Tracing the Holocaust-Symbol Theory of The Shining
SIGN IN to access Harper’s Magazine
1. Sign in to Customer Care using your account number or postal address.
2. Select Email/Password Information.
3. Enter your new information and click on Save My Changes.
Subscribers can find additional help here. Not a subscriber? Subscribe today!
Tracing the Holocaust-Symbol Theory of The Shining
In the June issue of Harper’s Magazine, Jay Kirk discusses Room 237, a documentary that screened recently during the Directors’ Fortnight at the Cannes Film Festival. The documentary focuses on the stunningly elaborate webs of interpretation that viewers have created to explain Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining. Writes Kirk:
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.
Below is the unexpurgated transcript of a quotation from one of the film’s subjects, Geoffrey Cocks, in which he traces the evolution of his own theory.
I saw a number of Kubrick films before I had an academic interest in him, and then I went to see The Shining in 1980 and frankly I didn’t think that much of it. I thought the other Kubrick films that I’d seen were far superior but, as I thought about the film afterwards and even when I wasn’t thinking about it, there were things that bothered me about it. It seemed as if I had missed something and so I went back to see it again and I began to see patterns and details that I hadn’t noticed before, and so I kept watching the film again and again and again and since I’m trained as an historian and my special expertise is in the history of Germany, and Nazi Germany in particular, I became more and more convinced that there is in this film a deeply laid subtext that takes on the Holocaust.
I think it probably was the typewriter, which was a German brand — which might seem arbitrary, but by that time I knew enough about Kubrick [to know] that most anything in his films can’t be regarded as arbitrary. That anything — especially objects and colors and music and anything else — probably have some intentional as well as unintentional meaning to them. So that struck me. Why a German typewriter?
And in connection with that, I began to see the number 42 appear in the film, and for a German historian if you put the number 42 and a German typewriter together you get the Holocaust, because it was in 1942 that the Nazis made the decision to go ahead and exterminate all the Jews they could, and they did so in a highly mechanical, industrial, and bureaucratic way, and so the juxtaposition of the number 42 and the typewriter is really where it started for me in terms of the historical content of the film. Of course Adler in German means “eagle,” and [the] eagle of course is a symbol of Nazi Germany. It’s also a symbol of the United States. And Kubrick generally has re-coursed the eagles to symbolize state power.
Kubrick read Raul Hilberg’s The Destruction of the European Jews, and Hilberg’s major theme in there is that he focuses on the apparatus of killing and he emphasises how bureaucratic it was and how it was a matter of lists and typewriters. Spielberg picked that up in Schindler’s List of course, and the film begins with typewriters and lists and ends with a list of course, and so that informs, and I had a chance to talk to Raul Hilberg when he visited Albia College, and he [said] that he and Kubrick corresponded about this, and the fact that he had read it then in the 1970s when there was a big wave of interest in Hitler and the Holocaust and the Nazis, I think, just tells us that that typewriter, that German typewriter, which by the way changes color in the course of the film, which typewriters don’t generally do, is terribly, terribly important as a reference to that particular historical event.
More from Harper’s Magazine:
Official Business — March 17, 2015, 4:01 am
Listen to the broadcast version of “American Hustle,” Alexandra Starr’s story, for the April 2015 issue of Harper’s Magazine, about how elite youth basketball exploits African athletes.
Official Business — January 8, 2015, 3:57 pm
We defend Charlie Hebdo’s right to publish its cartoons—and our right to critique them.
Flor Arely Sánchez had been in bed with a fever and pains throughout her body for three days when a July thunderstorm broke over the mountainside. She got nervous when bolts of light flashed in the sky. Lightning strikes the San Julián region of western El Salvador several times a year, and her neighbors fear storms more than they fear the march of diseases — first dengue, then chikungunya, now Zika. Flor worried about a lot of things, since she was pregnant.
Late in the afternoon, when the pains had somewhat eased, Flor thought she might go to a dammed-up bit of the river near her house to bathe. She is thirty-five and has lived in the same place all her life, where wrinkled hills are planted with corn, beans, and fruit trees. She took a towel and soap and walked out into the rain. Halfway to the river, the pains returned and overcame her. The next thing Flor remembers, she was in a room she didn’t recognize, unable to move. As she soon discovered, she was in a hospital, her ankle cuffed to the bed, and she was being investigated for abortion.
Average duration of a Japanese prime minister’s tenure since August 1993, in months:
Brain shrinkage has no effect on cognition.
An Indianapolis fertility doctor was accused of using his own sperm to artificially inseminate patients, and a Delaware man pleaded guilty to fatally stabbing his former psychiatrist.
Subscribe to the Weekly Review newsletter. Don’t worry, we won’t sell your email address!
“Matt was happy enough to sustain himself on the detritus of a world he saw as careening toward self-destruction, and equally happy to scam a government he despised. 'I’m glad everyone’s so wasteful,' he told me. 'It supports my lifestyle.'”