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Stanley Kubrick’s classic has been terrifying, thrilling, and utterly confusing fans for over 30 years, leaving viewers groping for answers. What really possessed Jack Torrance? Why did pathological perfectionist Kubrick leave in obvious continuity errors? What’s up with the man-bear-pig? Obsessive fans are still trying to figure out exactly what went down at the Overlook Hotel, zealously poring over the placement of every prop and examining every frame of the film.
Room 237, a new documentary by Rodney Ascher, examines a handful of Shining conspiracy theories posited by both academic cinephiles and tormented laymen. Ascher has his own take—he sees the film as a Faustian homage, pointing to Jack’s deal with the devil for just one glass of beer—but says all of these readings carry weight. “A lot of the ideas can be pretty outrageous, but when you’re talking about a symbolic interpretation of a Freudian horror movie, even things on the surface are pretty crazy,” Ascher said. Here are six of the strangest, most chilling theories about the true meaning of the Kubrick classic:
1. It’s about the massacre of the American Indians.
Scatman Crothers as Dick Halloran and a can of Calumet The Shining/photo illustration Maggie Caldwell
Stuart Ullman, the hotel’s manager, gives the Torrance family a tour of the grounds just before vacating the Overlook for the winter and leaving them to their fate. He casually tosses out that the hotel just happens to sit atop an Indian burial ground. (Not like that’s ever been a problem before.) The film is loaded with Native American symbology, from the Navajo wall hangings in the great room to the pantry stockpile of Calumet baking soda cans, all bearing the brand’s iconic logo: a Native man in warrior headdress. The word “calumet,” notes one theorist, means “ceremonial pipe,” and the cans appear several times when characters are communicating telepathically with each other or plotting with the dead. According to this theory, Danny’s infamous visions of gushing red liquid streaming from the elevators actually represents the souls buried deep beneath the hotel, with the elevator cabin dropping down into the basement like a bucket in a well, delivering a bounty of blood upon its return to the surface. Gross.