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Antisemitism and Stanley Kubrick’s ‘The Shining’

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The Shining, which marks its fortieth anniversary this year, is probably the ur-horror film. Its template for pyschological horror has been much copied over subsequent decades.

Given its director’s ethnicity, which has been established by various authors (including myself), we can also view The Shining through the lens of Jewishness and Judaism. In so doing, we can consider The Shining as a midrash on Genesis 22, the Binding of Isaac. Or as a text full of Talmudic and kabbalistic references. The Shining has also been seen as the Holocaust film that Kubrick always wanted to make but never did.

My book which is out in paperback soon.

Even though I have been teaching and studying The Shining intensively for over fourteen years, new interpretations emerge all the time. Only recently, during my presentation at Limmud Together UK earlier this month, it was suggested that the frozen image of Jack Torrance, played by Jack Nicholson (see below), at the end of the film may actually suggest Lot and the pillar of salt of Genesis 19:26. This is because, to mimic snow, Kubrick used tonnes and tonnes of dendritic salt.

Jack ‘frozen’ in the snow/salt.

That’s the beauty of Kubrick’s films and The Shining in particular. As David David Mikics explains in his new book, Stanley Kubrick: American Filmmaker,

Because Kubrick is so lucid yet at times so enigmatic, a few of his movies seem tailor-made for conspiracy theorists. Legions of web-based crackpots long ago fell in love with The Shining.

After four decades it allows us to turn it over and over to find new interpretations. But the ones that have intrigued me most are the antisemitic ones.

Because Kubrick was Jewish, The Shining has spawned a host of conspiracy theories. The most famous is that Kubrick faked the moon landings at the behest of a ruling cabal and The Shining was his apology for having done it. (Yes, this is bonkers but see the movie Room 237 for a fuller explanation.) The simple reason for this is that what lies at the heart of many conspiracy theories are Jews and secret societies. According to such theories, the members of these so-called secret societies such as the Masons or the Illuminati are, in many cases, Jews. The Jewish banking family, the Rothschilds, for example, has frequently been the target of antisemitic conspiracy theories. So has George Soros.

An antisemitic meme.

Kubrick and The Shining have helped to feed, but also have fed upon, the appetite for conspiracy theories which wax and wane throughout history.

Such thinking has been applied to The Shining. When Jack is given a guided tour of the Overlook Hotel, he is told that it was ‘one of the stopping places for the jet set’, where the rich and powerful, including four presidents, vacationed and who surely made consequential decisions when they stayed there.

The very name of the Gold Room in the film implies an elite (as in ‘gold membership’), the sort of place where the money of an angry white man like Jack is ‘no good’ as ruled by the ‘orders of the house.’ That the ‘house’ might be controlled by Jews is alleged in such statements as this one:

‘Orders from the house’ could be referring to the European-based House of Rothschild, a banking dynasty which had dominated and controlled the majority of Europe’s central banks for hundred’s [sic] of years and which was also rumored to be the behind-the-scenes controlling force of the Federal Reserve System.

The author of this statement, Rob Ager, states that he does not personally promote antisemitic readings of Kubrick movies. He claims to have cited anti-Nazi themes in such Kubrick films as A Clockwork Orange and Dr. Strangelove. Look at his site and judge for yourself. But it is well known that the Rothschilds are Jewish and stand in (like George Soros) for an antisemitic, dog-whistle trope, whether its utterer is conscious of this or not.

The scene of a man wearing a bear or dog costume performing fellatio on another man dressed in a tuxedo (see below), supposedly the successful accountant, inventor and entrepreneur who once owned the Overlook Hotel, hints at the sort of deviant sexual behaviour of which Jews have been accused over the centuries. (In this respect, it is curious that Kubrick chose Jewish actor Peter Sellers to play the paedophile Clare Quilty in his 1962 adaptation of the controversial novel, Lolita.)  

Indecent behaviour

White Nationalists express admiration for The Shining, even though they know its director was Jewish. Jack is admired as an ’empty vessel’ to be ‘filled by the anger that storms through the [white] American male’, in the words of Mikics.

Comments featured on Stormfront.org, a White Nationalist forum, praised its politically incorrect language and content:

I wasn’t aware Kubrick was a Jew, but I have always been a fan of his adaptation of Stephen King’s ‘The Shining’. In fact, he changed the story around from where the black cook is the hero in the novel to where he’s killed in the movie.

Other posters express their approval for Kubrick’s repeated use of racial epithets (some of which are carried over into his 1987 Vietnam War film, Full Metal Jacket). For White Nationalists, The Shining was not the past, but a narrative still happening in contemporary America, and Kubrick was ‘woke’ to it.

This impulse towards conspiracy theories has and continues to motivate the fascination with Stanley Kubrick and The Shining. The film — for those who care to view the world in this way — reinforces images of conspiratorial cabals, engaged in shadowy, esoteric, sinister, occult, illicit, and corrupt practices.

Unfortunately, like most age-old conspiracies, this mindset places a Jew firmly at its heart. Where, in the film, Jack says, ‘We all have moments of déjà-vu, but this was ridiculous’, what we see in the reception of The Shining is the return of the  eternal fascination with yet simultaneous hatred of the Jew.

[This is an abridged version of a much longer academic article that can be read here.]

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I teach film studies at Bangor University in north Wales where I live. I research, write and broadcast regularly (in Welsh and English) on transatlantic Jewish culture and history.
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