Or, How I came to realize that I did not even know why my favorite films by Kubrick were my favorites.
Is it possible to have a favorite film director, a group of favorite films, and think you know why you love them, only to realize you really had no idea why you enjoyed them? It happened to me, and it started with The Shining.
Years ago, while writing my own drivel fiction and continually watching movies, I remember watching The Shining for the umpteenth time and wondering to myself why, exactly, it was that I enjoyed the film so much. As far as films go it’s pretty slow, talky, and, mostly, uneventful. As a favorite horror film that I always considered to be in good company among my top five favorites, it shared little in common with the other four. The Exorcist, The Thing (1982), The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978) have little in common with The Shining, at least on the surface. The question as to why such a seemingly uneventful and mundane horror film would continue to gnaw at me over the years while other horror films that seemed just as competently assembled would not stick to me and gnaw at my mind was a mystery that eventually had me digging on the Internet. Thank God for the Internet. For if I did not have good Wi-Fi and laptop that night in my man-cave, it might have been Room 237 itself that first clued me in.
The first thing I stumbled across was the great article by Bill Blakemeore, “The Family of Man.” That was the first time I read anything that theorized that The Shining is not just about the surface story, but actually about something else. Genocide. The destruction of the American Indians. Once I read his article, it seemed completely obvious. The gnawing on my brain ceased some and I was filled with awe! How had I missed that? I mean, on the surface I had not missed it. It was there all along. They even mention it in the dialogue. Still, once pointed out, it’s easy to take that leap. But did Kubrick intend that, or at the very least try to allude to that? I wanted the answer to be yes.
More digging online had me discovering more and more. Some ideas were clearly just theory, other things were very obviously intentional, and verifiable, by anyone who cares to look at the film to test it out. I did some testing of my own and did confirm many things that are not entirely obvious when watching the film, even over 100 times, which I easily have over the years.
I always knew that the ball that rolls into Danny’s circle of cars rolls over a different section of carpet than it appears after a cut takes place. Everyone who has studied Kubrick even a small bit knows he was a perfectionist. He was meticulous in nature, and would repeat many takes of a scene, often an insane amount, to get a shot exactly the way he wanted. He took a very long time to cut together The Shining, too—around a year, if memory serves. He was not the type of filmmaker who just threw takes together with breaks in continuity and did not care. If a break in continuity was there, it was for a reason. Even in 2001, when the bone becomes a satellite—arguably one of the most profound jump cuts in cinema history—the bone and the satellite do not line up and overlap in the obvious alignment everyone would imagine they should. He could have done it that way. It would seem obvious to do it that way, but he did not do it that way. And you can bet your ass there was a reason behind the bone and satellite not aligning perfectly, even if the reason was as simple as just to not do it the obvious way. There was still intent behind his decision, not sloppiness. So when the ball and the carpet patterns misalign over a cut, he did that too, for a reason. Why? Why? Why?
The more I dug, the more wacky stuff I found about The Shining. Stuff you can see by just carefully putting the film on and watching, slowly, bit by bit.
Rather than go into the exhaustive list of very real and verifiable things Kubrick intentionally did with the editing, continuity, and sets within The Shining, I will simply point you to two very well researched and complied sites on this.
Much of what is listed on these two sites is also theory as to what The Shining means. Much too, are actual facts, things that can be verified by carefully going through the film and checking for yourself. If you are a fan here reading this, I encourage you to do so.
One crazy theory I even feel I disproved all by myself. Something falls out of the blood from the elevator. It’s there to see on the floor when the doors open. I had to know. What the hell comes out of the blood when the door opens? One theory floated around is that it’s Tony, Danny’s imaginary friend. I put the Blu-ray on my big TV and watched. There is something there. Something long and grey and curved and something brown on the floor. What I concluded, based on how the blood erupts onto the wall so insanely, is that those are guides, likely metal, differently-colored so as to mask them as ambient room lighting reflections in the blood. But they are also guides used pragmatically to direct the liquid flow, to get it to splatter on the walls, ever so dazzlingly, on the left and right of the screen. That’s my conclusion. I even took pictures and passed them along. I could be wrong but not everything has hidden meaning. Sure in this film a lot might, but not every single thing. This was before CGI, and if guides were needed they could not be masked after the fact, they’d need to be hidden in plain sight as reflections. See for yourself and conclude for yourself.
