Kubrick's Room 237 and a Question of Sanity.

For those who don't know, and for those who do, room 237 is the room in The Overlook Hotel in Stanley Kubrick's film version of Stephen King's novel, "The Shining", which the character of Dick Hallorann warns Danny Torrance to stay away from. It is also the room which Jack Nicholson, playing Danny's father, Jack Torrance, enters, only to find an alluring, naked woman in a bath. As she stands up and moves towards Jack and they embrace, however, it becomes clear that, in fact, she is some kind of malevolent spirit, and soon she reveals her true form. For those who've seen the film, I needn't remind you of what happens.
But, "Room 237" is also the title of a recent documentary about "The Shining" in which various commentators reveal what they think are the hidden meanings and messages in the film, and I have to say that I found it fascinating, not least because of my own experience of mental ill health.
I was once delusional. And, I think, one of my main problems was delusions of reference. As far as I understand it, a delusion of reference involves reading a meaning into something which simply isn't there. Such delusions, I believe, usually concern irrelevant or unrelated phenomena being given a personal significance by the sufferer. So, for example, the way someone crosses their legs, or if they wear a certain shirt or tie, can become imbued with meaning.
In the documentary it appeared to me that many of the commentators were, in fact, experiencing some form of delusion about the meanings they (and apparently no one else) had found in "The Shining". Many different theories were espoused, from the belief that the film was really all about the genocide of Native Americans, to the thought that it was really a comment on the Holocaust, or the Apollo 11 moon landings. The reasons for these beliefs were scant indeed, and included the use of a certain kind of typewriter as a prop, or even just the use of a certain poster in the background of one shot in the film. It isn't surprising that, to me, with my own history of mental illness, such theories appeared to resemble delusions of reference. None of the people who commented, though, as far as I was aware, had their own histories of mental instability. Perhaps this would have explained it, but the fact that such people were, by all accounts, "sane", raises many interesting questions for me.
One understands that, perhaps, one can't really give any one interpretation of a work of art precedence over another. People interpret the meaning of such things in different ways, and, I suppose, most would be considered valid. It is, though, when the reasons for these interpretations become so outlandish and seemingly innocuous, that one begins to wonder about the sanity of those espousing them. The philosopher Roland Barthes once wrote about a "mania for meaning", and it would appear that the commentators in "Room 237" were indeed suffering from that particular malady.
But, I'm sure we've all at some point experienced a mild form of delusions of reference. Maybe we've been standing in a bar and everyone around us is talking. Are they talking about me? we might think. The fact that people are talking and the fact that you are there may be unrelated, but sometimes we can't help but have such vaguely paranoid feelings. And meaning. Who knows? If the commentators in this film are anything to go by, then the possibilities are endless. We're all here, constructing the world inside our own minds, and imposing that order (or lack of it) onto it.


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bazza said…
How could Roland Barthes criticise a 'mania for meaning'? I think that's what structuralism and semiotics are!
Anyway, I think The Shining is an iconic film. Goodmayes Mental Hospital is like that hotel as it happens, big empty corridors etc.
We have patients whose paranoia leads them to believe that not only people in the street but people on TV and in Films are talking about them. It's terribly sad and debilitating.
Bazza’s Blog ‘To Discover Ice’ is back. Click here for thrills!
David said…
Hi bazza,
I suppose what I was trying to get at in this post is that apparently "sane" people can have some pretty "insane" ideas. I think, once again, it raises the question of what is "normal", and exactly where the line is drawn between what is regarded as good mental health and mental illness.
In terms of meaning, it just occurred to me that we all, perhaps, have our own interpretations of things, and I suppose this would raise the question of whether there even is such a thing as "objective" reality.
Finally, I have every sympathy for the patients you mention. I should, because I once had the same sort of delusions. During my first psychotic episode I began to think that more or less everything on the radio and TV was to do with me, and I disappeared to London in that deluded state, eventually being picked up by the police in East Finchley and brought back home. So, I know it is sad to see people in such a condition, but as I can attest, recovery is possible, and there is hope. It is also sad, though, that people suffering from such experiences have to be housed in a place that reminds you of "The Shining"!
Thanks for your comment, bazza. Good to have you back.
Very Best Wishes,

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