October 14, 2012
The Medium and The Messenger
October 22, 2012


By Diarmuid Hester
On one of my final days in New York this summer, I got tickets for a late night showing of Kubrick’s The Shining at the IFC Center in Greenwich Village. It was the first time I’d had the chance to see it on the big screen and the experience did not disappoint. What was most astonishing was the film’s soundtrack (always compelling but, to me, perhaps too horror-movie clichéd) which, when piped LOUD through the IFC’s excellent sound system, proved rather more narrative vector than crutch: not merely evocative but a wholly immersive, affecting, nerve-jangling experience.
Yet what, one might very well ask, is the story the score conveys? The plot sees Jack Nicholson’s Jack Torrance get a caretaker job in a secluded, possibly haunted hotel then set about trying to murder his young family. Yet this initial reading appears too trite and so utterly incompatible with the epic and operatic scale of the piece that it seems almost impossible to affirm it as the film’s primary narrative register or frequency. “Shining” (defined in the film as the transmission and reception of telepathic or non-verbalised codes by certain individuals) of course signals the notion that there should be a network of more significant or interesting tales running beneath or alongside a surface interpretation of the film. And discussions which raged over beer-tacky tables at a nearby dive bar after the screening turned up themes and theories far removed from the provisional co-ordinates of this generic ghost-story.
The Shining is, according to one account, quite simply about domestic abuse: the haunted house is merely a ploy that attempts to conceal this fact, diegetically and extra-diegetically absolving the character of Jack and the audience members themselves from any complicity with western patriarchy’s structural misogyny. Another (increasingly loquacious) had The Shining as a Kubrickian mea culpa – a writer’s failed attempt at a novel, his psychological breakdown and murderous rampage standing for the ultimate, horrific, homicidal effect of artistic monomania on the artist’s personal relationships: Torrance is, in effect, an avatar of Kubrick, a filmmaker and artist whose infamous obsessiveness was much maligned (and subsequently revered). Loud claims to these interpretations, however, were dashed upon the problem, suggested by another respondent, of the final photograph…  Another round was called for, and new arguments whetted to tackle this new quandary (the status of the camera eye, realism and representation, meta-discourse, eternal recurrence…).
The participants in that discussion and the many many others who have their own ideas about what The Shining is or does will eagerly anticipate the release of Room 237, a new documentary by Rodney Ascher that explores fans’ and experts’ theories about the film’s hidden meanings. A tantalising blurb reads:
In 1980 Stanley Kubrick released his classic horror film, The Shining. Over 30 years later, viewers are still struggling to understand its hidden meanings. Loved and hated by equal numbers, the film is considered a genre standard by many loyalists, while other viewers dismiss it as the lazy result of a legendary director working far below his talent level. In between these two poles, however, live the theories of ardent fans who are convinced they have decoded The Shining’s secret messages regarding genocide, government conspiracy, and the nightmare that we call history. Ascher’s Room 237 fuses fact and fiction through interviews with the fans and scholars who espouse these theories. Ideas of five devotees of the film with wildly different ideas about its true meaning are braided together in a kaleidoscopic deconstruction of the horror classic.
It’s just touring festivals at the moment so unless you managed to catch it at last week’s London Film Festival, I guess you’ll have to wait until it goes on general release.
UPDATE 16/10: We’ve received word that Room 237 will play selected Cineworld cinemas in the UK on Monday 29th October.