The Shining is a 1980 British-American psychological horror film produced and directed by Stanley Kubrick, co-written with novelist Diane Johnson, and starring Jack Nicholson, Shelley Duvall, Danny Lloyd, and Scatman Crothers. The film is based on Stephen King's 1977 novel of the same name, though there are significant changes.

In the film, Jack Torrance, a writer and recovering alcoholic, takes a job as an off-season caretaker at the isolated Overlook Hotel. His young son possesses psychic abilities and is able to see things from the past and future, such as the ghosts who inhabit the hotel. Soon after settling in, the family is trapped in the hotel by a snowstorm, and Jack gradually becomes influenced by a supernatural presence; he descends into madness and attempts to murder his wife and son.

Unlike previous Kubrick films, which developed an audience gradually by building on word-of-mouth, The Shining was released as a mass-market film, opening at first in just two cities on Memorial Day, then nationwide a month later. Although initial response to the film was mixed, later critical assessment was more favorable and it is now listed among the greatest horror movies, while some have even viewed it as one of the greatest films of all time. Film director Martin Scorsese, writing in The Daily Beast, ranked it as one of the 11 scariest horror movies of all time. Film critics, film students, and Kubrick's producer Jan Harlan, have remarked on the enormous influence the film has had on popular culture.

The initial European release of The Shining was 25 minutes shorter than the American version, achieved by removing most of the scenes taking place outside the environs of the hotel.

The Theories

The Shining is a rare film, because, like most Kubrick films, it has dozens of conspiracy theories behind it.

