February 1, 2012

Sometimes a Walking Naked Rotting Corpse Is Just a Walking Naked Rotting Corpse

Fair warning – I’ve never been the brightest bulb in the box when it comes to deciphering hiding meanings in art. Maybe it’s my lawyer’s argumentativeness or my bent towards skepticism, but I’m wary of concluding that something obvious really means something obscure and “deep.” That being said, I do worry somewhat about the kind of hidden meanings others might dig up out of my own work. There’s a reason the creatures in The Water Road are all shades of blue and green, after all.

Readers of the old blog might remember a series I did called “Mondays With Stanley,” in which I worked my way through a bunch of Kubrick films I had on DVD (due, mostly, to a kind gift from K). One of them was The Shining, which I discussed in an entry cleverly titled “Jack Goes Apeshit.”  I felt then, and still do, that The Shining isn’t up there in the pantheon of Kubrick’s great works, but it’s creepy as hell, filled with iconic images, and benefits from a note-perfect electronic score by Wendy Carlos. Nothing wrong with that.

But, perhaps, I wasn’t looking at it the right way. A documentary that premiered at Sundance, Room 237, surveys the wide variety of thought on what The Shining really is all about:
It’s really about the Holocaust, one interviewee says, and Mr. Kubrick’s inability to address the horrors of the Final Solution on film. No, it’s about a different genocide, that of American Indians, another says, pointing to all the tribal-theme items adorning the Overlook Hotel’s walls. A third claims it’s really Kubrick’s veiled confession that he helped NASA fake the Apollo Moon landings.
I’d heard the Native American hypothesis before, which at least has some grounding in the film itself. The Overlook Hotel, for one thing, it built over top of a Native American burial ground (and we’re told that the builders had to repel attacks during construction). But some of the tells – there’s a brand of canned food product that uses an Indian logo visible in some scenes! – seem like the kind of stretching that conspiracy theorists engage in. You know what else is visible in those scenes? Jars of Tang and tins of Sanka. Maybe the real message of The Shining is that drinking decaf can perk up your sex life?

The other theories discussed in the story seem on even shakier ground (It’s a Holocaust metaphor because Wendy swings the bat 42 times at Jack, a reference to 1942? The pattern in the carpet in the Overlook mimics the Apollo launch pad? Really?). Which isn’t to say they’re wrong – who knows, since Kubrick’s dead and never addressed them while he was alive. And it’s always fun to see how weird and twisted you can get with something like that.* There’s no harm in that. But, really, sometimes a cigar really is just a cigar, know what I mean?

That being said, in the end, when Room 237 makes its way to DVD, I’ll check it out. If nothing else, how people react to art fascinates me. I wonder what subliminal messages are lurking between the frames of Room 237!

*A lot of the alleged symbolism is broken down in a series of YouTube videos, if you’re curious.

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