Stanley Kubrick’s ‘The Shining’ as Rorschach Test.

February 19, 2013

Several months ago, I wrote about the strange phenomenon of obsessive viewers of the film “The Shining” discovering alleged hidden messages in the film. In that article, I briefly mentioned a documentary that came out last year titled “Room 237” that chronicled several of the stranger theories out there about the “true” meaning behind Stanley Kubrick’s masterpiece. Well I’ve finally caught up with that documentary and found it to be a fascinating film.

I doubt the filmmaker believes any of the interpretations presented in the “Room 237” but I greatly enjoyed listening to the cast of kooks who maintain them. Most of the interpretations presented in this film, with only a few exceptions, are totally bonkers. But that’s what’s great about this film. It uses “The Shining” to demonstrate the psychological phenomenon of pareidolia, which is when a vague and random stimulus (often an image or sound) is perceived as significant. We see the same grasping of tenuous connections among tinfoil-hat conspiracy theorists. This is an exploration of Kubrick’s “The Shining” as Rorschach Test.

The “theorists” presented here commit a host of logical fallacies and assumptions that range from the slightly plausible to the utterly impossible. And while the latter often made me want to shout at the screen, they also proved the most fun such as the interpretation that the film was Kubrick’s confession for working with NASA to fake the moon landing. There are so many levels to why this is ridiculous, not least of which because the Apollo 11 undeniably did land on the moon and all the claims moon landing deniers have presented to prove otherwise have been thoroughly debunked. But putting that obvious fact aside, the “researcher” putting forth this notion in the film just plain makes things up like when he wildly speculates that the reason Kubrick changed the room number from 217 in the novel to 237 was because 237 MUST HAVE BEEN the number of the studio where they filmed the fake moon landing? Um, citation needed?

At another point in the film, a researcher makes a huge deal out of a simple continuity error in which Jack’s typewriter is gray in some scenes but eggshell color in others. The “researcher” claims this must be deliberate on Kubrick’s part because Kubrick controls absolutely every aspect of every frame of his films when the far simpler explanation is Kubrick and his crew were not superhuman and they shot those scenes at different times, using whatever typewriter happened to be available…like any other filmmaker would. This example further illustrates how naive the interpreters are to the filmmaking process. As a filmmaker myself, I have at least some experience. But one doesn’t have to be a filmmaker to realize that constantly adding to a film’s budget with absurd things like demanding a production assistant run out to buy TWO typewriters of different colors when only one was required is the kind of stuff that wouldn’t go unnoticed.

Then there’s the claim that Kubrick designed the film to be viewed  backwards and forwards simultaneously, one direction superimposed over the other, which is just flat-out impossible. In fact, I dare anyone to try, especially when limited by the  linear editing machines of the time. And with all the minute details these self-proclaimed “researchers” noticed, one minor detail they “overlooked” (no pun intended) was that Ray Lovejoy edited the film, NOT Kubrick. So Lovejoy would have to be in on all these editing tricks Kubrick supposedly wanted in the film too, right?

As debunkers of the infamous The Bible Code have demonstrated, one can find seemingly profound connections in just about any text of a certain length. In films, I suppose the equivalent would be the weirder a film gets in its choices, the more people can find an unintended wacky interpretation. I’d love to see someone apply the same rigor to investigating Tommy Wiseau’s “The Room.” I’m sure someone could then come away from that film believing Wiseau caused 9/11 or killed Paul McCartney, or whatever. Of course, the reason that might not happen is because what people really latched onto here is the larger than life mythology surrounding Stanley Kubrick himself. Because Kubrick was known to be a bit obsessive and a perfectionist, the underlying and totally baseless assumptions these interpreters make is Kubrick (1) was an unparalleled genius, (2) had superhuman abilities to control every aspect of both the production and every frame of the final product, and (3) had the fanatical desire to bury important hidden messages in his films so deep that there’d be no reason to believe anyone would ever find them. So when you begin with the assumption that Kubrick is totally infallible, then every continuity error becomes a clue to unlocking his true, hidden message. That’s where these theorists go wrong; they fail to recognize Kubrick was every bit as flawed and human as the rest of us.

Crucifixion goes electric

September 5, 2010

Yup, that’s right it’s time for another example of Jesus-inspired pareidolia. So where’s Jesus turning up now? On a power line pole:

I just thought this would be a great occasion to once again point people over to my hilarious (if I do say so myself) parody of this phenomenon over at The Gotham Skeptic.

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Jesus is everywhere

April 26, 2010

Jesus is on your farm:

And Jesus is even inside of you:

Fantastic optical illusion

April 21, 2009

This is courtesy of Richard Wiseman. Please comment on the first thing you see and let me know if you’re male or female.