Onward… When you conclude further though, that Kubrick was in fact editing the film in a wacky way, screwing with continuity, adding subliminal breaks in continuity, messing with the layout of the sets, causing stickers to vanish, chairs and ash-trays to move and reappear, the maze to change, carpet patterns to change, and intentionally adding odd disconcerting elements to the film, one must conclude that there was a reason for this, beyond just doing it for the fun of it. It could simply have been that he just wanted The Shining, a supernatural horror film, to be subliminally uncomfortable and off-putting. However, once I realized he was doing this likely also with A Clockwork Orange, 2001, Full Metal Jacket, and Eyes Wide Shut, then that explanation alone, that he wanted The Shining to be subliminally creepy, cannot alone account for it all.
He rarely explained what he meant with his films. He was even quoted in an article once where he himself re-quoted H. P. Lovecraft saying: ‘In all things mysterious – never explain.’
He likely wanted the hidden stuff in his films to spur imagination and eventually decades later it did. First and foremost, beyond Kubrick’s obvious genius, I am thoroughly impressed with the many people who have dug out so much, and on their own found so much more in the film than I ever could have. I was just spurred to dig, but only with the aid of other minds, and the information connectivity of the Internet, was I able to find anything. On my own I only knew something about the film gnawed at me. After reading the websites listed above, my mind was continually blown. Whether or not you buy into any theory about what The Shining might mean beyond the surface story or not, you must admit that there is still information intentionally hidden in the film. These are things within the film I had never consciously noticed, that I now plainly see. The film was blown wide open for me, as was Kubrick the director, someone I already considered a favorite. After all this, I arrived at the conclusion that I likely did not even know, completely, why some of the films from my all time favorite director were my favorites. Maybe others have been playing around like this too? Kubrick was operating multiple levels above and beyond what I even considered to be top tier master filmmaking.
Then came Room 237, Directed by Rodney Ascher.
Room 237 objectively takes several theories about the film and presents them. Much of it I already knew from digging online before I even saw the film. Still, I was thrilled that others had found the fact that The Shining is way more than the surface story, and that they were driven to work on much of this information and present it. Then it was all compiled together as a documentary.
I was first able to see Room 237 for the first on my Apple TV when it became available for rent. I loved it. I was so happy to see the clever visual pointing out of things I had read about, like the sticker and chair disappearing, the carpet, the maze, etc. The theories too were fascinating for me to watch and consider.
I was surprised at how quickly many people scoffed at the film, the theories, and just summarily dismissed it all as whack-job conspiracy hogwash. Many people hate the idea that they are not in the know, or loath idea they are somehow outside the scope of what’s going on. Many of these people just saw faked moon landing and went, “Bla bla bla crazy faked moon landing nonsense!” Even if you think every theory is complete nuts, the information that Kubrick still intentionally cut the film oddly is there. Why discard that rather important revelation just because you may not agree with a theory or two. The moon landing stuff seemed to irk people the most. This film did a poor job of explaining the theory, too. The way I thought I understood it before seeing Room 237 was not that Kubrick faked the moon landing and man has never been to the moon, but rather that the government concerned that we might fuck up getting to the moon, look like jack asses, possibly with dead astronauts, wanted back up footage to show the public and the Russians, just in case. That seems entirely plausible, especially now with all the crazy NSA stuff that has come to light in the news. Turns out the paranoids were, perhaps, onto something. And we all know the government is capable of quite a lot of wacky stuff. Still, I consider the moon idea the wackiest of the bunch. The crazy uncle.
