There are hundreds, maybe thousands of theories on The Shining, but there are only two I truly believe to be true intentional elements of the film: The Shining is heavily tied to the genocide of the Native Americans, and to the Holocaust; both theories addressing the cycle of murder, disrespect, and violence, aspects that were extremely potent in both events.
These theories come from Bill Blakemore and Geoffrey Cocks and showed up in the documentary Room 237, a movie about the different theories people have made about the film. However, upon rewatching both the documentary and the film, all these people seem to have the notion that they’ve found that one definitive answer to the film, that it all boils down to a single theme or idea. I believe there are multiple layers, as there often are to any story, and that’s why I believe the two theories I listed above are much more similar than the two theorists say they are. I do feel that both theories provide lots of good evidence, and with my most recent two viewings of the film looking at it from the lens of the theories, I found details that weren’t stated in the original statements that back them up EXTREMELY well. I want to quickly cover a few of the visual references to these events seen in the documentary below, then we’ll get into my interpretation of these theories.
Most of the basis of the first theory stems from the many references and mentions in the script of how the hotel was made over a Native American burial ground. The theory keeps with this one idea for a long long time, and I feel that that’s where the story starts, but that it develops differently than this theory suggests. I believe that these injustices from then on are cemented into the hotel, and a cycle of death and recurring events are made. This cycle is almost a reincarnation of sorts, involving a corrupt man reverting back to his base instincts and murdering his children as well as his wife. There are more pieces of this that we will get into later. As for the Holocaust references, I believe that they are more in support of the general themes of genocide and the mistreatment of human life, as well as these events reoccurring, the Holocaust being yet another devastating genocide in our history. Over the decades, the hotel has developed a mind of it’s own, finding those who are unjust and primal, (like the ones who built The Overlook in the beginning) using their base instincts and desires to test them, such as using Jacks alcoholic past and his disregard of his wife, offering him what he is truly looking for through Lloyd the bartender and the woman in room 237. These are trials meant to test Jack, and the hotel ultimately deems him unworthy, and persuades him to kill his family, and in the process, bring that fate upon himself.
The hotel as a character is dark and sinister, but is also fair to an extent, like all good villains. Before he unleashes those who are deemed immoral upon their family, the hotel seems to give the victims, those who are pure, a chance to gain the upper hand by giving them a vision through the shining. Danny receives the vision of the blood elevator, and it is hinted that Mr.Grady’s daughters knew the events that were soon to come as he mentions that they attempted to burn down the hotel. The daughters of Mr. Grady are unsuccessful in their attempt to escape the events to come, however, Danny is a smart kid and is able to help his mother escape through a lucky series of events.
So, to back up all the things I’ve stated above, much of the evidence is seen in the color theory of The Shining. Every review and analysis of the film extensively mentions the color red. This color is EVERYWHERE in the film, and if I listed all the red items, costumes, set decorations, and everything else, I’d be here FOREVER. To make things shorter, I decided to make a bullet point list of some important red items that relate to this theory.
• The blood elevator is filled with dark red blood
• Jack’s jacket in the second half of the movie is a dark red
• The sweater Danny wears when he is communicating to Haloran is red
• Haloran’s phone he uses to check on the Overlook is red
• The bathroom Mr.Grady cleans Jack up in is red
• The tag on the key for room 237 is red
• Lloyd the bartender wears a red jacket
These things all contribute to red being the color that represents the violence and the impending doom that has occurred time and time again on the hotel grounds. Sometimes the color red is used to show when the hotel is manifesting a test for Jack, such as the woman in room 237 represented by the red room key and Lloyd the bartender in his red suit jacket, both of them offering things that tempt Jack.
Jack is first seen wearing red in his last moment of clarity, when he has a dream of murdering and mutilating Wendy and Danny. He is asleep at his desk in the Colorado Lounge, screaming in his sleep, eventually woken up by Wendy and falling to the floor covered in cold sweats. He is clearly horrified about his dream and looks around paranoid, saying “I must be loosing my mind”. His decent into madness has already fully began, but this peek into his future snaps him out of it one last time. But unfortunately, not for long. When Danny walks into the Lounge with bruises and a ripped up sweater, Wendy runs across the room to check on him. By the time she turns around to rightfully accuse Jack of more violent acts towards their son, he is gone, his reaction the this accusation being a blank confused stare into nothingness. He now only has to follow the path set by the Overlook. From this point on, his deep red jacket is never removed.
The color red is also used to communicate to the audience what the characters are focusing on, like Danny shining to Haloran in a red sweater, telling us that he is showing Haloran what is going to happen at the Overlook if help doesn’t arrive. The red phone Haloran uses also shows that he has these visions on his mind when he contacts the park rangers to check in with the Overlook soon after.
And of course, the blood elevator, showing all these things combined into one visual image. In a vision transmitted to Danny through the shining, the scene shows a gigantic river of blood pouring out of an elevator; one of the most iconic shots of all time. This could be taken as the blood of victims of the hotel or the blood of the Native Americans as the original Native American genocide theory suggests. This vision shows the inevitably of murder and death, as well as the temptations to come for his father, through Lloyd and room 237 later in the film.
Now, we talk about yellow. This color seems to be somewhat undiscovered territory for theories on The Shining, or at least the ones I’ve seen and read. The color yellow has some examples as well.
• The Golden Room is a yellow color
• The room the Torrance’s stay in has off yellow wallpaper, as well as yellow trim and doors
• The hallway that Danny sees Mr.Grady’s daughters’ corpses in is an off yellow color with the same yellow trim from the Torrance’s room
• One of Wendy’s sweaters is yellow
• The whiskey Jack drinks is a yellow color when placed on the lit counter top
• The dog giving oral sex to the man in the bedroom at the end of the film is yellow
• The color of the iconic poster for the film is one giant block of yellow
The color yellow represents the past. The Gold Room may be the most obvious example of this as it relates to the massive party that happened in the 1920’s at the hotel, where many female guests are wearing golden colored dresses. The yellow dog also ties into that theme of the past, as those two were at the 1920’s party as well.
