Back in late 2006 I wrote my first film analysis article and it was about Stanley Kubrick’s film version of The Shining. I quickly posted a video version of the article on Youtube, which gathered tens of thousands of viewings during early 2007. The feedback varied from gushing applause … to accusations of me having too much time on my hands … to angry accusations regarding controversial themes. It was a good learning experience, because the feedback that came in from that first film analysis video helped me sharpen up my writing and research skills. This helped me to write more comprehensive and plausible analysis of a further sixteen films.

In November of 2007 I updated my analysis of The Shining to correct some errors, add some additional details, and to present some additional themes. The second article was approx fifty percent longer. The updated video has gathered over 10,000 viewings on Youtube and has several thousand more downloads from my website, and this time the feedback has been overwhelmingly positive.

Having now written detailed analysis articles for five Stanley Kubrick films, I’ve become much more familiar with the symbolic style he used. Combining this with the hundreds of emails from both fans and critics of my previous articles on The Shining, I now find that the analysis needs updating again. This time however, the length and depth of the analysis will at least triple because the film has turned out to be far more multi-layered and intricate than I ever suspected.

But before cracking on, I’ll first offer some explanatory notes about the methods and sources I have used in writing this article. This is primarily for the benefit of people who are skeptical of film analysis in general or who are specifically skeptical of my personal approach to the subject. There is also a benefit for me in that I won’t have to spend as much time answering the same questions over and over to new readers / viewers. People asking standard questions will be directed to this chapter.

The first point I’d like to make about Kubrick’s method is that from 2001: A Space Odyssey onward he made films that always had at least two separate narratives that would co-exist simultaneously within the same film. Most scenes would serve at least two narrative functions – one would be the more obvious surface narrative and the other narratives would be subliminally communicated. If this seems outrageous then that’s perfectly understandable, as I have not encountered any film outside of Kubrick’s body of work that successfully managed this feat on such an intricate level. Kubrick had developed a unique and complex system to this effect, and it appears that he shared his technique with no one – not even his closest collaborators.

One of the rare examples of Kubrick openly acknowledging a dual narrative in one of his films occurred when he was being interviewed by Jerome Agel. I picked up this quote from page 277 of the biography Stanley Kubrick by Vincent Lobrutto. The quote refers to Kubrick’s phenomenally cryptic sci-fi film 2001: A Space Odyssey, which to my knowledge was the first Kubrick film to feature a dual narrative.

“I don’t like to talk about 2001 too much because it’s essentially a non-verbal experience. It attempts to communicate more to the subconscious and to the feelings than it does to the intellect. I think clearly there’s a problem with people who are not paying attention with their eyes. They’re listening. And they don’t get much from listening to this film. Those who won’t believe their eyes won’t be able to appreciate this film.” – Stanley Kubrick

For a long time audiences and critics have had that nagging feeling of there being something more to Kubrick’s work than was apparent in their initial viewings. They have been compelled to watch his films over and over as if seeking the missing pieces of a conceptual puzzle. Many film analysts have at times broken through parts of the surface narratives, but this has often raised more questions than it has answered. To this effect Kubrick films are some of the most studied works in film history and the interpretations are incredibly varied.

I have personally found that the most important principle in analysing Kubrick’s work is not to try and identify themes based upon a single, irrefutable detail, but to instead identify what I’ll refer to as ‘emergent themes’. By this I mean that the subliminal narratives of a Kubrick film can only be perceived by cross-referencing hundreds of details until a consistent pattern emerges. Individually, each detail can be discredited as either a continuity error or a mere aesthetic choice, “he did it because it looked cool”, but when those details are grouped together they form an unmistakable and undeniable pattern – one that defies the odds of chance. In many cases these emergent themes make even more consistent sense of the film than the surface level script does.

So how do we identify these emergent themes? I’ve found that the most reliable way is to watch a Kubrick film scene by scene and shot by shot, while making very detailed written notes about what you are seeing and hearing on screen. For this article I compiled over fifty pages of hand written observations (in addition to the content of early versions of the analysis article). It was only when I began reading these notes back and grouping them together according to similarity, that many of the new themes became noticeable. It’s a laborious process, but highly rewarding if you have the patience.

Of course, with any kind of subjective study, such as analysing a film, you run a very high risk of imposing patterns upon the work that you expect to see, instead of what’s actually there. To this effect you must seek out not just pattern, but also difference. Contradictory details generally will mean that the pattern you are seeing is mistaken or that the film maker was not consistent in their messages or modes of expression. I’ve found overwhelmingly that the surface narratives of Kubrick’s films carry far more self-contradictory details than the subliminal narratives do. So when your interpretation is making more consistent sense than the surface script, that’s when you know you are breaking the conceptual codes of a Kubrick film.

Another key concept in deciphering subliminal meanings in Kubrick’s work can be described as ‘plausible deniability’ or ‘deniable encryption’. Basically, this means that a message or subliminal code has been disguised within a seemingly circumstantial context. Kubrick was the master of this strategy, as I will demonstrate in this article. For that very reason anybody who doesn’t want to see beyond the easy surface narrative of a Kubrick film will generally be able to pass off his subliminal encoding as something simple and innocent, allowing them to fall back into the comparative comfort and ease of the surface narrative. This allowed Kubrick to plausibly evade explaining his films' meanings for years. It also means that my descriptions in this analysis must be exactingly specific to bypasses the veil of illusion that Kubrick weaved with such amazing skill. If you are a person who generally dislikes complexity then I suggest you read one or two chapters of this article at a time, giving yourself short breaks to digest the material.

