Criticism — From the June 2013 issue

The Shining Path

Room 237 and the Kubrick cult

Download Pdf
MicroFiche

In Barcelona I have a car waiting to take me to Sitges, a half-hour drive down the Catalan coast. I’m two days ahead of my cousin Tim, who arranged for the car, or who arranged for the person who arranged for the car, and who was still in Hamburg for a screening of his documentary, Room 237. The film is an investigation into the multiple, cryptic, and somewhat ludicrous meanings that a number of obsessives claim Stanley Kubrick planted in his adaptation of Stephen King’s The Shining, a novel that has no similar allegations — that is, that it’s about something other than what it is obviously about: a possessed hotel and its deranged winter caretaker. Sitges was the next stop on Tim’s tour of international film festivals.

Among the theories held by the fans interviewed in Room 237: (1) The Shining is really a veiled confession by Kubrick that he conspired with NASA to fake the footage of the Apollo 11 moon landing; (2) it’s really about the genocide of the Native Americans; (3) it’s a commentary on the Holocaust; (4) it’s not a horror story at all but actually a very slick vehicle for pulling off a series of seemingly pointless subliminal erotic gags. When I first saw Tim’s documentary, it was hard not to feel that my cousin had at last found the right pulpit for addressing the subject of belief — something from which we had both more or less extricated ourselves, not without gore, as the elder sons of sibling pastors from the Midwest.

This article is only available to magazine subscribers. If you are a subscriber, please sign in. If you aren't, please subscribe below and get access to the entire Harper's archive for only $39.99/year.

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Download Pdf
Share
is the author, most recently, of Kingdom Under Glass (Picador). His last article for Harper’s Magazine, “Fool at War,” appeared in the October 2005 issue.

More from Jay Kirk:

Get access to 164 years of
Harper’s for only $39.99

United States Canada

  • focuser

    Jay

    Your piece on Tim and Rodney’s film was terrifically uninformed. I’ve discovered through Room 237 that writers specifically cannot see the informational possibilities in visual syntax (even coupled/contrasted with phonological/musical syntax). Remember that “belief” and “truth” are the highest computational possibilities of the human mind (as in you believe “X” is the best writer, I believe “Y” is…who is “wrong”?). If you look past whether or not you share a belief with any one of the interviewees, you’ll spot Kubrick’s daring visual syntax evolving out of the linear sequences we’re so inured to in western storytelling. Kubrick has basically rewritten our rules of sequential intake, opening up previously unknown cognitive possibilities.

    Had you dug deeper, you might have found out how the film relates holistically to a wide range of fields. Instead you chose a local belief from which to examine other local beliefs (even Kubrick’s; employing the artist against his science). Clever, but rather futile and perhaps even adolescent. This is a case of mediums (the magazine article/the film) in conflict over semantic not syntax. A fight over meaning, a rather barbarian use of our limited time here on earth, no?

    You may not comprehend why, but Room 237 has just opened the door to the next stages, both how films are viewed and how they are made.

  • Ray

    It’s the opinion of this reader that both the above article and the previous comment are didactic and totally bonkers.

    • focuser

      What’s even more bonkers is that a university press is publishing a book of mine about non-linear sequencing. Return to observing, not responding.

THE CURRENT ISSUE

November 2014

Stop Hillary!

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

How the Islamic State was Won

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Cage Wars

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Everyday Grace

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

view Table Content