The 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 Shining. And 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:
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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:
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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 possessed 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:
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):
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?