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The Shining's Maze of Meaning: 'Room 237' and the extended cut

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Stanley Kubrick's The Shining has been given a new lease of life in the UK with the cinematic release of an extended cut restoring 25 minutes of footage removed after the initial critical mauling in America - and a new documentary Room 237 delving into the movie's hidden meanings. So what can we learn from them and how might they alter our interpretations and understanding of Stanley Kubrick's horrific masterpiece?

The murderous mayhem at the Overlook Hotel is far more than Jack Nicholson trying to murder his hysterical wife and disturbed child with an axe. It's a fascinating and rich text rife for exploration under the auspices of postmodern film criticism - where the author's intent is not required to construct meaning. Moon landings and Minotaurs are just part of the theories explored below.

The Shining

© WENN



Attempts to establish Stanley Kubrick's objectives are clouded by the fact that The Shining had a chaotic shoot at Elstree Studios (a Tesco supermarket now stands where the movie was filmed), reportedly lasting over 500 days. An on-set documentary filmed by his 17-year-old daughter Vivian features Jack Nicholson quipping to the camera that "we make it up as we go along" after a new page of hastily rewritten script from Kubrick is handed to him.

Yet we know the wondrous director is the most meticulous auteur in the history of cinema, often breaching the 100-take mark. Could he leave anything to chance? Even the locations of food tins in a storeroom? Ultimately we'll never know how much was by design or by coincidence, but there are many startling readings...

The Faked Moon Landing Theory
A contributor on Room 237 has assembled an array of imagery from the film to support his theory that the film acts as a conscious or subconscious admission from Kubrick that he faked the 1969 moon landings for NASA by directing them using sets from his movie 2001: A Space Odyssey. Conspiracy theory nutjob or perceptive viewer?

The evidence is mainly based on Danny wearing a sweater with Apollo 11 emblazoned on it, the patterns on one of the distinctive hotel carpets bearing a strong resemblance to the overhead view of the Apollo's launchpads and the decision to change the room name from the 217 of Stephen King's novel to 237.

Jack Nicholson, The Shining


The latter number is claimed to be the average distance in miles between the Earth and the Moon believed at the time, with the room itself being home to various visual deceptions during the movie such as the naked young lady being a decaying old woman. Jack stressing to Wendy about his loyalty to his employers is also cited as being allegorical in relation to Kubrick's alleged dealings with NASA.

An attempt at further credence is made by the anonymous Room 237 contributor claiming to have been monitored by NASA since speaking out. It's a fascinating reading because of the accumulation of 'evidence' that works together to form a whole under this reading. Taken in isolation, each component is extremely flimsy though.

Along with an Apollo 11 top, Danny also wears one with Mickey Mouse on it while he scurries around the corridors like a little mouse. So should we interpret The Shining as one grand metaphor for the extermination of rodents by humanity? If you look hard enough, you'll find something that supports your stance.

There is a more detailed exploration of this theory, along with screenshots, in Jay Weidner's article 'Secrets of The Shining: Or How Faking the Moon Landings Nearly Cost Stanley Kubrick his Marriage and his Life'.

Isolation Evaporation
Many of the added scenes in the extended cut feature televisions and contact with the outside world, whether it be Wendy watching the news and learning a snowstorm is on the way or 'shining' chef Dick Hallorann calling up a pal to arrange transport to the hotel after his plane lands.

The presence of such scenes diminishes the sense of isolation surrounding the Torrance family and you can easily understand why Kubrick had no qualms about their removal. They also adversely affect the pacing.

Of particular thematic note is a scene involving Danny and Wendy watching a Road Runner cartoon, which is a nice addition because it gives an explicit thematic reference point to the cartoonish elements contained in the shortened cut. With his feral howls, arched eyebrows, grizzled features and pursuit of an innocent but resourceful creature, Jack resembles Wile E Coyote.

It also ties to Jack bellowing "Little pigs, little pigs, let me come in," before taking his axe to the bathroom Wendy hides in, thus positioning himself as the Big Bad Wolf. This cartoonish element adds another layer to the movie's multi-faceted thematic tapestry.

Jack's Abuse of Danny
After Danny blacks out from his first vision of the Grady twins and the 'elevator of blood' early in the film, the extended cut deviates by featuring a doctor's visit to the family home. A very revealing chat between Wendy and the doctor ensues, in which it's revealed that Jack dislocated Danny's shoulder when he returned home drunk after a drinking binge. This is briefly touched upon later in the shorter cut when Wendy fears Jack has hurt Danny again after his visit to Room 237.


The chat with the doctor significantly reveals that Jack quit drinking alcohol after the incident five months before, which adds extra dramatic weight to his later anger-fuelled decision to have a drink 'in return for his soul' from Lloyd the ghostly bartender in the Gold Room. Additional restored dialogue in this bar scene involves Jack toasting to "five miserable months on the wagon and all the irreparable harm that it's caused me".

