It’s hard to shake that pivotal scene in Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining when young Danny Torrance (Danny Lloyd) repeatedly croaks “REDRUM" in a trance and writes the phrase in lipstick on the bedroom door. His mother, Wendy Torrance (Shelley Duvall), sees the reflection of the words in a mirror and has the horrifying revelation that it spells “MURDER” backwards.
That was just one of the many clever scenes in Kubrick’s deliciously deviant horror film that has been engrained in the minds of fans ever since its release in 1980. Although the film started off with mixed reviews from critics, it’s become a cult classic, giving acolytes over 30 years to obsess over the film’s "hidden themes."
Rodney Ascher, the director of documentary Room 237—out in select theaters and video-on-demand tomorrow—had a huge undertaking covering the countless conspiracy theories—from the outlandish to the potentially plausible. In a combination of intricately-edited video clips and interviews with Kubrick aficionados—from a veteran ABC News correspondent to a history college professor and conspiracy hunter, the film lets audiences peek into an obsessive world largely unfamiliar to them, and allows them to fall back in love with the film as if they’re watching it anew.
Did Kubrick really base his film on the Holocaust or play a major role in faking the Apollo 11 moon landing? The Daily Beast looks at some of the battiest theories in Room 237. WARNING: Major spoilers ahead.
Native American Genocide
When Stephen King wrote the original novel for The Shining—which was reworked by Kubrick for his screenplay adaptation—he based the haunted Overlook Hotel on the 140-room Stanley Hotel in Estes Park, Colorado. Reporter Bill Blakemore pointed out in Room 237 that Kubrick’s team exhaustively researched the town and hotel’s history, which revealed Navajo tribe tensions with the the white man in the early 1900s.
It’s evident in The Shining that there is Native American-themed artwork in the hotel. However, theorists feel Kubrick is commenting on the genocide of the indigenous tribe. In one scene, Danny suddenly becomes attuned to his surroundings and draws his attention directly to a Calumet baking powder canister on a shelf, which is adorned with the image of a Native American in traditional garb.
Analysts suggest that “calumet” means “peace pipe,” and that it’s a symbol of broken and dishonest peace treaties, as the canisters reappear when Jack Torrance (Jack Nicholson) is in the midst of killing his own family—a comparison to the genocide. Kubrick adds an extra scene absent from the novel where the Torrances are told that the Overlook Hotel was built over an Indian burial ground, which the interviewees suggest is the genocidal connection to Danny’s visions of a sanguine river of blood rushing through the elevators and filling the room.
Apollo 11 Moon Landing
Many have long hypothesized that the Apollo 11 moon landing in 1969 was part of an elaborate hoax conceived by NASA and the government. However, Room 237 takes that a few steps further and suggests Kubrick was a major player in the event. They trace it back to his 1968 film, 2001: A Space Odyssey and claim that movie was used as a research and development project for the actual moon landing footage. The Shining was apparently Kubrick’s cathartic release alluding to the inner struggles he faced holding in this torturous secret.
In one indelible scene, Danny is playing alone on the geometrically patterned carpet, when he slowly stands up, revealing his Apollo 11 sweater.
As he walks towards the eerie room 237—ta da, the title of the documentary—the audience can see a key chain engraved with the writing, “ROOM No. 237,” which conspiracists in the film say is an anagram forming the interchangeable words, “moon” and “room.” Overreaching? It’s up to the audience to decide.
Another metaphorical theme enveloping The Shining is that Kubrick used the film as a means to deal with the Holocaust. Room 237 mentions the reccurring use of the number 42 in the movie—as in the year 1942 when the “Final Solution” was put into place.
However, one of connecting tissues is the reappearance of the figurative eagle in the film. The interviewees in Room 237 allege that the typewriter Jack so fondly uses to type pages and pages of, “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy,” symbolizes the Third Reich’s mechanical methods of killing people and their obsession with list-making. The machine is made by German manufacturer Adler which means “eagle” in the English translation.
The "Nazi emblem" returns in the scene when Wendy brings in a breakfast tray for her husband, who is spotted wearing a yellow eagle shirt. The eagle strikes again!
Disappearing Acts and Metaphorical Themes
It has been rumored that Kubrick had an IQ of 200 and was meticulous about the details in his films, which leads the conspiracy theorists in Room 237 to allege that what appears to be continuity errors in The Shining were done on purpose as analogies. Take the scene where Danny is talking to his imaginary friend, Tony, in the bathroom. While the camera pans towards him in the hallway, along the wall is an image of Dopey from Snow White and the Seven Dwarves.
Danny suddenly gets visions of bloody elevators and faints, and is looked over by a doctor. In his bedroom, after his doctor and mother leave the room, the camera catches on the left that Dopey is missing from the door—which critics take as a sign that Danny is no longer dopey, but rather enlightened now.
The Labyrinth and the Minotaur
The elaborate hedge maze in The Shining is thought by theorists to be a retelling of the mythological tale of Theseus and the Minotaur, with Jack represented as the child-devouring creature—even comparing his devilish facial expressions and signature raised eyebrows to the monster. Room 237 goes as far as to suggest that when Danny sees the twin girls in a room, the posters to the right and left of them are more than meets the eye. Instead of a man skiing in one and a cowboy riding a bull in the other, the two actually represent the images of the Minotaur.