35 years after the horror’s UK release, fans remain convinced its director littered the film with clues to a space conspiracy
It’s 35 years this weekend since Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining first spooked UK audiences and in the decades since, western pop culture has barely stopped treading the winding corridors and faded carpets of hotels in search of scares. But it’s the movie’s head-mangling visual and psychological depth – its strange, tiny details and sinister allusions to sex, the Holocaust and genocide of American Indians – that make The Shining stick with you, prodding at your thoughts, hours, months – 35 years even – after the credits roll.
Rodney Ascher’s 2012 documentary Room 237 dug into those perceived meanings. “It’s like three-dimensional chess,” says filmmaker Jay Weidner in the movie. He goes on to explain why he is convinced The Shining is a coded apology for having helped the American government fake the Apollo moon landing. “Kubrick was faking the making of a Stephen King novel in order to reveal the idea of what he went through.”
“Kubrick was faking the making of a Stephen King novel in order to reveal the idea of what he went through” – filmmaker Jay Weidner
The theory that Kubrick, fresh from making 2001: A Space Odyssey in 1986, was borrowed by NASA for his special FX wizardry in creating hoax footage of Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin making their giant leap for mankind, is one of cinema’s most long-standing conspiracy theories. Less well-known are the alleged clues littered throughout The Shining that Kubrick obsessives insist point to his involvement in the hoax.
The evidence is admittedly intriguing. A scene 58 minutes into the film in which Danny wears a jumper with Apollo 11 knitted on the front. The prominence of eagles, a symbol of NASA, and bears, representing space race rivals the Russians, in the film’s mise-en-scene. The mysterious room 237 – originally room 217 in Stephen King’s novel but changed to allegedly reference the distance between the moon and the earth (237,000 miles). Watch Jay’s theory discussed below, or for a more detailed analysis, check out the film The Shining Code 2.0.
Your first reaction to all that might be to shrug it off; mine was, especially after reading a furious response by Leon Vitali, who worked as a personal assistant to Kubrick on The Shining and labelled the entire film “total balderdash.” But the whole thing’s not as baseless as you might think. NASA and Kubrick are openly documented as having a relationship – the director’s film before The Shining, 1975 drama Barry Lyndon, was short partly on cameras made for NASA and either bought from or borrowed by Kubrick, depending on who you ask.
NASA, meanwhile, were open admirers of the filmmaker. “There is no doubt that the designers and engineers of the Apollo project had been affected by 2001,” said one-time NASA technical director Farouk El-Baz in 2008, having worked on the moon landing. “It affected our thinking and our processes.”
How much truth, then, is there to the wildest, most obsessed-over theory about Kubrick’s iconic horror? Are these so-called clues coincidences or simply in the imaginations of fans still spell-bound by a convention-smashing masterpiece? It doesn’t really matter. What counts is that three and a half decades after those thick crimson elevators doors first gushed blood, people are still lost in its ambiguous borders, obsessing over every detail in what Kubrick scholar and critic Jonathan Romney called the film’s “rich source of perplexity.” Someone else having the key to your hotel room is scary. What The Shining had was a key to your psyche.