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Phil Mellows is a freelance journalist living in Brighton


 Room 237 / The Shining


Room 237 Directed by Robert Ascher (2012)
The Shining Directed by Stanley Kubrick(1980)

ďThereís so much in this movie thatís out of whack, none of it makes any sense,Ē exclaims novelist Juli Kearns towards the end of Room 237, a compendium of speculations on the truth about Stanley Kubrickís The Shining.

Iím inclined to sympathise with her view except that, like much of The Shining, itís back to front. After watching this documentary the problem seems to be that thereís too much sense in there, a superfluity of meaning.

According to the obsessives lined up to put their case, the film is about the genocide of the native American. Or the Holocaust. Or sex. Or itís Kubrickís confession that, yes, he did fake the footage of the Apollo 11 moon landing. Or itís a whole kaleidoscope of subliminal messages from a genius director whoíd just got very very bored.

Some of it you go yup, that could be reference, but most of it is sheer bollocks. Thatís a German typewriter, see, and those suitcases piled up (in the hotel reception) can only mean one thing. The words Ďroom noí on the key fob are nearly an anagram of Ďmooní. That letter tray that for a split second seems to be attached to the hotel managerís groin, that has to be phallic. And up there in the clouds, can you see Kubrickís face? You canít? Well, not all of us can spot it.

The one about the genocide of native Americans is most convincing. But thereís a lot of explicit evidence for it. The hotel, weíre told, is built on top of an old Indian burial ground. Will these people never learn? Half the Rocky Mountains to build a hotel on, and you have to pick that spot?

Journalist Bill Blakemore notes pointedly that native Indian imagery is all over The Shining. But in the 144-minute cut, freshly released in the UK, hotel manager Stuart Ullman (Barry Nelson) tells us that himself. The designs, he says, are based on Navajo and Apache motifs.

Thereís a general observation to made, and itís made by one of the Room 237 commentators (canít remember which one), that The Shining is about how we bury the past at our peril. Itís about, in Freudian terms, the return of the repressed. As is any ghost story, when you think about it. (We are in the Overlook Hotel, too.)

This is reinforced by the 144-minute version in a quite disturbing way. Extra scenes explore little Danny Torranceís emerging multiple personality disorder, and suggest itís been caused by his fatherís violence. Danny retreats from the trauma into his Ďimaginary friendí Tony.

Rather than take on a big historical narrative, this domesticates the repression of emotional trauma, bringing it, literally, closer to home.

How all this plays out in The Shining, of course, presents us with a problem. How much of it is going inside Dannyís head? And for that matter, father Jackís? Are we watching a psychological horror? Or a plain supernatural one?

That dilemma could be a strength of the film. But, ironically, Room 237 highlights for me the idea that Kubrick was not in full control of his material here. The Shining is littered with inconsistencies and continuity gaffes. Which you could take to be deliberate (Iíll buy the reversed carpet symbolising Danny being trapped), but that way madness lies.

What makes a fairly ordinary horror movie so memorable is not the bottomless interpretations but the performances. The Shining without Jack Nicholson as Torrance? Inconceiveable. And Shelley Duvall as Wendy, and Danny Lloyd as Danny, too, act out of their skinsÖ Hm. Now thatís an interesting idea. 

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