Are There Really Hidden Meanings in Kubrick’s ‘The Shining’?

Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining, is a classic horror movie adapted from Stephen King’s novel of the same name. In this article we’ll touch on the filmmaking process that Kubrick is renowned for, the taxing experience for Shelley Duvall during the film’s production, and a few of the hidden meanings that fans and conspiracy theorists have tried decoding for years, a subject covered in the documentary Room 237.

Kubrick’s Filmmaking Methodology

Stanley Kubrick’s reputation as a tough and meticulous director precedes him. The sets of the Overlook Hotel were constructed with an obsessive attention to detail, including the disorienting hedge maze and elevator. Every shot was filmed with intention and works in tandem with the characters’ descent into madness.

Kubrick’s insistence on perfection led to a notoriously prolonged shooting schedule. Reports suggest that the infamous “Here’s Johnny!” scene took an astonishing 127 takes. The insistence on retakes was due to Kubrick’s belief that each shot needed to attain a certain level of perfection, even if it meant pushing his actors to their limits, which he did.

The Intense Experience of Shelley Duvall as Wendy Torrance

Shelley Duvall, who plays Wendy Torrance, is often overshadowed by the sheer dominance of Jack Nicholson’s performance as Jack Torrance. However, Duvall’s contribution to the movie’s unsettling atmosphere cannot be understated. Kubrick was known for his demanding approach with actors, and Duvall bore the brunt of this during the The Shining’s production.

The physical and emotional toll on Duvall was heavy, with the actress describing the shoot as “almost unbearable”. Her experiences on set included isolation from her peers and intense scrutiny from Kubrick, which, according to some accounts, was an attempt to elicit a genuinely distressed performance. The result is a raw and visceral portrayal of a woman grappling with the disintegration of her family and the haunting presence of the Overlook Hotel.

Unveiling Hidden Meanings: The Documentary Room 237

Room 237, directed by Rodney Ascher , explores the many interpretations that have surrounded The Shining since its release. The documentary focuses on the conspiracy theorists and fans who believe Kubrick’s film is riddled with hidden meanings, including an admission of Kubrick’s involvement in the supposed faked moon landing.

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Some theorists, such as Bill Blakemore, argue that the repeated imagery of Native American designs and the Calumet baking powder, which are props seen in the background of two scenes, suggest a hidden meaning relating to the genocide of Native Americans. Others see the presence of a Minotaur and the labyrinth-like hotel as allusions to the Myth of Theseus, positioning Jack Torrance as a modern-day, albeit flawed, iteration of the hero.

The Conspiracy Theories

The conspiracy theories that envelop The Shining vary. There’s the sweater adorned with the Apollo 11 rocket, worn by Jack and Wendy’s son, Danny Lloyd, and the layout of the Overlook Hotel that defies architectural logic. Enthusiasts claim these are hints placed by Kubrick himself.

Some believe that the film serves as a commentary on the Holocaust, citing the typewriter brand “Adler,” meaning eagle—a national symbol of Germany—and the number 42 appearing in the film, referencing the year 1942, when the Final Solution was enacted. While most dismiss these theories as far-fetched, they persist due to Kubrick’s reputation for being extremely thorough and intelligent.

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The Overlook Hotel: A Character in Its Own Right

The Overlook Hotel is intentionally confusing, with corridors leading to nowhere and windows that should not exist based on the hotel’s exterior. This architectural impossibility contributes to the unsettling nature of the film, creating a disorienting and claustrophobic experience for both the characters and the audience.

Inside the hotel, the ghosts that Jack encounters, hint at the building’s gruesome past. These visions, including the infamous Grady twins and the ghastly occurrences in Room 237, seem to blur the line between reality and nightmare, adding to the film’s pervasive sense of dread.

The Cinematic Legacy of The Shining

Despite the initial mixed reception upon its release, The Shining has risen in stature to become a horror classic. The movie poster, featuring the iconic image of Jack Nicholson’s face through the axed door, remains one of the most recognizable in history.

Film students and established filmmakers continue to study Kubrick’s shooting techniques, from the pioneering use of the Steadicam to the symmetrical composition of shots that have become a hallmark of Kubrick’s style.

In the end, Kubrick’s obsessive nature and the far-fetched interpretations of the movie’s hidden meanings all contribute to the ongoing fascination with The Shining.