

    • Kubrick was ‘ait starting out, cut his teeth on some ok no-budget work, then got good fast. His reputation has also improved over time.

      People deify him and put out documentaries like this, where every little drip of information is assumed to be motivated by his genius, then they use every drip to prove said genius. It’s like when people use the Bible to prove the infallibility of the Bible.

      SK was most certainly one of the great directors, but I totally disagree with the notion that the quality of filmmaking is worse off now than it was then.

  • Nonsensical conspiracy theory run amuck. Maybe Room 237 was intended as a parody. Entertaining yes, based on any fact no.

  • I saw this at Sundance and more than half the audience walked out before they could hear the theory that Kubrick helped NASA fake the moon landings and The Shining was his secret confession. I stayed through the whole thing, fascinated that this even got into the festival, and as a reward I got to hear the real truth behind the Shining: it is a movie that was meant to be watched BACKWARDS.

    No, seriously.

    It was really a documentary on the online community of Kubrick conspiracy theorists which to me actually was interesting. On the way out I heard another audience member say, “Once I realized they were crazy I actually enjoyed the film.” Maybe that is the secret of room 237…

    …but you have to watch it backwards to find out.

    • I saw it at AFI and afterwards they actually did a screening of it backwards & forwards simultaneously, overlayed.

    • I’m surprised people didn’t catch on right away. Room 237 was pretty funny right from the start and got more so as it went along. I was wondering if the interviewees were upset when it came out and they realized they weren’t being taken seriously.

  • I’ve read the reason there weren’t any moving hedge animals in the film (as were in the book) was because Kubrick just wasn’t satisfied with the CGI technology at the time that would be required to create them.

    As for these overanalyses, you could probably find people who will dissect Twilight or The Hangover and come up with a comparable amount of nonsense.

  • Justin Morrow on 05.31.13 @ 6:13PM

    Like I said, this blogger goes off the rails, as do all of these other theories. The interesting thing to me was how Kubrick changed the source novel.

  • This seems to be an analysis done by non filmmakers.

  • I get the impression Kubrick cares more for the shot than continuity. I keep finding myself responding to discontinuities by noting that the composition of one or more shots involved would be compromised by adhering strictly to spacial continuity. I imagine a process where you do a take; then some element of the background bothers you so you fix it and continue. Then in editing you feel free to choose the best takes because you know people won’t notice the discontinuities. You try it out on people.

    I feel the movie is about schizophrenia. This is reflected in Wendy as women’s intuition, a staple of cinematic devices. And Danny represents innate childhood imagination and it’s suppression, which is also a fairly common observation. (My son is a tiger literally 75% of the time. I saw an art show of 5 year olds recently and about 10% of the paintings could sit along art in galleries and sell for thousands of pounds, assuming the painter could be constructed as the possessor of a career, history, development, personality, genius, godly vessel, madman, etc. I just realised how old-fashioned the art world is. And similarly, how old-fashioned this sort of critique is, which reads literally *everything* as an intentional act of often hidden communication.)

  • The ESP theory makes a lot of sense. Except that in an interview with Michel Ciment (linked to by another NoFilmSchool article) Stanley Kubrick is asked: “So you don’t regard the apparitions as merely a projection of his mental state?” – to which he replies: “For the purposes of telling the story, my view is that the paranormal is genuine. Jack’s mental state serves only to prepare him for the murder, and to temporarily mislead the audience.”

    • Justin Morrow on 06.2.13 @ 2:38PM

      I think Kubrick is being truthful and cagey. Jack’s mental state (and the fact that he ‘shines’ and doesn’t know it) make him vulnerable to the hotel and prepares him for murder (he can barely stand his family from the beginning of the movie, and we know he has been a violent alcoholic.) Is he going crazy or seeing ghosts? The paranormal rubric covers everything from ghosts to E.S.P., telekinesis, psychic powers, poltergeists, etc. I don’t subscribe to any of these theories myself I think Kubrick was probably messing with everyone’s heads (including Ciment’s, probably).

