Thinking About Over-Thinking

17Oct12

I’ve just gotten through a rather fascinating set of videos by Rob Ager about the equally fascinating film “The Shining.” I got into it because of a trailer for the film “Room 237,” which focuses on the conspiracies and theories behind the hidden messages within the film that fans have found over the last 30 years. I haven’t seen “Room 237,” but having gone through Ager’s very able commentary, I can’t imagine too many surprises. Suffice it to say: people have been studying and reading ideas into “The Shining” for a long, long time.

But what of it?

I feel like fans often equate their ability to talk about a film with the quality of the movie. And while I won’t argue that “conversation starter” is bad, or that “The Shining” is a poorly made film, the fact that one can find crazy theories and hidden meanings within the film does not necessarily mean that the film itself is great, or even good. It just means that the people (and let’s play fair, the PERSON) making the film put in a lot of stuff into the movie.

I’m reminded again of my ongoing discussion of “Vertigo,” which has routinely been named Hitchcock’s most personal film. One of the most interesting parts of “Vertigo” is that the story centers on a man obsessed with making-over a woman into his image of the “cool blonde,” which Hitchcock himself was certainly guilty of doing. But doesn’t that make it possible that “Vertigo” only becomes uber-interesting to people who are aware of this in Hitchcock? It’s a post-modern layer that certainly makes the movie interesting to the studied, but it explains a bit of why the movie may have failed upon initial release.

Now comes Ager’s theories of “The Shining,” tying in the settlement of the United States/the elimination of Native Americans, and the ties to Gold and the Federal Reserve. Ager’s theories are well researched, and I cannot dispute them: it certainly seems like Kubrick was trying to internalize some strange message about the value of gold in American history. But does that actually make the film interesting, or just intentionally cryptic?

In what seems to be a completely unrelated topic, I recently listened to the “Fat Man on Batman” podcast, where host Kevin Smith interviewed “Batman: Brave and the Bold’s” Diedrech Bader. And Bader spoke of his story-telling theory and how he believes it ties to ancient humanity’s life as trackers. That we as cavemen didn’t have all the tools and abilities of other animals except for our minds, and we could use those minds to track our food. And when we didn’t successfully track our food, we felt unsatisfied. Bader equates this to the same feelings we have when we see an unsuccessful, unsatisfying story. Something in our brains keeps us going until we effectively track that game and nail it. Boom. We eat!

This theory initially reminded me of the ongoing thoughts concerning the “Star Wars” prequels, where things feel so shoddy and so unsatisfying, that the collective society keeps beating a dead horse in order to find some meaning in there. We all want it so badly, our brains* won’t let it go. We continue** to search for hidden meanings, connections and clues that will hopefully lead to a more satisfying experience.

This ties to the theories behind “The Shining” (and most Kubrick films, I’d imagine) because they are often so cryptic that we must puzzle them over for days, weeks and sometimes years before we feel we have been fully satisfied with them. Ager goes on (and on… and on) about the meaning of the gold standard in the film, and how this theme seems deeply hidden but plainly obvious with a little research. Again, I’m not denying that. And I suppose it’s interesting that Kubrick felt so strongly about the importance of gold that he put it in his horror film, but mask it deep beneath axe attacks, Indian burial grounds and the like so that nobody would actually get it.

It’s not that I don’t buy this theory, it’s that the theory is pointless. Even if it does make the movie more interesting (which I guess it does), what it really does is give an excuse to watch it again. What these theories really do is feed the fan’s obsession with the movie. They justify repeat viewings.

Which, by the way, I totally get. I love watching my beloved movies over and over again. And you do get more out of the good ones the more you watch them. But there comes a point where you have to stop and realize that maybe you’re staring at the same thing and forcing more meaning into things than is necessary, sane or important.

*Maybe just my brain. I’ll admit it.

**Oddly I do not feel this same compulsion with the last “Indiana Jones” movie, though it probably broke my heart more than the prequels. I offer the theory that since the Indiana Jones movies were never about anything more than the surface, and that they didn’t even tie together as one big over-arching story, they can be seen, digested and passed. The disappointment in one movie (say “Temple of Doom”) has nothing to do with the love of another movie (say “Raiders”). The “Star Wars” movies, on the other hand, are one big story, with foreshadowing of later events two movies ahead. The love of one movie has a direct influence on the feelings of the later movies. The DNA is different.

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