Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining is a film so simultaneously precise yet ambiguous that countless bizarre theories have blossomed from its smallest details. The rocket on young Danny’s shirt proves that Kubrick helped fake the moon landing. A typewriter changing colour is not a continuity error but a metaphor for the genocide of the Native American people. That same typewriter’s Germanic origins makes the movie a metaphor for the Holocaust.
It speaks volumes about Kubrick’s reputation that details that would end up in the “Goofs” section of other filmmakers’ IMDB page have been spun into conspiracies as detailed as those surrounding the JFK assassination. These theories assure us that every single choice the director makes, from the hotel’s carpet pattern to a particular brand of baking powder in the pantry, betray a message deeper than the surface story might suggest. But like the maze of the movie’s third act (which The-Shining-as-Greek-Myth theorists will point out inexplicably can’t be seen in the first act), Kubrick has created something from which there might be no escape.
The writer Liesbet van Zoonen has said that “conspiracy [theories]… offer the relative solace of a comprehensible origin”. They give an answer to seeming impossible questions, like how a president can be gunned down in broad daylight, or a prime minister suddenly lost to the ocean, or how a father could attempt to kill his wife and son in an empty hotel. The answer can’t be that these people occupy a chaotic, often violent universe, that would be too overwhelming.
One of Kubrick’s great conspiracists, Dr Strangelove’s General Jack D. Ripper, refers to water fluoridation as “…the most monstrously conceived and dangerous communist plot we have ever had to face.” This perceived plot, which brings about the literal end of the world, is evidenced by the “profound…feeling of emptiness,” the General felt one night during sex. “Luckily I was able to interpret these feelings correctly,” he tells a doubtful Peter Sellers.
The Shining is one of the rare films that offers the viewer a glimpse of evil without feeling the need to offer an explanation. It is, for this reason, utterly terrifying in a manner unique to most horror cinema. Kubrick’s camera glides around the impossible geography of the Overlook Hotel, showing us a river of blood, decaying ghosts and the most iconically terrifying twins in the history of cinema, but it offers us no explanations. If it’s simple answers you want amidst the terror and chaos of The Shining, you have to invent your own.
That said, if you found yourself trapped in one of Kubrick’s films, you might think twice about drinking the water.
The Shining is screening at The Astor Theatre in 35mm
When: Friday 13th November, 7:30pm