    • Justin Morrow on 06.2.13 @ 2:39PM

      I think Kubrick is being truthful and cagey. Jack’s mental state (and the fact that he ‘shines’ and doesn’t know it) make him vulnerable to the hotel and to prepare him for murder (he can barely stand his family from the beginning of the movie, and we know he has been a violent alcoholic.). Is he going crazy or seeing ghosts? The paranormal rubric covers everything from ghosts to E.S.P., telekinesis, psychic powers, poltergeists, etc. I don’t subscribe to any of these theories myself I just think Kubrick was messing with everyone’s heads (including Ciment, probably).

  • A friend of mine was very good friends with the designer on TS. He asked the designer about this stuff, after all, much if it refers to production design decisions. The designer said that there was no intention behind most of this stuff. Which basically refutes 90% of all the analysis done on the film. What can be said is that Kubrick was a genius at hood winking audiences. And that’s pretty much all.

  • Room 237 WAS entertaining. Unfortunately, the overload of micro-examination triggered my brain to explode – leaving the resulting gray matter scattered and shining on my kitchen floor. So I used some Calumet Powder to clean up the mess, sat down with a great back issue of Playgirl, and found an ad on knitting my very own Apollo 11 sweater. Halfway through, I dropped 2370 stitches and Apollo 11 came out REDRUM. It was then that I heard Kubrick laughing his ass off…on top of the moon, and wearing a headdress.

    So I’m writing a screenplay, because I just know it was a sign!

  • Sigh , I think Jonny needs to find something to do.

    • Justin Morrow on 06.13.13 @ 2:29PM

      I think the point he makes about the novel’s inversion is probably spot-on. It’s something Kubrick would do, and did do, time and again, with his films (ACO, Barry Lyndon, Full Metal Jacket); he took his source material and messed with it. I think Jonny hits on this, but otherwise, yeah.

  • my question/comment would probably be better in a different forum or thread, but here it goes.
    Concerning the style Kubrick chose.
    Most of the actors, even the seasoned actors like Nicholson ….extremely overact in this movie….on purpose it seems.
    Jack Nicholson, Shelley Duvall, and Scatman Crothers all seem to purposely overact. Whenever Shelley Duvall and Scatman Crothers speak, they come across like the only acting experience they’ve ever had is a high school play. And their dialog felt like I was listening to a high school play.
    Nicholson, besides overacting his lines, exaggerated every facial expression, in Jim Carrey fashion, or as if he was in a broadway play and was making sure the people in the back rows could see what mood he was trying to convey.
    All this was obviously a style-choice by Kubrick.
    But ..I dont get it?!!

  • Then there’s the view of all rational adults that it’s a well made but simple story of a guy who goes crazy which has become the obsession of people who are batshit crazy. If the likes of “Darrel” Ayer didn’t find Kubrick to project their considerable paranoid psychoses on, it would be something else.

  • rolling thunder on 01.15.14 @ 10:25AM

    Really? I just wasted all my time reading this and watching the clips??

    It is a film made on a movie set- it was not filmed in a real building so who cares that that door leads to no where and that window cant possibly exist?

    Are you for real?? Do you watch TV shows like Seinfeld or any TV show and go “wait a minute- there is no way that door leads to a real room?”

    I mean who cares. Talk about wasting time even trying to come up with such theories. In fact this article is somewhat ridiculous!!! I cant believe you even made an artificial layout of a hotel that was majority filmed on set- hello? that means these rooms actually dont really exist in reality so who cares??

    The problem is it is a simple movie and all these half wits try and make it into some sort of in depth world where every picture and mark on a wall has a meaning- that is totally absurd!!!

    Ever heard of poor editing? Or poor scene setup? Or lazy prop boys? Or time constraints where something has to be done quicker?


    The movie is simply about a maniac who is reincarnated and continues to relive his life across generations in the same role at the same hotel….. he even says “it is like dejavu- but even moreso, like I knew what was around every corner”——-ahhh hello- that refers to reincarnation and a soul journ like groundhog day but across different lifespans…

    So simple- and people crap on about the movie being about Indian Genocide??? WOW- now those people have imaginations or more likely a chip on their shoulder that equates everything they see in rerlation to Indian Genocide.