As much as I enjoyed the film I still felt it could have put in just a bit more information. There are a few shots—like when the twins first see Danny and there is a cut and furniture moves slightly—that I would have enjoyed seeing in the film. I read reviews that promised more would be included with the DVD/Blu-ray. As soon as it became available, I ordered it. I watched the deleted scenes and although there were some more, it was not as exhaustive as the few websites I linked to above.
The one thing about the DVD/Blu-ray of Room 237 that I was thoroughly impressed with, beyond my initial enjoyment of seeing the film for the first time, was the commentary by Mstrmnd. He declined to be interviewed for the film itself. In the commentary he explains that he did not want his ideas to be lumped in with conspiracy theories and for them to get lost in the mix. After hearing his commentary, I see why. His commentary over Room 237—already a film about a film—is even better than Room 237 itself. He takes it to a whole other level. His website is even better. I think it’s been updated since I found it years ago, but I have no way to confirm that.
Mstrmnd’s commentary goes beyond the many theories and gets down to the WHY. Why did Kubrick construct his films like this? The short answer is that Kubrick was likely inventing a new form of filmmaking and/or language. Mstrmnd also points out that many films today are just jumbled remakes of earlier films. He even mentions Oblivion, a film I enjoyed, some, and reviewed on this blog. I mentioned in my review here that Oblivion feels a lot like other films that came before it. Mstrmnd says, basically, the same thing about Oblivion and many films today in general. He also alludes to a sort of filmmaking regurgitation going on out there with blockbusters and the desire, the need, the will for something new to come along—a new way of making films. A new way of communicating. Films that work on multiple levels. Films that engage our brains not entirely on the surface, but interact with them based on the way a human brain might root-process information, in clumps. A new visual pictorial language. I likely am not even explaining what he did properly. Watch Room 237 with his commentary. I do know that Mstrmnd, finally, got to the ‘root’ of what was gnawing at me about The Shining. He mentioned Star Wars too, another life-long favorite of mine, the first one from 1977, before Lucas lost his shit. Mstrmnd points out the similarity between the shape of the escape pod and the restraining bolt in Star Wars. Escape and restraint. Opposites shown with a similar shape, one small, and one large, both dealing with the two droids. This is Carl Jung stuff. This is collective unconscious archetype, Joseph Campbell stuff. This is a whole other level. Lucas may or may not have known what he was doing with these opposites when he made Star Wars. My guess is that he did on some level. Mstrmnd explains that some filmmakers may just be more in touch with their inner brain, and as well, these subliminal concepts, and as a result produce better films, (subconsciously?) that resonate with us, gnaw at us, and we love them so very much but we don’t know, truly, exactly why. We just know we love them. The new more recent Star Wars films don’t do to us what the very first one did to us. We point to Jar Jar Binks. We point to how Lucas screwed with the originals. We point to the force being explained and no longer mysterious. Someone point out all this stuff in this clever video. All valid and pretty obvious observations in that video. Mstrmnd was the first to point to the escape pod and restraining bolt shape similarity, for me, likely just one of many things he’s noticed that I have not, as perhaps adding subconsciously to why we continue to love some films, while others fade into non-Kubrickian Oblivion.
If you have not done so already I highly recommend you go buy a good wide-screen TV, a Blu-ray player, The Shining Blu-ray, Room 237Blu-ray, and saddle up for the ride of your cinema-viewing life. Grab Kubrick’sother films too while you are at it. It’s also claimed that 2001 and The Shining might be loosely connected. Watch ‘em all back-to-back! Then in reverse! Then stand on your head. There is always a new way to see, new way to experience, new way to watch, and much more to learn!
My God, It’s full of stars!