  • The most popular one is that the U.S government allegedly hired Stanley Kubrick, who’d directed 2001: A Space Odyssey the previous year, to fake film of Neil Armstrong walking on the moon. The Shining allegedly contains Kubrick’s coded apology. There are piles of Tang, the powdered fruit drink used on space flights, visible in the pantry. Danny wears an Apollo 11 jumper. Room 237 is a reference to the distance between Earth and the moon: 237,000 miles. There is also one shot where the television is not plugged in but still works. Some interpret this as the television not showing you what is really happening. When Jack types “All work and no play…”, the first word looks like “A11” or Apollo 11. The twins represent NASA’s Gemini space programme. The scene in the bathroom where Jack embraces the woman only to recoil in horror after seeing that she was not really what he thought. This may represent the guilt that Kubrick had about being seduced by the project. Finally, Jack’s rant at Wendy when she wants to leave represents Kubrick arguing with his own wife about his deception: "Does it matter to you at all that the owners have placed their complete confidence and trust in me, and that I have signed a contract in which I have accepted that responsibility?" Of course, the theory makes absolutely no sense but it is a fun theory people love to think about.
  • The second and most likely, suggests that the film represents genocide of Native Americans. When the hotel manager gives the Torrance family a tour, he mentions that the Overlook sits atop an Indian burial ground. The film is full of Native American symbology, from Navajo wall hangings in the ballroom to the pantry’s stockpile of Calumet baking soda – the cans bearing the brand's logo of a Native American in warrior headdress. "Calumet" means "peace pipe" and the cans represent the white men’s broken promises and dishonest treaties. When Jack kills chef Dick Hallorann, the dead body lies on a rug with an Indian motif – a metaphor for weak Americans slaughtering the Indians. Danny's visions of blood streaming from the lift represents the souls buried beneath the hotel, with the elevator descending into the basement like a bucket in a well, bringing up a haul of blood when it returns to the surface. Even the date on the climactic vintage photograph, July 4th, is an ironic reference to the fact that Independence Day doesn’t apply to the country’s indigenous occupants.
  • Another suggests that the Overlook is hell. When Jack Torrance signs his employment contract, it’s a Faustian pact with the devil – hence his descent into a hell full of blood, ghostly visions and his personal fears.
  • Another suggests that the film is about the holocaust. Much of the film’s soundtrack is made up of post-war compositions influenced by the horrors of the Second World War. Jack's typewriter is German and his deranged typing symbolises the Third Reich’s mechanical methods of killing, and obsession with list-making. The machine is made by Adler which translates as “eagle” - the Nazi emblem, also spotted on Jack’s yellow T-shirt. Most compellingly, there’s play on the number 42 throughout the film: 42 cars in the hotel parking lot, 42 on one of Danny's shirts and on the license plate of Halloran's rental car. If you multiply the numerals of Room 237 (2 x 3 x 7), you get 42. Midway through the film, Wendy and Danny watch The Summer of '42 on TV. All this numerology references the year 1942, when the Nazis put their “Final Solution” into place.
  • Taking a cue from site MSTRMND's brilliant analysis, which noted that "The Shining is a film meant to be seen both forwards and backwards," Ryan wanted to see what would happen if it was projected simultaneously with one version being played the normal way and the other being superimposed and run backwards from end to beginning. The resulting images are eerie (see above, video NSFW). "There's some fun jokes, but then there's serious stuff where the hallucinations – the visions – that Danny has, you'll see them over-layed on top of other situations. Like the twin girls are over-layed on top of Wendy," Ryan says. "All the symbols in the movie overlap in the superimposition backwards-forwards. The murdered twins are over-layed across Jack's face."
  • One of the creepiest theories of all is that mad genius Kubrick managed to imbue his film with so much ambiguous Freudian symbolism that it taps into essence of life itself. In other words, the whole film is about the bizarre coincidences of life. The use of mirrors through out the film, the twins, the symmetry of the shots and the constant doubling throughout the film are meant to be reflective of our own interior lives. Several of the theorists talk about weird coincidences that they personally experienced while spending countless hours watching and thinking about The Shining. In fact, this may be the theory that director Ascher most prescribes to. He told me he finds it incredibly serendipitous that his documentary is coming out the same year as the Los Angeles County Museum of Modern Art's Kubrick retrospective, and Stephen King's publication of Doctor Sleep, a Shining sequel with Danny Torrance as a middle-aged man. In fact, during our interview, as we talked about coincidences, Ascher looked over at the clock in his office and realized it was exactly 2:37 p.m.
  • Another suggests that the film represents the myth of the Minotaur. Stephen King’s novel didn’t feature a hedge maze but Kubrick added it for the film as a reference to the part-man, part-bull creature who lives at the centre of a labyrinth. The hotel itself is maze-like, with Jack representing the child-devouring monster. The figure on a skiing poster in the hotel resembles a Minotaur, as does another poster of a cowboy riding its bull. There are also repeated shots of Jack Torrance looking taurine, his forehead jutting and eyes rolling wildly, like a bull about to charge.
  • Another suggests that it represents CIA mind control. This is suggested because of a seemingly out-of-place ski poster is visible in one of the shots of the freaky twin girls. The word “Monarch” appears on it, which was a widely rumoured codename for a CIA “behavioural engineering” programme called MKUltra, which breaks minds down using LSD and experimental techniques. The Overlook Hotel represents the CIA and is functioning the same way on Jack Torrance, chipping away at his mind with creepy hallucinations intended to crack him.
  • Another suggests it is all a nightmare. There are all manner of spatial anomalies in the hotel: doors that don’t lead anywhere, windows with the wrong view and rooms that seem to move around. The layout of the Overlook makes no physical sense. Neither do the ghosts or visions. That’s because it’s all a nightmare within Jack’s alcohol-soaked, writer’s block-suffering mind. Also Jack mentions that he just had "the most horrible dream", where he had to murder his family. This can suggest that the whole film was a nightmare.
  • Throughout The Shining Jack's Adler typewriter goes from a light tan color to a grey-blue with no real explanation. Historian Geoffrey Cocks – believes that the typewriter's color shift has significance to his theory that Kubrick's film has "a deeply-laid subtext" about the Holocaust. "That typewriter, that German typewriter – which by the way changes color in the course of the film, which typewriters don't generally do – is terribly, terribly important as a referent to that particular historical event."
  • When Jack first arrives at the lobby of the Overlook, he's reading a Playgirl magazine. "The cover is like people getting ready for the New Year. There's an article about incest. At the beginning of the film Danny's been physically abused, but there's a suggestion that he's been sexually abused as well," Ryan says. "Just in that one shot there's all these, like, you know complex things going on in the background."
  • Another suggests that the Illuminati killed Stanley Kubrick because of this film. Conspiracy theorists allege that Kubrick peppered his work with visual references to Masonic symbols, like the Eye of Providence. Eyes and triangles do indeed feature highly in his film, not least in The Shining: triangular chair backs, step-ladders, roofs, mountains and tapering corridor shots. The secret society eventually killed poor Stan over this and made it look like a heart attack, the swines.
  • Another suggests that Jack Torrance is the devil. In the vintage black-and-white photograph shown at the end of the film, Jack's pose is exactly the same as the Tarot card for Baphomet - a.k.a Satan.
  • Top-notch conspiracy hunter Jay Weidner has many, many theories about the work of Kubrick (and other things) but some of the more eye-popping are his thoughts about how the director used the subliminal messaging of advertisers in his films. To wit: In the scene where Jack Torrance (Jack Nicholson) meets Stuart Ullman (Barry Nelson) in his office and, Weidner says in 237, his hips line-up perfectly with his paper try making it look like an erection. "Inside The Shining are hundreds of subliminal images and shot line-ups – and what these images are telling is a extremely disturbing story about sexuality and the subtext of the story – besides the other subtexts of the story – is the story of haunted phantoms and demons who are sexually attracted to humans and are feeding off of them."