DeFlip Side #141: Shining On


Welcome everyone. I’m Christopher DeFilippis and this is DeFlip Side.

It’s one of the scariest images of one of the scariest films ever, Jack Nicholson in The Shining, as a deranged Jack Torrance, axe in hand, hobbling through the snowy hedge maze at the Overlook Hotel, bellowing for his son Danny in a murderous rage.

We all know how it ends, with Jack frozen to death, but his spirit living on as part of the Overlook’s dark legacy. It’s an apt metaphor for the legacy of The Shining itself—both book and film—because decades later the Overlook Hotel still holds many in thrall, including its creator Stephen King.

“I always wondered what happened to that kid Danny Torrance when he grew up. What’s Danny Torrance doing? What’s going on with him now? Where did he go from after this terrible experience?”

That was King speaking at George Mason University last year, and last month he answered the question with the release of Doctor Sleep, a sequel to The Shining that revisits Danny as an adult. A recovering alcoholic like his late father, Danny has finally found peace with his extraordinary mental gifts, as a hospice worker guiding dying patients into the next life.

Years ago, when I first heard that King was working on a Shining sequel, incredulity warred with my excitement. The Shining is my favorite King book and his best, and I have fond memories of reading it in my late teens, rapt with horror and delight. King’s writing has nose-dived in the intervening years, and I’ve long since given up on his books. So while I really hope I’ll like Doctor Sleep, I’m not expecting to.

But even as my love for King has waned, my appreciation of Stanley Kubrick’s film adaptation of The Shining has only grown. I find it endlessly absorbing—thanks mainly to a parade of Shining enthusiasts that have hatched a host of bizarre interpretations of the film, finding within it everything from impossible windows to evidence of massive government conspiracies.

One critique calls movie a metaphor for the Native American genocide. The hotel is built on an Indian burial ground; Native American artwork and motifs recur throughout the film and when Dick Halloran is murdered, he bleeds out on a Native American rug.

Much has also been made of the Overlook’s impossible layout. Obsessive fans have drafted elaborate floor plans of the imaginary hotel, discovering stairways and halls that can’t possibly go anywhere, doors that are too close together to lead into separate rooms—even an interior office with a giant window that couldn’t exist. Kubrick was obviously trying to make the Overlook deliberately disorienting—a subtle and effective filmmaking trick.

But other interpretations get far more outrageous.

Jack’s main interactions with the Overlook’s ghosts take place in the palatial Gold Ballroom, filled with elite guests from the hotel’s vanished heyday. Yet in some other shots, the Gold Room is tiny. One theorist sees this as a metaphor for the U.S. getting off the gold standard and the advent of the international banking system, with Kubrick taking a veiled swipe at the cadre of elitist power brokers who secretly control the world—in other words, the dreaded Illuminati.

Faked moon landings! Native American genocide! Kubrick apparently had lots to tell us...

Faked moon landings! Native American genocide! Kubrick apparently had lots to tell us…

In fact, Kubrick’s supposed desire to expose the Illuminati figures prominently in many of the more far-fetched myths that surround not only The Shining, but other Kubrick films, especially Eyes Wide Shut.

What drove Kubrick to do this? Well, grab your tin-foil hats and strap in.

Some people are convinced that the Illuminati tapped Kubrick to fake the moon landings, and that the remorseful director tried to make amends by using The Shining to indirectly expose the fraud.

This is my favorite bizarro Shining theory, because the film backs it with intriguing visual evidence. There’s a scene shot from above where Danny is playing on a carpet with a very distinctive hexagonal pattern. As it turns out, the shapes in the carpet match the shape of the Apollo launch pad at Kennedy Space Center when seen from the air.

A lone green ball rolls into the shot, prompting Danny to stand up. As the shot cuts and he rises into the frame, we see that Danny is wearing a sweater with an Apollo rocket on it, in effect leaving the launch pad. Coincidence? Now get this. He makes his way down the hall towards Room 237. This is significant, because in the book, Danny goes to Room 217. But Kubrick changed it to Room 237, which just happens to be the number of miles in thousands between the Earth and the moon. Driving the point home once and for all is the tag dangling from the room key, which reads “Room No. 237”—an obvious anagram of “Moon Room.”

The jig’s up NASA. We’re onto you and your Illuminati overlords. Pack it up and hit the road.

This and many other theories are explored in an entertaining 2012 documentary called, unsurprisingly, Room 237. And while it isn’t an exhaustive analysis of the seemingly endless myths surrounding the film, it’s a good place to start.

And as outlandish or obsessive as many of these theories seem, fans keep finding solid evidence that Kubrick packed the film with weird stuff. Someone discovered a doorknob on the ceiling in one key scene; another group called The Shone Report discovered that many times throughout the opening scenes, someone whispers the word “shone” just on the edge of hearing. People have even discovered disturbing juxtapositions of scenes when you play the film forward and backwards at the same time. I don’t know if it’s evidence of a hidden agenda, but it certainly is creepy and fun.

What’s not so fun is that this cult obsession has Warner Brothers seeing dollar signs. They recently announced a Shining prequel film called “The Overlook Hotel.” In an interview with Entertainment Weekly, King responded:

“Am I eager to see that happen? No I am not. I’m not saying I would put a stop to the project, because I’m sort of a nice guy. I’m always curious to see what will happen. But you know what? I would be just as happy if it didn’t happen.”

I share King’s guarded ambivalence. I’m not clamoring for an expanded Shining universe, but I’m willing to give “The Overlook Hotel” at least the same chance I’m giving Doctor Sleep.

Because, in the end, I’m a Shining schizophrenic. In my mind, Dick Halloran both lives and dies. I see Jack Torrance as King’s likable blonde family man losing his tortured battle with alcoholism and insanity, as well as Nicholson’s greasy-haired, dead-eyed psycho who needs only the slightest push to send him to Murdertown. He’s wielding both an axe and a croquet mallet. All images are equally valid.

So prequel or sequel, book or film, The Shining’s dual legacy is safe with me. At least until the Illuminati hears this, and takes me out.

Tell 'em Jack sent ya!

Tell ’em Jack sent ya!