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Exploring the Fan Theories Inspired by The Shining's Decor

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The Shining came back in big way last year, with the theatrical release and subsequent Netflix availability of Room 237, a documentary on some of the fan theories that have gathered around Stanley Kubrick's psychological horror classic since its 1980 release. According to the interviewees, The Shining could be anything from a retelling of the mythological tale of Theseus and the Minotaur to Kubrick's apology for having helped fake the moon landing, but what most of them have in common is an insistence that the decor of the fictional Overlook Hotel has a lot to do with what the director really means. No surprises there, given that the Overlook is iconic enough to inspire architecturally focused tributes.

Photos via Collative Learning

Though the Overlook presented in The Shining is actually a set built at Elstree Studios in Hertfordshire, England, it was inspired by a number of real-life hotels. Aerial shots of Oregon's Timberlane Lodge were used in the film's opening scene, as well as a few establishing shots that follow, but it was the Ahwahnee Hotel in Yosemite National Park (pictured above) that served as a template for much of the Overlook's interior.

Like any classic Alpine resort in America, the Ahwahnee incorporates plenty of designs inspired by Native American artwork; tapestries, carpets, and the like. When these made their way into the Overlook—with the addition of a large Navajo-style mural that Jack Nicholson's writer's block-tortured Jack Torrance likes to bounce a tennis ball off of—they helped inspire journalist Bill Blakemore to write a 1987 article for the Washington Post entitled "Kubrick's Shining' Secret: Film's Hidden Horror Is The Murder of the Indian."

How did Blakemore—who elaborates on his theory in Room 237—jump to that conclusion, based on a few Mojave saddle blankets? The Shining incorporates a few other pieces of Native American iconography, including cans of Calumet baking powder embossed with the silhouette of a man in a feathered headdress, but it was a few lines of dialogue that got Blakemore connecting the dots. There's Jack's first conversation with Lloyd, his possibly ghostly, possibly nonexistent bartender: "You set 'em up and I'll knock 'em back Lloyd, one b'one. White man's burden, Lloyd my man. White man's burden." There's the horror story trope, inserted into two lines at the beginning of the film, about the Overlook being built on an Indian burial ground. But it's the decor that inspired the associative heavy lifting that turns a story about supernaturally induced cabin fever into one about the genocide of the Native Americans.

Left image via Very Aware; Right image via Idyllopus Press

The geometric 70s-era carpet pattern in the upstairs hallway is easily the most iconic and theorized-upon decor element in The Shining. In Room 237 alone it's said to stand for a "beehive hexagon, but down the whole corridors of history" representing "the family of man," as well as the overhead shape of Launchpad 39A, the starting point of America's moon landing mission. (This, combined with the fact that Danny is wearing an Apollo 11 sweater in one scene, provides particularly juicy fodder for 237 subject Jay Weidner's moon landing theory.)

This hexagonal pattern is the backdrop for a turning point in the film, right before Danny enters the forbidden room 237, a moment that kicks off the family's downward spiral. Much is made in the documentary about an inconsistency between two shots, where the same tennis ball that Jack plays wall-ball with rolls to Danny, leading him to a room 237 whose door is mysteriously ajar. As laid out by Room 237 interviewee Juli Kearns on her website, a cut between two shots reveals a seeming continuity error, with the carpet flipping its orientation under Danny. If Kubrick threw this inconstancy in on purpose—which a few of Room 237's subjects pretty convincingly argue—the seeming suggestion is that, as Kearns, the proponent of the labyrinth-and-minotaur theory, puts it, now that "the hexagon is closed, it's almost like he's been closed in."

The meaning behind the Overlook ballroom's abundance of gold is another point where the superfans diverge. Naturally, the color scheme lends itself nicely to Blakemore's theory, signifying the gold rush that drove the American settlers West. According Rob Ager, a Shining obsessive with a 21-chapter analysis up on his website and a personally produced six-volume DVD set called Kubrick Decoded, the inclusion of this room makes the film a polemic against the U.S. government's de-pegging of the dollar from the gold standard. All of that hinges somewhat precariously on the final shot, which shows Jack in an old picture taken at the hotel in 1921, which Ager asserts that he looks a good deal like Widrow Wilson in. Erm... yeah.

Jack's second trip to the Gold Room leads him to the most out-of-place interior in the Overlook, a harshly modern bathroom done up in a startling shade of red (which has inspired more than a few tributes over the years). It's where Jack finds Grady, the old caretaker who suggests he "correct" his family. Taken as an instance of Kubrik using color to suggest the inner workings of his characters, this room is generally agreed upon as a kind of "direct projection of Jack's violent mind." That one's simple enough, but then again, it doesn't even touch on the school of thought based primarily on how Kubrick portrays bathrooms.

The Shining could mean a lot of things. One takeaway to add to the list: watch what you do with your interiors, because you can't always control what people read into them.

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