Why The Shining, still, today? Expectations were high in the summer of 1980. Stanley Kubrick had been filming his adaptation of Stephen Kings monumental bestseller for nearly two years in absolute secrecy. The only teaser trailer released to theaters consisted of a single shot of red elevator doors that opened and unleashed a torrent of blood that washed over the screen. The films iconic yellow poster, which was designed by the legendary Saul Bass, drew you in even though it gave away nothing.
But when the movie finally opened, the most common response was Huh? This was not the story King had written. The performances Jack Nicholson as the alcoholic Jack Torrance, Shelley Duvall as his wife Wendy and 6-year-old Danny Lloyd as their son Danny were pitched at such different levels, they felt like they belonged in different movies. Worst of all, the movie wasnt scary. Kubrick simply didnt understand horror, the critics complained. Even King publically stated he hated it. The film grossed a modest $44 million less than The Blue Lagoon and Smokey and the Bandit II and Urban Cowboy and was generally deemed an artistic failure. It was even nominated for two Razzies (for director and actress), a pre-Oscar award given to the worst films of the year.
But not anymore. More than three decades later and 14 years after his death in 1999 The Shining is Kubricks most widely seen movie. It is arguably the most beloved, and to many fans his best work.
Rodney Ascher, director of the documentary Room 237, about six people obsessed with the film, has a theory on why the consensus on The Shining has changed over the years.
Kubricks movies are all intended to be seen more than once, and it came out just as the home video revolution was starting, he says. You could watch any movie on tape. And unlike 2001: A Space Odyssey, which was shot in widescreen and unwatchable on videotape, The Shining was shot in a 1:33 ratio, so you could watch it on your TV and see the entire image. I think thats when the film really started to take root with people.
Room 237, which screens April 12th through the 25th as part of O Cinema Wynwoods Kubrick retrospective, consists almost entirely of film clips The Shining, of course, but also other movies while six fanatics lay out their theories about the film in voiceover, using scenes from the movie to prove their theories.
That poster of a minotaur that hangs in the playroom of the Overlook Hotel? Thats foreshadowing for the chase in the maze that ends the film.
Those cans of Calumet baking powder featured prominently in the scene inside the hotels kitchen? Thats an indication that The Shining is really about the genocide of Native American Indians.
That Apollo 11 sweater Danny wears in the film? Thats Kubrick letting you know the first manned moon landing was fake, and he directed it.
One man suggests watching The Shining backward and forward at the same time to discover hidden images (Redrum!), which is akin to watching The Wizard of Oz while listening to Pink Floyds The Dark Side of the Moon.
Most persistent of all, though, is that The Shining is a metaphor for the Holocaust, a subject that had long fascinated Kubrick. The typewriter Jack uses is a German-made Adler (and, curiously, changes color throughout the film). The famous room where something awful lurks in the bathtub, numbered 217 in the book, was changed to 237 for the movie (2 x 3 x 7 = 42, the year the Nazis decided to exterminate all Jews).