For as long as I can remember, The Shining (1980) has always been my all-time favorite movie. A while back, my husband, sister and I were browsing through our instant streaming services in search of something fun to watch and we happened upon Room 237– a documentary about The Shining.
Anyone who has seen The Shining can attest to the fact that it’s extremely ambiguous at times. Why does Charles Grady’s first name later change to Delbert? Was Jack really the caretaker of the Overlook in 1921? What the heck is Wendy wearing? Okay, that last one isn’t really a valid example, but you get the point. Some things are simply left up to our imaginations and that ambiguity is a big part of what makes The Shining so incredible. That having been said, the intentional vagueness of the film leaves it open to a wide range of interpretations, including those mentioned in Room 327. The documentary proposes several theories regarding possible underlying messages in The Shining: the slaughter of Native Americans, the Holocaust, moon travel and so forth. Of the theories examined in the documentary, there was one that I found particularly interesting: Jack as a parallel of the mythical Minotaur.
I am almost as big a fan of Greek/Roman mythology as I am of horror and this theory got the wheels of thought turning. I’ll spare you the nasty myth behind the creation of the Minotaur, but long story short, it’s a half-man, half-bull creature that lives in a labyrinth and is eventually killed by a hero called Theseus, who then uses string trail to find his way back out of the labyrinth (it’s better than breadcrumbs!). Now for the reasons that I think this theory might be on to something:
1. In Stephen King’s The Shining (novel), there are hedge animals that come to life. In the film, Kubrick changes the hedge animals to the much cooler hedge maze that we all know and love. The maze is easily comparable to the labyrinth for obvious reasons.
2. By the end of the film, Jack is reduced to a lumbering, ominous figure, chasing his son through the maze/labyrinth. His limping run is akin to a bull-like gallop. The combination of physical exertion and freezing temperature strips him of his ability to speak (thus dehumanizing him in a sense) and by the final part of the maze chase scene, his utterances are reduced to animal-like grunts and growls.
3. If Jack is the Minotaur, then Danny is Theseus. Danny knows the maze well (and he doesn’t even need the ball of string!). He cleverly uses his footprints to mislead Jack, stranding him in the freezing cold and ultimately causing his death. This differs from (and is less gory than) Theseus’ stabbing of the Minotaur, but the main point is that Danny leads to Jack’s undoing and is able to successfully navigate through the maze, just as Theseus kills the Minotaur and is able to make his way through the labyrinth.
4. The color red is known to antagonize bulls and is seen often in the film. It appears in the hotel décor: the bathroom in the Gold Room, the elevators (not to mention the blood that pours out of them), the walls, the chairs, and so forth. It is also used often in the characters’ wardrobes: Wendy’s jacket as she explores the maze with Danny; Danny’s shirt as he rides his tricycle through the maze-like halls of the Overlook; his sweater when he sees the dead twins at the end of the hallway; his pajamas as he tries to channel Halloran, etc. Wendy’s bright red coat is the only clearly distinguishable color against the snowy backdrop in the scene where Jack stares out the window at his family in a trance-like state. The use of red in the film ties in with the Minotaur theory since the hotel, Wendy and Danny are Jack’s antagonists – slowly driving him to insanity.
The bottom line: the Minotaur theory is fascinating; Room 237 is a fun exploration of deeper meaning in Kubrick’s film; and The Shining is just plain awesome!