On Kubrick’s alleged dual narratives and hidden messages in ‘The Shining’

Stanley Kubrick’s film The Shining is a masterpiece. I think most serious film scholars, critics, and fans agree with that. But one aspect of the film that is highly debatable is the popular notion that Kubrick layered hidden messages or even whole dual narratives into the film. And many of the speculations about the meaning of these hidden messages happen to revolve around conspiracy theories.

The weird speculative theories about hidden messages in the film is the subject of a recent documentary called “Room 237” that I have not yet seen, and until recently, I was totally unaware this was even a thing. It first came to my attention earlier this year when I came across an article linking to a series of YouTube videosthat begin as if they’re objective analyses of the film, but ultimately reveal analyst Rob Ager’s true agenda late in the series when Ager eventually stops talking about The Shining altogether in favor of straight propaganda promoting his crazy gold-standard conspiracy theory. If I made a video analyzing, say, Citizen Kane that lasted the better part of an hour, and devoted at least a quarter of that analysis making a political argument about the evils of capitalism or whatever bullshit political theme I supposedly pulled from subtle symbolism in the film, and did so to the point that I stopped even mentioning the film Citizen Kane at all, you’d be right to not take me seriously.

Other than the whole gold standard thing, there are numerous other wacky interpretations of The Shining out there, as the New York Times article about Room 237 linked to above alluded to, like the theory that Kubrick worked in a hidden confession about having played a part in faking the moon landing. Some others, like the Native American slaughter motifs and Kubrick’s concerns over the Holocaust even made it onto the film’s Wikipedia page.

So is the film The Shining REALLY ABOUT Stanley Kubrick’s veiled confession of the part he played in faking the moon landing?

Is it about the slaughter of the Native Americans?

Is it about how the sinister elite plotted to rid America of the gold standard (the one true currency…somehow)?

In one word:  NO.

I know the weird iconography in the film has led many pattern-seeking people to go anomaly hunting and find all sorts of alleged “hidden meanings” in The Shining, but it’s just a product of the psychological phenomena known as pareidolia. We’re driven to see patterns, particularly when presented with ambiguous stimuli such as amorphous shapes. This is why it’s easier to see images in things like clouds than in most other things we might be looking at. It’s this pattern-seeking tendency that allows us to see coherent objects and subjects from the millions of pixels in films to begin with. If Kubrick did have hidden messages in The Shining, it almost certainly had nothing to do with the gold standard or the slaughter of Native Americans, etc. It’s just a great film by a master artist that happens to be full of weird, ambiguous imagery and dialogue that can be endlessly analyzed and used to find almost any interpretation the viewer is looking for. It’s like Yoda’s cave; what you find is ultimately what you brought in with you.

Further reading about the documentary Room 237 from Aint It Cool News’ critics Quint and Nording.

6 Responses to On Kubrick’s alleged dual narratives and hidden messages in ‘The Shining’

  1. Octavian says:

    Nostradamus got it before Kubrick, and it is amazing how people could read in “between the lines” Nostradamus predictions about Mankind’s “future”. I think that those who interpret those lines do it from a political point of view that serve their interest and I guess the same thing happens with “The Shining”… What hidden messages are in Eyes Wide Shut ?

  2. Hal A. Gore says:

    You know how some people can look at a Rubik’s Cube and align the squares with very little effort, while others are dumbfounded; similarly, there are people out there who can look at a Stanley Kubrick film and “sense” immediately encoded information not readily observable by those less interactive with his filmic approach. He came much closer to inhabiting the role of a spiritual shaman than film director for those prepared to receive his wisdom, transcending our own egos. It’s no surprise that his Rosetta Stones are slowly being deciphered decades after their initial release. We’re a bit like the apes at the beginning of “2001,” utterly confounded by the meanings behind his mysteriously constructed monoliths, aka his films. The joke’s on us……….”serious!”

  3. […] months ago, I wrote about the strange phenomenon of obsessive viewers of the film “The Shining” discovering […]

  4. Corey says:

    Don’t discount the genocide, imperialism, capitalism and paedophillia angles in TheShininng, which Kubrick deals with in other films. Just because some of the theories are nutty (apollo, gold standard etc), doesnt mean the film is meaningless. It’s symbolic, just like 2001, and very allegorical. You are doing it a disservice by dismissing everything.

    • mjr256 says:

      I would never say The Shining is meaningless. Far from it. But while there are themes that run throughout the film and throughout Kubrick’s filmography, I’m still fairly confident there are no hidden political messages that completely depart from the narrative of the film. And that’s because Kubrick’s a great filmmaker. Great filmmakers stay on topic. I’m not dismissing all themes and motifs in the film, just the ones that involve tortured logic and require Kubrick to have superhuman abilities to control every aspect of the film just because he’s known for being a tiny bit OCD. For instance, he definitely did not edit the film to be viewed both backwards and forwards simultaneously; he didn’t edit the film at all. His editor did. And such a feat would be impossible even today let alone with the equipment Kubrick used. Those sorts of out there theories described in the documentary “Room 237” are mostly nonsense with legitimate claims few and far between. While Kubrick likes to make mysterious films, he’s has no history of hiding weird, inexplicable Easter eggs in his films involving whole dual narratives. Those two concepts should not be conflated.

  5. christianity says:

    Hey! I’m at work surfing around your blog from my new iphone! Just wanted to say I love reading your blog and look forward to all your posts! Carry on the fantastic work!

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