Did Stanley Kubrick fake the moon landings?

Room 237 and the bizarre truth behind cinema's weirdest conspiracy theories

How many times have you seen your favourite film? Rodney Ascher has seen his, The Shining, 16 times; that is “if you mean forwards, while listening to the sound at regular speed.” He'll get another chance when it's reissued in cinemas this weekend. As if this were not sufficient proof of Ascher's obsession, Room 237, the documentary about the 1980 horror classic, which he spent two years making, is currently showing in cinemas nationwide.

Ostensibly, The Shining is a film about Jack Torrence (played by Jack Nicholson), a writer who takes on a caretaker position in the snowed-in and haunted Overlook Hotel in order to work on his book. The solitude drives Jack slowly insane, culminating in a maniacal attempted axe attack on his family.

But what is the film really about? Alternative interpretations explored in Room 237 (named after the Overlook’s most haunted room), range from impossible architecture, to parallels with the Native American genocide and the theory that The Shining is Kubrick’s coded mea culpa for his role in faking the 1969 moon landings. If you pay close enough attention, the theory goes, you will notice clues, including an Apollo 11 sweater worn by Jack’s son Danny and several stuffed bears representing the Soviet threat. Convinced, yet?

Like rare psychotropic fungi growing in the basement, alternative film theories thrive best in the darkest, dankest, most seldom visited corners of the internet. Asher’s film was initially inspired when a colleague showed him an online article about The Shining. He soon discovered this was merely the tip of the Kubrickenalia iceberg. “We thought if there’s one or two things out there maybe we’ll do a twenty minute short, but there’s a hundred things.”

Similarly, it was on an obscure internet message board that someone’s hunch that the events of Ferris Bueller’s Day Off may only exist in the mind of Cameron, Bueller's best friend, took root, that Labyrinth became all about menstruation and X-Men was revealed as a riff on the Civil Rights Movement, in which Sir Ian McKellen is an unconventional casting choice for Malcolm X.

Wacky film analyses are now so numerous they have their own sub-categories. There are the films which are really all a dream (Minority Report, Total Recall, Taxi Driver), the films which convert children to an extreme ideology (beware Communist propaganda The Muppets and environmentalist manifesto The Lorax) and then there are the films that are in fact live action sequels of cult comic strip Calvin & Hobbes (okay, that’s just Fight Club).

Some films, like Donnie Darko and Mulholland Drive have spawned enough competing fan lore to fill several websites exclusively dedicated to debunking and propagating. Jason MacNeil, who runs thematrix101.com, a site about the 1999 sci-fi and its sequels, believes film-based conspiracy theories are as much a product of their societies as the films they reference. “The Matrix came out in 1999, and there was a lot of paranoia about the millennium, about machinery, about our information systems no longer being dependable, once 2000 rolled around. The plot of the movie played off the prevailing anxieties of that time.”

The prevailing anxieties of parents, particularly far-right Christian parents, seem to be the source of the most persistent film conspiracy theory - the movie industry’s equivalent of satanic messages hidden in heavy metal records. This is the notion that disgruntled Disney employees have included single pornographic frames in their feature animations. Is the word “sex” really spelt out by the clouds in The Lion King? Is Aladdin enjoining teenagers to strip? Is the priest that marries Ariel and Prince Eric in The Little Mermaid really concealing an erection?

Clearly, there is no end to what a film fan with a fevered imagination and a DVD remote control might read into a director’s intentions. But, says Ascher, there is nothing so implausible about an artist wanting to communicate a message and experimenting with the means of doing so. “The Shining was made at the dawn of the home entertainment revolution, which reinforces the idea that it would make sense to pack into this movie things that would reward multiple viewings…I would hope that [Kubrick] would appreciate that what we’re doing is testament to the fact that thirty-some years later his movie continues to upset, scare, entertain and puzzle us; that we all see it as something important enough to want to spend so much time understanding.”

And it wasn’t just Kubrick. Hitchcock famously played the central role in a career-long game of Where’s Wally with his fans, while subliminal techniques borrowed from advertising were widespread in the films of the late 50s and pop up again in later films including The Exorcist and Fight Club. Perhaps including hidden messages for viewers is not so much evidence of malevolent intent, as a filmmaker at the height of his or her powers?  

Yet, there is still a risk of getting carried away and as The Shining helpfully reminds us, all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy. “I spent so much of the time sitting at a keyboard alone at my house, hoping that my wife and kid weren’t going to try and disturb me,” says Ascher of his own work practices during the making of Room 237, “Afraid that what I was doing was meaningless gibberish.”

Audiences can sift the meaningful from the gibberish themselves, by watching Ascher's film after catching a screening of The Shining on the big screen. Very nice of the  BFI to re-release The Shining the weekend after Room 237 came out.  “Yes,” says Ascher, raising a single, insinuating eyebrow “Isn’t that an interesting coincidence...”

