HomeVisual CultureThis Is Uncanny: Number-play In Stanley Kubrick’s ‘The Shining’

This Is Uncanny: Number-play In Stanley Kubrick’s ‘The Shining’

In The Shining, Stanley Kubrick enthusiastically engages in playing with numbers, but is there any substantive meaning behind these numerical choices?

In The Shining, Stanley Kubrick heavily incorporates numerical patterns, consistently employing visual mirroring and doubling motifs throughout the film. More precisely, there are multiple instances of the numbers 42, 24, 21, and 12. To illustrate this, some visual aids can help clarify the intended significance:

At the end of the film, Jack Torrance is shown in a photo for a New Year’s Eve ball in 1921.
That photograph is also one of 21 framed photos hanging on one of the hotel’s walls.
Danny Torrance’s shirt has a 42 on the sleeve.
Wendy Torrance watches the film Summer of ‘42 on television.
Dick Hallorann’s rental car license plate has a prominent 42.
There are 42 vehicles in front of the Overlook at the beginning of Jack’s interview (not including the Sno-Cat).
237 the shining
In Room 237, the product of 2, 3, and 7 is 42. The sum of 2, 3, and 7 is 12.
Barstool in The Shining
When Jack first sees Lloyd the bartender, the barstools are arranged in a configuration of 4 and 2.
8am In The Shining
The two inter title times shown on screen are ‘8am’ and ‘4pm’, which add up to 12.

Other examples include:

  • Dick Hallorann’s enumeration of items in the freezer and pantry includes 12 turkeys, 24 pork roasts, 12-pound bags of sugar, and 12 jugs of black molasses.
  • The Overlook Hotel’s shortwave radio call sign is ‘KDK 12.’

The abundance of these occurrences argues against mere coincidence. For further evidence of Kubrick’s fascination with numerical symbolism, one can turn to the title page of his personal copy of Stephen King’s novel, The Shining. Here, Kubrick’s handwritten notes reveal his creative exploration of ways to incorporate the number 217. Originally, Room 217 was associated with a deceased woman in the novel, but at the Timberline Hotel’s request, Kubrick altered it to 237. This choice was not arbitrary but rather a deliberate decision.

The Shining address-and-date
Number 217 as Address and Date.

We can inquire into the reason behind this phenomenon. One possible explanation is that Kubrick delved into Sigmund Freud’s exploration of The Uncanny, where Freud delves into the disquieting impact of recurring numbers:

While we typically don’t ascribe any significance to receiving a cloakroom ticket with the number 62 or finding our cabin on a ship labeled with that number, the perception changes when two such seemingly inconsequential events occur in close proximity. For instance, encountering the number 62 multiple times in a single day or realizing that all numbered things, such as addresses, hotel rooms, and train compartments, consistently share the same digits. In such instances, we experience a sense of the uncanny.

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Prakriti Paudel
Prakriti Paudel
Prakriti Paudel, a meticulous editor and insightful writer, navigates the realms of storytelling with precision and creativity.

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