Wendy’s jacket is also yellow, and while it seemed somewhat unimportant at first, upon closer inspection, the jacket has depictions of Native American teepees as well as cacti, bringing in the tie of the Native Americans being linked to the past.
This motif of yellow representing the past also carries over into things like the internal struggles of Jack, shown in the color whiskey he drinks at the bar with Lloyd being a yellow color (despite the bottle showing a bronze colored drink) representing his past struggles of alcoholism.
This is where things get interesting. These colors, at key times, cross over. Here are some examples.
• The blood of Mr.Grady’s daughters are smeared on the yellow hotel walls
• Mr.Grady spills bright yellow drinks on Jack’s red jacket
• Some of the furniture in The Golden Room is red
• The bartender Lloyd, wearing red, gives Jack, also wearing red, a yellow drink of whiskey
• Danny in his red sweater comes across the twins in the yellow hallway
• Danny writes REDRUM in red lipstick on a yellow bathroom door
These instances symbolize key moments that cement Jack’s transition into insanity. Lloyd, being a manifestation of the hotel, wears red. Lloyd appears later in the film, in the same scene that Jack starts wearing red. At the bar, Lloyd gives Jack a yellow drink, which he accepts. This is the hotel, giving him a taste of the past, of both his battle with alcoholism and his violent actions toward Danny. Jack’s true feelings towards his family are revealed here, including his blatant disrespect of his wife and hatred of his son, feeling that both of them only make his life harder and on the whole, worse. Jack’s red jacket symbolizes his violent instincts towards his family, and Lloyd, a manifestation of the hotel, wears red symbolizing the support of these ideas, and giving him his yellow drink of his past, to entice him. The furniture in The Gold Room being red functions in the same way as the whiskey, the hotel is putting their hidden motives of violence in plain sight.
However, by far my favorite connection between red and yellow relates to both the drinks on Jack’s jacket, and the blood of Mr.Grady’s daughters on the walls of the hotel. The murder scene shows red on yellow, and is the work of the caretaker of the hotel. When Jack gets the drinks spilled on him at the party, he is taken to a bathroom and finds out that this is indeed Mr.Grady, the man who murdered his daughters and wife in the hotel.
It is here that he remarks that that’s strange, as Jack has always been the caretaker of the hotel. The yellow drinks represent the past, of Mr.Grady’s role of hotel caretaker and eventual murderer of his family, spilled on Jack’s red jacket, representing the inevitable murder of his own family.
The colors of the murder scene and the spilled drinks are reversed, just like the two character’s roles and actions in the story. This is where that cycle element comes back in all the way back from the beginning of this theory. These events are shown to happen over and over, and this color theory is too intentional in my mind to be taken any other way. This is also shown when Mr.Grady remarks that Jack has “Always been there”, and he means it. These events and people have been part of the cycle for a long time, and it will only continue, just like it did for Jack and for Mr.Grady.
Tying the idea of rolls being connected back in, when Danny rides in on his trike, he sees the twins in the yellow hallway, a place of the past. when the walls and twins become covered in blood, the color red is also seen in Danny’s jacket, telling us that this will also be his fate.
And finally, when Danny writes REDRUM on the yellow bathroom door in red lipstick, the red color symbolizes the ties to repeated violence and is literally writing out MURDER in reverse, further cementing red’s meaning into the color theory. Writing with red on the yellow is a direct way of saying that the past violence is here, and not but ten seconds after he finishes his warning, the thud of his father’s axe is heard outside their front door.
I also wanted to mention a third color; orange. When I saw the red and yellow, I started looking for connective tissue and discovered that the color orange is only used a couple times, but in a way I’d like to mention.
1.) In the room Jack is being interviewed at the Overlook, the same room where the communications radio is located, the walls are painted a drab orange color
2.) A slightly redder orange color is seen on the walls of the Torrance’s bathroom before Danny gets his vision from Toni
These two events occur in the first 10 or so minutes of the movie, and this color represents a space between the past and the future impending violence of the hotel. In both of these scenes, there are major moments nudging Danny and Jack towards the start of the reincarnation of the cycle, as we Jack receives his job at the hotel and Danny receives his vision of the violence about to occur at the hotel. The more direct connection to eventual violence is why Danny’s orange is more towards the red side.
When Wendy is wearing her yellow sweater, she also enters the orange painted office inside the Overlook to use the radio. Wendy’s sweater features depictions of Native Americans as stated before, and this scene takes place right before Jack begins his attempt to “correct” his family. The radio is the only connection the Overlook has to the outside world, and the park ranger states that she should “keep the radio on all the time now” just in case. Her sweater being covered in Native American connections also references the events soon to come and the events of the past.
The Shining is a great film. I love how many layers it has and how many themes you can draw from it. Every time you watch it, it’s a new experience. And all the small details I listed, as well as the hundreds I didn’t, add up to the greatest cinematic puzzle ever made. And to this day, I still love trying to solve it.
Rereading this, I can see there are lots of connections to be made that I’m STILL discovering today as I am uploading this. I added a few more parts to this, such as further explaining Wendy’s yellow sweater in the hotel manager’s office and the scene between Jack and Lloyd, and a few other things as well. There is a lot more to delve into, and if you find connections, I would love to hear them in the comments! If you liked this and want to read more, I have a second part to this theory on the film’s sequel, Doctor Sleep, which you can find here: https://willrhami.com/doctor-sleep-the-past-does-not-define-you