    Watch the movie for what it is… a movie about a reincarnated maniac with a movie set that is there to baffle you with b*lls*t- unfortunatly too many people see this baffling as some in depth meaning!

  • rolling thunder on 01.15.14 @ 10:36AM

    And PS- Inverting scenes or themes etc is a reflection of laziness and NOT creativity-

    LOL Anyone cant invert things—–

    Do you want to be a world famous modern composer??? Do you?? Do you really??

    Then go and invert Mozart or Beethoven, reverse, upscale, hop step and jump the music and wow— you’d be a musical genius—- only you wouldn’t!!!!! Because you’d be doing nothing more than REARRANGING someone elses genius….

    Stephen King here is the genius- Kubrick is just someone who reinterpreted and rearranged a geniuses work… without King, Kubrick would never have had enough imagination or creativity to come up with 1% of the story line. Kubrick cannot exist without the creativity or the originators- he does nothing more than rework other peoples art.

    There are originators and then there are imitators.

    And the saddest thing about all these fools who try and over analyse and praise the movie the Shining is ————–THEY HAVENT EVEN BOTHERED TO READ THE BOOK—- ONCE YET ALONE MULTIPLE TIMES>>>>>

    All these stupid theories… just makes me wonder how simple these people must be to find such complexities in a basic setting.


    Just watch the simple and abstract movie and enjoy it- if you are going to watch it 10000 times to see simple things on the set that will blow your mind away, then watch every other show and movie you see with the same intensity…

    WOW Seinfeld cereal in his kitchen is alphabetical— oh my god- that means that the American govt is corrupt and has everything set up so it is controlable—- LOL yeah right get a grip!!!!!

    • Why are you getting so worked up about it? Why does the idea that someone might want to find a deeper meaning in something offend you? What fun is fiction if you can’t dig deep below the surface?

    • Justin Morrow on 05.16.14 @ 8:00AM

      Yeah, sorry dude. Didn’t mean to harsh your mellow. We’ll take your screaming under advisement.

  • here’s nikki

  • SteamboatWillie on 02.19.14 @ 12:13PM

    Didn’t you catch the Orion constellation references? “Danny” is “Orion”, going round and round, up in “the high places,among the stars”. See the three bright lights in the window when the “twins” lie dead on the floor? That’s the “belt stars of Orion”.

    Now, who is “Tony”? The name “Tony” means “Praise Leader” or “Boss of Praise”. So you have “Tony” on the top of a “Mountain”…you have “TONY MONTANA”. Now go look at the hotel from the movie “Scarface” where the chainsaw incident occured…See the “Belt stars of Orion” laying down again? Notice even that the tub where they were tied up is where one of the round windows is.

    So “Danny” is actually “portraying” “Orion” as the “Boss of Praise on the Mountain”, the “Tony Montana”. The CHIEF angel…Michael the ARCHANGEL…protector of the children.

    Remember how “Danny” “stands up” when the ball rolls to him? The most dramatic scene of the movie?

    [1] And at that time shall Michael stand up, the great prince which standeth for the children of thy people: and there shall be a time of trouble, such as never was since there was a nation even to that same time: and at that time thy people shall be delivered, every one that shall be found written in the book.

    Now, go look closely again at the “head of Orion”. “What?” you say? You thought he didn’t have a head? Look again…who is that?!

    It’s MICKEY MOUSE. Now go look closer at your good friend Mickey and you will see that HE is also playing “Orion”.

    I could go on and on but I will just tell you what you are seeing:


    [7] And there was war in heaven: Michael and his angels fought against the dragon; and the dragon fought and his angels,

    • Dude that has got to be the most kickass analysis I’ve ever read. LOL I’ve only finished watching the movie for the first time and I gotta say holy hell are you on some next level stuff! If your theory didn’t tie into biblical topics that are deeply layered in symbolism I would’ve thought something else..well done! Although the connections are extraordinarily loosely based, they’re still in sync. Coincidence is a bush :)