Keeping Us Guessing

An interesting, fun movie just came out in limited release (ugh! translate not in Phoenix), Room 237, exploring the many interpretations and even some far fetched conspiracy theories surrounding The Shining. The film makers drew on theories presented by various people who have amassed enormous archives of Shining interpretations. It’s unbelievable. Rob Ager is one example and is featured in Room 237: Rob Ager.

After watching a few Kubrick movies, which also includes 2001, I do agree he explores themes like imperialism and how it has led to a legacy of violence in human history. Room 237 covers those various theories, like references to Native American genocide and the Holocaust, but still much argument and discussion abounds as to what the movie is really about. To me, film critic for, Andrew O’Heir summed it up well:

…this really is a story about a guy going crazy in a snowbound old hotel and turning on his wife and kid, but one that draws on the most troubling aspects of myth, history and psychoanalytic theory to create an overdetermined landscape of madness, one in which the viewer ultimately feels almost as disoriented as Jack, frozen in permanent rage at the heart of the labyrinth.

Interpretation aside, what I find compelling with Kubrick and his movies, or at least The Shining, is how he composes his scenes and populates his movies with lots of detail and symbols. The Shining contains so many references to Native American culture, genocide, symbols, it hard to argue he wasn’t making some kind of statement.

But even better are the flashes of straight out strangeness. The twin girls, the blood flowing out of the elevator, the (grimace) decayed old lady in Room 237. And what the heck is the deal with the guy in the bear suit? Creepy. Maybe that’s simply the point, and an explanation would ultimately ruin the impact of the scene. Some film directors explain too much and Kubrick often explained nothing. Room 237 does provide possible explanations for all of those scenes however.

I was writing a scene in my second book, where one of the bad guys was revealing some of his motivations, and I wavered between how much I needed to explain and decided to leave it vague.

Take the movie The Warriors. (Another one of my favorites) At the end, the leader of the Gramercy Riffs gang asks Luther, the leader of the Rogues, why he shot Cyrus. Luther answers simply, “No reason. I just like doing things like that.” He’s friggin’ nuts. We totally get that and we don’t need an exposition on the tragedy of his life.

Explaining too much can take away from the mystery and emotion behind certain aspects of the story. Some character behaviors should be left up to interpretation. Why is the bad guy bad? Was it childhood trauma? Socio-pathetic tendencies? Why did Jack Torrance try to hack up his wife and kid? We don’t know exactly. Was it cabin fever? Writer’s block? (OH, crap, no.) Or was it him perpetuating the endless cycle of violence due to imperialism? Kubrick doesn’t tell us and personally I don’t want him to. (Not that he could at this point.) It’s enough for me to see the scene with Jack talking to the previous caretaker, John Grady, in the bathroom, about correcting his wife and kid (yikes) and seeing him in the Forth of July ball picture from 1921 at the end. What what it all about? Kubrick keeps us all guessing, writing, and making movies about it to this day. If he would have explained everything, there wouldn’t be a Room 237.

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