***Addition after seeing a panel discussion from the first annual Stanley Film Festival on the Blu-ray***
Leon Vitali, Kubrick’s personal assistant on The Shining is the biggest skeptic so far, insisting that any and all possibility that Stanley Kubrick had any subtext in any of his films is just not true. That they sat him next to the moon nut only helps his impossible case. Vitali too, a bit of a character himself, seemed the least grounded out of the four in the group, unkempt and even wackier than the moon guy. Vitali even did not hold his microphone the entire time and seemed hell bent on denying that there was anything in the film aside from what is there on the surface. Personally, I don’t buy this one man’s opinion. I don’t even care if he was right there “holding Kubrik’s hand” through the entire production. He is not Kubrick and therefore had no real influence on what, in the end, went into the film. Kubrick had the final say. Sure, loads of people helped Kubrick, brought material to him, etc. Kubrick did not work alone, but Kubrick had the final say. Apollo sweater…up for debate for sure. Consecutive intercuts with disappearing or moving furniture with a jump cut in between, well, in my humble opinion, with all we know about how Kubrick worked, how long he took to edit, there is no freaking way those jump cuts with crap disappearing or moving are an accident. Do I want to believe? You bet your ass I do. One guy, a close Kubrick assistant, saying otherwise does not negate the very contrived obvious photographic and editing evidence. When Dick Halloran opens the freezer door and the direction it opens switches right as the cut happens. I’m supposed to believe that is a mistake? A mistake Kubrick made in editing? Right as the fucking cut happens? In the only supernatural horror film of his career? No fucking way. Zero chance that’s a mistake. The furniture and ash tray moving between when we first see the twins in the game room and when it cuts to Danny and then back to the twins. That, too, can only be seen if you first frame-grab the two shots and overlap them, or if you use a tripod to take two shots and compare by flicking back and forth on your digital camera. The stuff moves imperceptibly. That’s no accident. That’s intentional. Kubrick may have misdirected numbskulls on the set and said “Oh I hate that chair. Get that friggin thing outa my sight!” after getting a zillion shots with it, and then taken another zillion without. He carefully used one of each when editing. For sure he did. Don’t for a second doubt that, no matter what Leon Vitali says. Kubrick’s wife could agree with him and I’d still not believe them. I’m an artist myself. I know filmmakers and have made short films myself too. Even crap films get TLC from the people involved. Sure, mistakes happen, but this is Kubrick and The Shining we are talking about, not Leprechaun 4. For all we know Kubrick may have gotten some of these people sworn to secrecy, or just, and more likely, simply kept them in the dark right up close. “Oh some lady sewed this Apollo sweater. No biggie. Just throw it on the kid.” Please! While the moon landing stuff is the hardest for me to swallow, the evidence there is still uncanny. Even if that is 100% BS, the fact that it even has enough information to make it worth mentioning is crazy.
There is another, very slow, poorly edited online documentary, but it’s chock full of, basically, number 11s and other such number details about just the moon landing stuff. Here is the link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b0hOiasRsrA Remember, this is a horribly slow and poorly edited film, not even close to being as good as Room 237, but the information is there. It could all be nuts. I don’t buy it myself, but still, there is a lot of freaky moon coincidence in here. It’s worth a look-see at least once before you take a giant shit on it!
The genocide of the American Indians, the Holocaust, freaky jump cuts, and more I am almightily convinced are intentionally there, obvious, or alluded to, and intentional by Kubrick himself. The Playgirl with the incest article. The bear pillow in Danny’s room and then the blowjob bear at the end. Catcher in the Rye. Disappearing art in the bedroom. Impossible hallways. The never-consistent maze. Moving carpet. Impossible window. TV with no cord. Manifest destiny, westward expansion dialogue. German typewriter that changes color. And on and on and on. At the bare minimum, he put the film together to fuck with our subconscious. Kubrick was never a bear minimum type of guy. His famous reclusiveness and reluctance to talk about his films or explain them speaks volumes about what he hid in them. He knew this was coming eventually. He probably thought we’d catch on sooner. Only Bluray and DVD helped in the end. It was as if he was insulating himself from it in advance. Eventually, I suspect, when his wife dies, we might hear more. Maybe not. Dark secrets kept close to the chest can travel far, unknown by anyone.