Finally, Wendy tells the doctor that Danny's 'imaginary friend' figure Tony emerged as a result of the injury caused by his father. Could this be a prophetic, angelic force to counter the demons inside Jack that the drink brought out?

The documentary Room 237 briefly suggests that Jack Torrance has sexually abused Danny, a theory which is explored in Rob Ager's essay 'Mazes, Mirrors, Deception and Denial: Danny's Ordeal' using the teddy bear motif as his primary evidence.

It may be pure coincidence, but Vivian Kubrick's Shining documentary shows actor James Mason visiting the set and chatting to Jack Nicholson. Mason starred in Kubrick's 1962 adaptation of Lolita as Humbert Humbert, a man who becomes sexually involved with his own 12-year-old stepchild.

Native American Genocide and Holocaust Allegories
What was the purpose of the final scene with the photograph of Jack Torrance from the Overlook Hotel Ball on July 4, 1921? Quite possibly the tale ended on such a note to show that the pattern of horror repeats itself throughout history, as it has done with numerous wars and massacres on a grander scale.

On a personal scale, the following snippet of dialogue spoken by Jack to Wendy in the extended cut serves to make this more explicit on a personal scale: "When I came up here for my interview, it was as though I had been here before. I mean, we all have moments of déjà vu, but this was ridiculous."

You don't need to see the extended cut or Room 237 to figure out that there's a Native American theme under the surface - quite literally in the case of the Overlook Hotel, as it's stated the building was constructed on an Indian burial ground. Furthermore, Jack refers to a 'white man's burden' while chatting to the bartender in the Gold Room.

Room 237 builds upon the theory that the 'elevator of blood' sequences are representative of the blood shed by the Indians, with the closed lift doors representing repression. This wider historical point binds with the personal, for Grady tells Jack in the Gold Room toilet that he has no recollection of chopping his wife and daughter into little bits. His later mentions of "correcting" them could be interpreted as putting a positive spin on murderous acts. Sound familiar?

The food tin labels in the storeroom are denoted as pivotal in Room 237, for an Indian Chief image is seen on the logo of Calumet baking powder. Similar imagery is seen on the walls of the hotel too.

The Shining (1980)


Now for a quick Q&A:

Q. What is 2x3x7?
A. 42.
Q. How many cars were in the parking lot of the hotel at the start of the film?
A. 42.
Q. What country is Jack's typewriter from?
A. Germany

In January 1942 the 'Final Solution' was formally adopted in Berlin, leading to the further slaughter of millions of Jews. Room 237 seeks to establish The Shining's representational nature in relation to this horrific and senseless madness using the above arguments along with other notable instances of the number 42 (a car number plate, the logo on one of Danny's shirts, the film Summer of '42 being shown on a TV) and a freeze-frame from a scene dissolve in which Jack has a Hitler-style moustache for a split second. Typewriters were also a crucial component of the Nazi apparatus for cataloguing and deciding the fate of prisoners, as prominently featured in Schindler's List.

How much of the above is pure coincidence though? Perhaps Kubrick's prop buyer couldn't find a good deal on any other brands of typewriter down the local shops in Elstree? Yet there's no doubt that The Shining succeeds in tapping into multiple layers of the horrors of history, irrespective of specific intent from its creators. That's what makes it such a powerful film for so many.

The Skeletal Ghosts of the Overlook Hotel
The extended cut restores a brief sequence near the movie's climax in which Wendy enters a dining room and sees cobwebbed skeletons in their suits at the table. This adds very little apart from a nice aesthetic - it is thematically superfluous as we already know of other ghostly presences and it also hinders the momentum in the build-up to the mother and son's reunion outside the maze.

This scene is also bathed in a garish blue hue, which ties in with the stark red and white visual strategies adopted elsewhere to form the colours of the American flag. Again, this bolsters the film's relatively overt attempt to bring out the 'madness' of America's treatment of the natives on their land.

The Minotaur Myth
The presence of a maze in the movie has connections to the Minotaur myth and has been subjected to plenty of psychoanalytical allegories in the past, but Room 237 goes a step further. A contributor argues that a Minotaur is depicted in the film, in the room in which Danny plays darts and sees the Grady twins by the door.

To the left of the shot occupied by the twins and next to the door is a promotional poster of a skier wrapped up in dark garments. Due to the lighting and body shape, this is the Minotaur representation according to the documentary. You could probably legitimately apply that theory to Bully on the classic British quiz show Bullseye, which also features plenty of darts, dysfunctional forms of vehicles and a balding madman running wild.

Breaking the Pattern
How does Danny survive? He retraces his footsteps in the maze, therefore confusing his axe-wielding daddy. Room 237 theorises that this is a wider metaphor for conquering repression and escaping from the past by moving backwards to break the pattern.

It's easy to become trapped in a mental maze while trying to reconfigure The Shining and crack its secrets. As viewers we're very much immersed in the past of the film's creation, while also moving forwards with intriguing new theories. As Wendy found out on the staircase, if you keep swinging that baseball bat you're bound to connect with something in the end...

Watch the trailer for Room 237 below:

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