I recently came across a documentary entitled Room 237. The film is about Stanley Kubrick's masterpiece from 1980, The Shining. At the heart of this documentary are various narrators giving their opinions on hidden meanings in Kubrick's film.
The documentary is slickly done as you never see the narrators, but instead you watch clips from The Shining, as well as other Kubrick films. There is even a couple of brief glimpses from the 1997 miniseries, The Shining. (Which was a complete piece of garbage I might add.) When these narrators point out various specifics from the movie, the corresponding clips are shown, sometimes with the pertinent item or feature highlighted with arrows.
The opinions on hidden meanings range from the film being about the holocaust, to the film being about the genocide of the American Indian, to the film being an homage to Kubrick's alleged (by that particular narrator) role in the faking of the Apollo moon landings. All the opinions come off as pretty paltry, though The Shining does contain some interesting allusions to the Apollo space program. (Maybe Kubrick was not involved but rather skeptical of the moon landings himself?)
Watching the documentary renewed my interest in not only the movie, but Stephen King's book by the same name which the movie was loosely based on. A couple of the narrators commented on not really liking the movie at first because it went so far askew of the book. And they even talked about Stephen King himself disliking Kubrick's treatment of his source material.
For full disclosure I saw the movie when I was a kid, on TV long before I read the book. In fact, I saw the movie at least a half dozen times prior to finally reading the novel in my mid-twenties. While I found the book entertaining, I found Kubrick's film to be much more scary.
I've probably watched the move in its entirety at least 20 times. I've caught bits and pieces of it many more times than that. I've read King's book one time. Not sure that matters or not, but while the novel is good, the movie is great. While the novel is entertaining, the movie pulls you in and doesn't loosen its grip on you until well after the closing credits.
The book only really had one scary part to me. Near the end of the book, the hotel's cook, Dick Hallorann, who is a hero in the book, has to fight the hotel's attempt to creep into his mind the way it did into Jack Torrance's mind. I got goose bumps when I read that. It was eery to think that this hotel could have that kind of power over a man of normally sound mind.
The film has lots of scares and chills. I will never forget the first time Danny (Jack's son) is riding his big wheel in the halls of the hotel, and turns down one hallway only to see the ghosts of the two little girls who had been murdered by their father, himself a former caretaker of the hotel.
"Come play with us Danny. Come play with us forever, and ever, and ever."
I am getting the chills just writing about this. And remembering the interspersed shots of the girls laying bloody with an ax near their bodies.
Dick Hallorann in the movie is not much of a hero. Played brilliantly by the now deceased Scatman Crothers, He walks into the hotel and is killed about 1 minute later by Jack Torrance via ax to the chest. That scene was startling and scary in its own right.
But the movie achieves an eeriness in atmosphere, and setting, and ambiance that the book just never approaches. While reading about Jack Torrance's spiral (thanks to the hotel) into a dark insanity was interesting, it was much more scary seeing it. And the tone the film strikes does this perfectly. The long sequences of no dialogue. The brilliant score. The magnificence and awe-striking enormity of the hotel itself. All of this blend perfectly into a chilling tone and atmosphere that the book can't compete with.
Even the changes Kubrick makes from the novel make sense. In the book, topiary animals (animal shaped bushes for the layman) play a major role in the film. In 1980 the special effects just didn't exist to properly bring animal-shaped shrubbery to life in a believable manner. Kubrick, brilliantly, substitutes the hedge maze, which becomes the focal point of the climax of the film.
Another aspect from the book that Kubrick uses onlymildly in the film is the mental communication between those that "shine". Most of the time Kubrick does this to great effect through imagery. As in the "shining" recipient sees something (and we get to see it too!). In the book, this mental communication in dialogue was much more pronounced, almost overused, by King. Doing that in film would have been cheesy. Since it was used so infrequently in the film, it comes across as much more subtle and effective.
I recently read that King hated most what Kubrick did with the character of Wendy Torrance, Jack's wife. He called her the most misogynistic character ever. That she was only there to scream. I think that is harsh. After all, Wendy uses the bat to club Jack, and then lock him in the pantry. While she isn't the strongest heroine film has ever seen, she isn't exactly doing nothing but screaming.
All of this might sound a little more harsh then I intend it to be. I don't dislike Kings' novel at all. I just don't understand why the film can't be viewed and enjoyed on its own merits. In hindsight, I wish Kubrick had called it The Hotel, or something else. Using the same title meant that King and his fans expected a line by line translation into a film.
If I could only choose one, see the film or read the book, I would choose the film. Kubrick was a genius, ahead of his time. King is an above average writer who is very prolific. I'll take the genius over the okay writer any day of the week.