The Shining Is About What?
Room 237 uses Talmudic exegesis to uncover whether Kubrick’s film is about Indians, the Holocaust, or bears
From there, it’s easy to see a pile of suitcases in the Overlook lobby taken for a reference to Auschwitz while a slowed-down lap dissolve reveals several frames in which, Kubrick seemingly contrived to have what looks like a Hitlerian smudge superimposed under Nicholson’s nose—a more subtle variation on the skull fleetingly superimposed on Anthony Perkins’ face at the end of Psycho. I’m less convinced that Nicholson would quote the wolf in The Three Little Pigs because the original Disney cartoon contained a rabidly anti-Semitic stereotype or by the fact that 2 x 3 x 7 = 42. (Numerology is big in Room 237. It’s pointed out that, by some calculations, the distance from the Earth to the Moon is 237,000 miles.)
But there are more compelling reasons to assume that Cocks is on to something. As a doctor’s son from an assimilated family, raised in the tonier precincts of the Bronx during a period when the borough was over 40 percent Jewish, Kubrick would have been deeply impressed by the rise of Nazism that coincided with his childhood and the extermination of Europe’s Jews that occurred during his safe and secure Grand Concourse adolescence. (Cocks, the author of numerous scholarly works on the Nazi regime, including Psychotherapy in the Third Reich, has even devoted a book to Kubrick and the Holocaust.) Kubrick made three movies—Paths of Glory, Dr. Strangelove, and Full Metal Jacket—that overtly concern state-sanctioned murder, while 2001 and A Clockwork Orange take an extremely dim view of human nature. He also had a more direct connection to Nazi Germany, having married the niece of Goebbels’ favorite filmmaker, Veit Harlan. (For more on Kubrick’s life and fascination with the Holocaust, see “Kubrick’s Lost Holocaust Film,” by Abby Margulies, in today’s Tablet Magazine.)
It’s known that Kubrick did actively contemplate a movie on the Holocaust, studying The Destruction of the European Jews by Raul Hilberg, and sending his brother-in-law Jan Harlan to New York in 1976 to persuade Isaac Bashevis Singer to write a screenplay on the subject. Singer demurred, but in 1991, Kubrick acquired the rights to Louis Begley’s autobiographical novella Wartime Lies, which concerns a Jewish boy passing for Catholic to survive the war in Nazi-occupied Poland. The project, titled Aryan Papers, was announced for 1993 and then shut down, perhaps not coincidentally, around the time Steven Spielberg began working on Schindler’s List. (The latter is a movie Kubrick famously disparaged, telling Frederic Raphael, his writing partner on Eyes Wide Shut, that it was about “success” rather than genocide. “The Holocaust is about 6 million people who get killed. Schindler’s List is about 600 who don’t.”)
Whether or not The Shining is widely intelligible as a movie about the Holocaust, Room 237 makes it amply apparent that Kubrick was attempting to infuse King’s novel—which might otherwise be construed as a supernatural tale of domestic violence—with the full horror of history (“the blood on which nations are built” in one exegete’s phrase). I’d argue that in order to make the scariest film ever, Kubrick attempted to address the viewer’s unconscious mind. As a Freudian, he stocked The Shining with subtle dislocations to render the hotel “home” increasingly uncanny and, as a Jungian, he deployed symbols—both gross and subliminal, obvious and arcane—that struck him as archetypal. Of course, to recognize this method of creation transforms Kubrick’s enterprise into something of a meta-movie that serves as a natural spur to interpretation rather than one that, as he hoped, simply “raises the hair on your neck.”
In a recent piece on Room 237, New York reporter Mark Jacobson hilariously describes his Freudian journey into Kubrick’s past, excavating key sites of the filmmaker’s Bronx boyhood in search of The Shining’s meaning only to be informed by his own grown daughter, who finds him obsessively revisiting the movie, that its obvious subject was “child abuse.” Both, of course, are right: The Shining is the return of Stanley Kubrick’s repressed.
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