Occasionally I get comments from viewers of my film analysis articles/videos, who say that I’m simply finding hidden meanings in certain films because I am noticing co-incidental patterns and imposing whatever meaning fits. I can understand this perception because I only write articles about films in which I have found hidden meanings. That probably gives the impression that I see all films as being conceptually deep. It’s not the case though. The vast majority of films I‘ve seen appear conceptually shallow and simplistic, despite my familiarity with subliminal encoding techniques. Some examples of films that I have repeatedly been requested to analyze, but in which I haven’t uncovered coherent, consistent or interesting subliminal themes (at least outside of those already written of by many other reviewers) are … Donnie Darko, Memento and the Lord of the Rings trilogy. So I’ll hope you’ll bare this mind if, at times, I appear to be "stretching" to find meaning in The Shining.

It’s also important for the reader to differentiate as to when I’m stating my interpretations as absolute fact and when I’m acknowledging a healthy entertainment of doubt in my own assertions. If you hear me use the words ‘possibly’, ‘could be’, ‘maybe’, ‘in my opinion’, and so on … then please acknowledge that I am only offering ideas for your consideration. That may seem like an obvious point, but many of my more disagreeable email correspondents seem to miss it.

Many people have also asked me for ‘sources’ to back up my interpretations of Kubrick films. The most frequent question asked is “Did Kubrick ever confirm this in interviews?” Of course, for anyone writing about Kubrick, the answer to that question will virtually always be “no”, for the simple reason that Kubrick very rarely did interviews. And when he did, he avoided answering what he called “coneptualizing questions”. Here are some quotes demonstrating how elusive Kubrick was in talking about the meanings of his films.

“I've always found it difficult to talk about any of my films. What I generally manage to do is to discuss the background information connected with the story, or perhaps some of the interesting facts which might be associated with it. This approach often allows me to avoid the ‘What does it mean? Why did you do it?’ questions.” - interview with Michael Ciment about The Shining

“Never! He never talked about the philosophy of the film to us.” – Kier Dullea (actor ‘Dave Bowman’ 2001) p305 Stanley Kubrick by Vincent Lobrutto

“He’d never talk about his movies while he was making them, and he didn’t like talking about them afterward very much … Most of all he didn’t want to talk about their ‘meaning’ … He might tell you how he did it, but never why.” – p71, Kubrick by Michael Herr (co-writer / co-producer of Full Metal Jacket)

“Attempts by writers to examine his life or career in detail were scrutinized and, more often than not, thwarted, usually by the same method. Kubrick would initially agree to co-operate, on condition that he had the right to authorize the text. He would then withhold approval until the deadline passed or the writer lost patience. In 1968 the magazine Books recorded eight hours of conversation under this restriction, but was permitted to use only four sentences.” – p297 Stanley Kubrick: A Biography by John Baxter

“I'm not going to be asked any conceptualizing questions, right? … It's the thing I hate the worst. … The truth is that I've always felt trapped and pinned down and harried by those questions.” - Kubrick interviewed by Tim Cahill for Rolling Stone.

Regarding The Shining, Kubrick did a comparatively detailed interview with Michael Ciment. Although he didn’t directly describe the film's meanings, he did provide many comments that support portions of this analysis. Where relevant the Michael Ciment interview will be quoted.

In addition, Kubrick did something quite out of character with The Shining. He allowed a behind-the-scenes documentary to be filmed by his daughter Vivian on the set. This short documentary was personally approved by Kubrick and the footage was apparently selected from hundreds of hours of material. The specific choices of footage that Kubrick allowed into this documentary also support several of the themes in this analysis. Once again these references will be included.

I’ve also read detailed accounts of The Shining’s production history as described in Kubrick biographies written by John Baxter and Vincent Lobrutto. These both feature a variety of cast and crew claims that will be quoted in this article.

An important detail about the film’s initial release is that there was originally an additional scene at the ending, in which Danny and Wendy are visited in a hospital by the hotel manager Mr. Ullman. This ending was seen by the film’s earliest audiences on selected cinemas, but was removed before the wider release. There are some surviving stillsand a variety of written accounts about the scene's content, which also support certain themes identified in this analysis. We’ll return to this topic in later chapters.

In my previous analysis of The Shining I based my interpretation upon the European release of the film, but the US release contains an additional twenty-three mins of footage. This article brings that additional footage into account. In fact several of the additional themes in this article are very difficult to identify in the trimmed down European version.

Kubrick once said that he found it best policy to let his films ‘speak for themselves’. This is true in that almost everything required to uncover the hidden depths of his work are contained within the films, and do not require a verbal declaration from Stanley himself. When he wanted to communicate a theme to the subconscious or to encode it for future generations to unravel, he would make sure the theme infected multiple scenes using dozens of subliminal details. And so The Shining film itself is the primary source for this analysis.

However, there is another source worth mentioning …