Arts and Entertainment
Ellie Levenson’s The Election book demystifies politics for children
bookNew children's book primes the next generation for politics
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell Williams' “Happy” was the most searched-for song lyric of 2014
musicThe power of song never greater, according to our internet searches
Arts and Entertainment
Roffey says: 'All of us carry shame and taboo around about our sexuality. But I was determined not to let shame stop me writing my memoir.'
books
Arts and Entertainment
Call The Midwife: Miranda Hart as Chummy

tv Review: Miranda Hart and co deliver the festive goods

Arts and Entertainment
The cast of Downton Abbey in the 2014 Christmas special

tvReview: Older generation get hot under the collar this Christmas

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Transformers: Age of Extinction was the most searched for movie in the UK in 2014

film
Arts and Entertainment
Mark Ronson has had two UK number two singles but never a number one...yet

music
Arts and Entertainment
Clara Amfo will take over from Jameela Jamil on 25 January

radio
Arts and Entertainment
This is New England: Ken Cheeseman, Ann Dowd, Frances McDormand and Richard Jenkins in Olive Kitteridge

The most magnificently miserable show on television in a long timeTV
Arts and Entertainment
Andrea Faustini looks triumphant after hearing he has not made it through to Sunday's live final

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Rhys says: 'I'm not playing it for laughs, but I have learnt that if you fall over on stage, people can enjoy that as much as an amazing guitar solo'
musicGruff Rhys on his rock odyssey, and the trouble with independence
Arts and Entertainment
Krysia and Daniel (Hand out press photograph provided by Sally Richardson)
How do today's composers answer the challenge of the classical giant?
News
Shenaz Treasurywala
film
News
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Watkins as Christopher Jefferies
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Star Wars Director JJ Abrams: key character's names have been revealed
film
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell Williams won two BBC Music Awards for Best Song and International Artist
music
Arts and Entertainment
Mark, Katie and Sanjay in The Apprentice boardroom
TV
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    War with Isis: The West needs more than a White Knight

    The West needs more than a White Knight

    Despite billions spent on weapons, the US has not been able to counter Isis's gruesome tactics, says Patrick Cockburn
    Return to Helmand: Private Davey Graham recalls the day he was shot by the Taliban

    'The day I was shot by the Taliban'

    Private Davey Graham was shot five times during an ambush in 2007 - it was the first, controversial photograph to show the dangers our soldiers faced in Helmand province
    Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

    Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

    Many flyers are failing to claim compensation to which they are entitled, a new survey has found
    The stories that defined 2014: From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions

    The stories that defined 2014

    From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions
    Stoke-on-Trent becomes first British city to be classified as 'disaster resilient' by the United Nations

    Disaster looming? Now you know where to head...

    Which British city has become the first to be awarded special 'resilience' status by the UN?
    Finally, a diet that works: Californian pastor's wildly popular Daniel Plan has seen his congregation greatly reduced

    Finally, a diet that works

    Californian pastor's wildly popular Daniel Plan has seen his congregation greatly reduced
    Say it with... lyrics: The power of song was never greater, according to our internet searches

    Say it with... lyrics

    The power of song was never greater, according to our internet searches
    Professor Danielle George: On a mission to bring back the art of 'thinkering'

    The joys of 'thinkering'

    Professor Danielle George on why we have to nurture tomorrow's scientists today
    Monique Roffey: The author on father figures, the nation's narcissism and New Year reflections

    Monique Roffey interview

    The author on father figures, the nation's narcissism and New Year reflections
    Introducing my anti-heroes of 2014

    Introducing my anti-heroes of 2014

    Their outrageousness and originality makes the world a bit more interesting, says Ellen E Jones
    DJ Taylor: Good taste? It's all a matter of timing...

    Good taste? It's all a matter of timing...

    It has been hard to form generally accepted cultural standards since the middle of the 19th century – and the disintegration is only going to accelerate, says DJ Taylor
    Olivia Jacobs & Ben Caplan: 'Ben thought the play was called 'Christian Love'. It was 'Christie in Love' - about a necrophiliac serial killer'

    How we met

    Olivia Jacobs and Ben Caplan
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's breakfasts will revitalise you in time for the New Year

    Bill Granger's healthy breakfasts

    Our chef's healthy recipes are perfect if you've overindulged during the festive season
    Transfer guide: From Arsenal to West Ham - what does your club need in the January transfer window?

    Who does your club need in the transfer window?

    Most Premier League sides are after a striker, but here's a full run down of the ins and outs that could happen over the next month
    The Last Word: From aliens at FA to yak’s milk in the Tour, here’s to 2015

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    From aliens at FA to yak’s milk in the Tour, here’s to 2015