I’m soon off to the deserts and the Indian markets of southwest USA again, and one stop on the way will definitely be LACMA in Los Angeles which is hosting a large retrospective exhibition on the work of Stanley Kubrick. One film that I’m particularly interested in is ”The Shining”. Far from being a gore-hound, however, it is not the excessive bloodshed that draws me. Instead I will view it as an important reminder of the tragic past of the American Native People and the silence that still surrounds the historical atrocities. This is perhaps not the most obvious way to approach the film but I have journalist Bill Blakemore to thank for it.
In an influential article from 1987, Blakemore suggested that the genocide of the Native American is in fact the central, albeit hidden, theme of ”The Shining”. Indeed, Indian motifs and references abound in ”The Shining”. The Overlook Hotel, where the bloody action takes place, is itself said to be built on an Indian burial ground. Inside the hotel, the Colorado lounge, where Jack is writing his ”epic”, is adorned with a traditional Navajo textile. In the freezer, the shelves are stocked with cans of Calumet (a word for peace pipe) baking powder which are decorated by the cliché image of an Indian chief.
As Blakemore has it, all these references add up to ”The Shining” ”really” being about America’s preference to overlook the genocide by means of which its civilization is established.
Blakemore concludes on these dismal yet noteworthy words: ”Kubrick is examining in this movie not only the duplicity of individuals, but of whole societies that manage to commit atrocities and then carry on as though nothing were wrong. That’s why there have been so many murders over the years at the Overlook; man keeps killing his family and forgetting about it, and then doing it again… Though [Kubrick] has made here a movie about the arrival of Old World evils in America, he is exploring most specifically an old question: Why do humans constantly perpetuate such ”inhumanity” against humans? That family is the family of man.”
Kubrick was of course notoriously tight-lipped as to the ”true” meaning of his films. Consequently, they have spawned wildly different interpretations. Blakemore’s perspective is, however, one that I find not only plausible but also most politically urgent. It allows one to inject with moral outrage the bloodbaths that gushes forth on screen as well as those that have soiled the ground of the American nation.