Kubrick’s The Shining: the differences between book and movie and the moon landing conspiracy theory

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The Shining, one of Stanley Kubrick’s latest films, has been for years the subject of a thousand theories, conspiracies and debates. Taken from one of the first successful novels by Stephen King, the film has voluntarily marked many substantial differences with the book, differences that have been the subject of several analyses by fans and experts.

The Shining

One of the main controversies concerns the final, completely different from the book. In Stephen King’s story, a determining factor in the management of the Overlook Hotel is the defective boiler in the basement, whose pressure should be adjusted periodically to avoid an explosion. That’s what’s going to happen in the final stages of the novel, where Jack Torrance loses control, and no one will care about the boiler, which eventually blows up the entire hotel with Jack inside. The film, on the other hand, ends with the famous scene in the labyrinth (above), where Jack Torrance/Nicholson freezes to death as Wendy and Danny escape. The scene of the Labyrinth is also one of the pivotal points of one of the many conspiracy theories around the film, in particular the one that would see it as a metaphor of the legend of the Minotaur in the labyrinth of Knossos.

It is not the only difference between film and book, but only the most obvious of a series of stylistic choices that will piss off even Stephen King, refusing to accept the film as a true representation of his novel. Someone says that Kubrick himself was explicitly making fun of Stephen King and his refusal to accept the differences of the film: one of the most cited examples is the red Volkswagen that Dick Halloran sees on the road when driving towards the Overlook to rescue Danny: in the book, a red Volkswagen is precisely the car driven by the Torrance family at the beginning of the story. Someone thinks it’s a very specific message.


In an interview on Entertainment Weekly, the screenwriter of the film Diane Johnson has actually explained why the movie deviates so much from the book, especially in the final: it seems that, simply, Kubrick did not like the idea of blowing up the hotel, he considered it a cliché. He preferred instead to build the final in the labirynth, and then focus on the famous zoom on the photo of the hotel, with Jack in the front row, as a metaphor of the eternal presence of evil. A pure cinematic intuition, apparently.

The most elaborated and complete theory, however, remains the one that sees in The Shining a real confession of Stanley Kubrick for a secret that he just couldn’t admit: the alleged contribution as secret director of the moon landing scene. The basic idea of this theory is to sum up all the analyses that have been around for years about the doubts and oddities of that famous shooting and infer that, if the scene is a fake, there must have been a master shooting it. The idea that that master was Kubrick comes from a long series of details within the film: like the Apollo 11 in Danny’s shirt when he’s playing in the hallway, or the famous room 237, which in the book is actually the 217, changed by Kubrick in reference to the distance between the Earth and the Moon, which is (about) 237 thousands miles.


This theory exists since 2010 and it’s the main topic of 2012’s documentary Room 237, considered by many the best love letter to Kubrick’s movie ever made. For the record, it must be said that some time ago Kubrick’s daughter, Vivian, published on Twitter this long response letter, strongly rejecting the conspiracy and stating that a man so devoted to artistic integrity and intellectual honesty as his father could never do anything like this.

Nobody knows who’s right. And in some way, it’s the beautiful part of reality: dreamers around the world can believe in what they want, eventually skipping or ignoring proofs on one or the other side. In the meanwhile, about The Shining, Stanley Kubrick and the messages hidden inside his movies we will keep talking forever.

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