Proof that religion is idiotic

March 16, 2009

This might be the greatest example of religious pareidolia I’ve ever seen: Jesus in a couch butt print.

Thousands of people have flocked to a Roman Catholic church on the French Indian Ocean island of Reunion after believers said they saw the “face of Christ” in the pleats of a church cushion.

. . .

Antoinette, an 82-year-old parishioner, said the face was a “divine phenomenon” as tears welled up her eyes.

“This church is a holy site,” added Lise-May, another worshipper.

Wow! That is phenomenally delusional. I mean, come on! It’s obviously the divine image of John Lennon.


The Many Faces of Jesus

January 20, 2009

Man insists he has a magical wax figure of the Virgin Mary and baby in his lava lamp – Now this isn’t even a good example of pareidolia as I know what I’m supposed to see and I still don’t really see it. It’s not nearly as good as the Jesus on a potato chip or on a pierogi or the flamin’ pope or the famous Jesus toast. And here’s an intentionally funny one.

News From Around The Blogosphere 12.11.08

December 12, 2008

Obama picks his Nobel Prize Winning Physicist Steven Chu as Energy Secretary – Apparently the Obama administration is trying a radical new direction, being pro-science.

But not everyone in the science community is happy with Obama – Mike Griffin, NASA’s Administrator, is rumored to be butting heads with Obama, because due to some poor decisions on his part, he may not be working for NASA for much longer. More on this rumor here.

Update: The Hugh Laurie interview on Conon O’Brien I mentioned yesterday can be seen here.

Brian Dunning visits Area 51 – The photo on the left just about sums up the excitement of their visit. This was a great companion piece to Phil Plait’s criticism of Stanton Friedman from yesterday.


My favorite atheist holiday display finally went up in Philadelphia –  My brother and the Freethought Society of Greater Philadelphia have erected their 2nd annual “Tree of Knowledge” display on Tuesday.

I actually think this is a far better atheist display than the now “infamous” Washington display because the focus is on knowledge and diversity of ideas instead of being as divisive as the religious displays we fight against. The Tree includes photocopies of book covers including not only atheist books but what makes this display especially unique is that it also includes the Bible, Koran, etc. pushing the diversity of ideas angle. And although it gets criticized as much as any other atheist display, it’s a much less divisive and I think more productive way of pushing our overall message. I also have felt that the Washington display hasn’t been defended very well. I love Dan Barker but I don’t think in this particular case he’s done a good job defending what is essentially a negative holiday campaign in interviews lately. The Tree of Knowledge seems like more the direction we should be going in.

Festivus pole being added to holiday displays in Washington’s capitol – This is frakkin’ awesome! Not only that but the Westboro Baptist Church is also demanding to put up a sign reading, “Santa Claus will take you to hell.” Now someone of even below average intelligence might have figured out the lesson of this is that there’s a good reason our government is designed to make no laws respecting the establishment of religion. And that’s because if you respect one of them, you have to respect all. . .and there are a lot. Of course that doesn’t include Bill Donohue, who seems to have missed the point entirely:

Gov. Gregoire is responsible for this mess. Having first acceded to the requests of atheists to attack Christmas, she is now confronted with the likes of the Westboro Baptist Church, a viciously anti-American, anti-Catholic and anti-gay group. There is a way to deal with this situation in a manner that is legally acceptable and morally defensible, but neither the Washington governor, nor her lawyers, have figured it out.

Nor have you figured it out yet, Bill. You just need to go one display farther. We would not have been in this mess in the first place if Christians hadn’t insisted that the government pay for their holiday ornaments.


Merry Christmukah

Continuing the current trend of large-scale mergers and acquisitions, it was announced today at a press conference that Christmas and Hanukkah will merge. An industry source said that the deal had been in the works about 1300 years.


scientist-use-in-case-of-emergencyLast Neandertal Contact With Modern Humans? – “It is widely accepted that Upper Paleolithic early modern humans spread westward across Europe about 42,000 years ago, variably displacing and absorbing Neandertal populations in the process. However, Middle Paleolithic assemblages persisted for another 8,000 years in Iberia, presumably made by Neandertals. It has been unclear whether these late Middle Paleolithic Iberian assemblages were made by Neandertals, and what the nature of those humans might have been.

New research, published Dec. 8 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, is now shedding some light on what were probably the last Neandertals.”

How The Brain Thinks About Crime, Punishment – “In a pioneering, interdisciplinary study combining law and neuroscience, researchers at Vanderbilt University peered inside people’s minds to watch how the brain thinks about crime and punishment.”

. . .  “The researchers found that two distinct areas of the brain assess guilt and decide penalty.”

For some reason I’ve got the Virgin Mary on the brain lately: