Film critic Jonathan Romney writes that the film has been interpreted in many different ways; as being about the crisis in masculinity, sexism, corporate America, and racism: "It's tempting to read The Shining as an Oedipal struggle not just between generations but between Jack's culture of the written word and Danny's culture of images...." Romney writes, "Jack also uses the written word to more mundane purpose – to sign his 'contract' with the Overlook. 'I gave my word,' [..] which we take to mean 'gave his soul' in the [..] Faustian sense. But maybe he means it more literally – by the end [..] he has renounced language entirely, pursuing Danny through the maze with an inarticulate animal roar. What he has entered into is a conventional business deal that places commercial obligation [..] over the unspoken contract of compassion and empathy that he seems to have neglected to sign with his family." These varied interpretations spawned the 2012 documentary Room 237, directed by Rodney Ascher, which provides an in-depth exploration of various interpretations of, and myths surrounding, the film.
Among interpreters who see the film reflecting more subtly the social concerns that animate other Kubrick films, one of the earliest and most well-known viewpoints was discussed in an essay by ABC reporter Bill Blakemore entitled "Kubrick's 'Shining' Secret: Film's Hidden Horror Is The Murder Of The Indian", first published in The Washington Post on July 12, 1987. He believes that indirect references to American killings of Native Americans pervade the film as exemplified by the Indian logos on the baking powder in the kitchen and Indian artwork that appears throughout the hotel, though no Native Americans are ever seen. Stuart Ullman tells Wendy that when building the hotel a few Indian attacks had to be fended off since it was constructed on an Indian burial ground.
Blakemore's general argument is that the film as a whole is a metaphor for the genocide of Native Americans. He notes that when Jack kills Hallorann, the dead body is seen lying on a rug with an Indian motif. The blood in the elevator shafts is, for Blakemore, the blood of the Indians in the burial ground on which the hotel was built. As such, the fact that the date of the final photograph is July 4 is meant to be deeply ironic. Blakemore writes,
As with some of his other movies, Kubrick ends The Shining with a powerful visual puzzle that forces the audience to leave the theater asking, "What was that all about?" The Shining ends with an extremely long camera shot moving down a hallway in the Overlook, reaching eventually the central photo among 21 photos on the wall. The caption reads: "Overlook Hotel-July 4th Ball-1921." The answer to this puzzle, is that most Americans overlook the fact that July Fourth was no ball, nor any kind of Independence day, for native Americans; that the weak American villain of the film is the re-embodiment of the American men who massacred the Indians in earlier years; that Kubrick is examining and reflecting on a problem that cuts through the decades and centuries.
Blakemore also sees this film as similar to other Kubrick films where evil forces get weak men to do their bidding.
Film writer John Capo sees the film as an allegory of American imperialism. This is exemplified by many clues; the closing photo of Jack in the past at a 4th of July party, or Jack's earlier citation of the Rudyard Kipling poem "The White Man's Burden". The poem has been interpreted as rationalizing the European colonization of non-white people, while Jack's line has been interpreted as referring to alcoholism, from which he suffers.
Geoffrey Cocks and Kubrick's concern with the Holocaust
Film historian Geoffrey Cocks has extended Blakemore's idea that the film has a subtext about Native Americans to arguing that the film indirectly reflects Stanley Kubrick's concerns about the Holocaust (Both Cocks' book and Michael Herr's memoir of Kubrick discuss how he wanted his entire life to make a film dealing directly with the Holocaust, but could never quite get the handle on it that satisfied him). Cocks is a cultural historian best known for describing the impact of the Holocaust on subsequent Western culture. Cocks, writing in his book The Wolf at the Door: Stanley Kubrick, History and the Holocaust, proposed a controversial theory that all of Kubrick's work is informed by the Holocaust; there is, he says, a strong (though hidden) holocaust subtext in The Shining. This, Cocks believes, is why Kubrick's screenplay goes to emotional extremes, omitting much of the novel's supernaturalism and making the character of Wendy much more hysteria-prone. Cocks places Kubrick's vision of a haunted hotel in line with a long literary tradition of hotels in which sinister events occur, from Stephen Crane's short story "The Blue Hotel" (which Kubrick admired) to the Swiss Berghof in Thomas Mann's novel The Magic Mountain, about a snowbound sanatorium high in the Swiss Alps in which the protagonist witnesses a series of events which are a microcosm of the decline of Western culture. In keeping with this tradition, Kubrick's film focuses on domesticity and the Torrances' attempt to use this imposing building as a home which Jack Torrance describes as "homey".
Cocks claims that Kubrick has elaborately coded many of his historical concerns into the film with manipulations of numbers and colors and his choice of musical numbers, many of which are post-war compositions influenced by the horrors of World War II. Of particular note is Kubrick's use of Penderecki's The Awakening of Jacob to accompany Jack Torrance's dream of killing his family and Danny's vision of past carnage in the hotel, a piece of music originally associated with the horrors of the Holocaust. As such, Kubrick's pessimistic ending in contrast to Stephen King's optimistic one is in keeping with the motifs that Kubrick wove into the story.
Cocks' work has been anthologized and discussed in other works on Stanley Kubrick films, but sometimes with skepticism. In particular, Julian Rice writing in the opening chapter of his book Kubrick's Hope believes Cocks' views are excessively speculative and contain too many strained "critical leaps" of faith. Rice holds that what went on in Kubrick's mind cannot be replicated or corroborated beyond a broad vision of the nature of good and evil (which included concern about the Holocaust), but Kubrick's art is not governed by this one single obsession. Diane Johnson, co-screenwriter for The Shining, commented on Cocks' observations and holds that preoccupation with the Jewish Holocaust on Kubrick's part could very likely have motivated his decision to place the hotel on a Native American burial ground, although Kubrick never directly mentioned it to her.