This weekend, movie audiences will be treated to a unique cinematic event: Room 237, a documentary examining symbolism and hidden meaning in Stanley Kubrick’s horror classic The Shining.
Theories like those presented in this film hold a complicated position: Because they’re based on interpretation, their factual accuracy will always be questioned. But that’s part of the fun. And when someone like Leon Vitali, Kubrick’s personal assistant while The Shining was being filmed, calls them “balderdash,” it completely misses the point.
Parts of the film Vitali criticizes in his New York Times interview include:
1. The claim that The Shining is essentially a reinterpretation of the Minotaur myth, as indicated in part by the presence of a poster depicting a man with the head of a bull.
Vitali’s thoughts?: "That astonished me … I stood staring at all that stuff for weeks while we were shooting in that room. It’s a downhill skier. It’s a downhill skier. It’s not a Minotaur."
2. The theory that the film is a Holocaust allegory, as suggested in part by the presence of a German Adler typewriter, “a bureaucratic killing machine.”
Vitali: "That was Stanley’s typewriter. A lot of decisions made on the set were about pragmatism: ‘This looks good. It sits on the oak table pretty perfectly.’ Not to mention, it’s a great typewriter. I used that typewriter for 10 years, actually."
The former assistant goes on to claim that he “was falling about laughing most of the time" watching the film, because "there are ideas espoused … that [he knows] to be total balderdash" and “pure gibberish.”
Way to rain on the parade, man.
To be fair, the mere existence of the NYT interview sets us up for this reaction. Any time you question someone materially involved in a film’s production, numerous theories, myths, and rumors are immediately debunked. This is appropriate in some cases: for example, if allegations of on-set animal abuse start floating around, it’s a good idea to ask someone who was actually there whether they’re true or not.
But not so much with the case of Room 237. In the same way cult films like The Rocky Horror Picture Show have developed a fun and eccentric fan sub-culture around midnight screenings, The Shining possesses a dedicated following focused on various theories of symbolism and allegory. The fact that these ideas made it to the big screen in such a prominent way is, in my opinion, a victory for cinema as a whole.
Photo Credit: Telegraph
It means there’s a dedicated, engaged, and deeply interested movie audience that remains curious and entranced by a film that came out over three decades ago. And it also means The Shining has stood the test of time in a way many films of its era have not. I have no doubt this is something people involved in its production, like Leon Vitali, are very proud of.
So why shoot down the ruminations and theorizing of dedicated fans? To me, it seems pointless and unnecessary. Or perhaps Vitali’s should be viewed as just another voice in a fun and lively discussion about cinema.
Either way, I hope his comments don’t deter people from seeing the film. I have a good feeling they will not.