All work and no play makes Stanley a space boy
What’s your favorite conspiracy theory? Maybe you’re partial to the suspicion that Nicolas Cage and Keanu Reeves are immortal vampires. Maybe you’re a “Berenstein truther” and believe you hail from an alternate universe where The Berenstain Bears has a slightly different spelling. Maybe you just like to lean back and laugh at the wild conjectures people come up with. Or maybe, like a certain sliver of tinfoil-hat wearing internet denizens, you believe NASA hired director Stanley Kubrick to fake the moon landing.
If that sounds crazy to you, you’re not alone. The theory has been floating around online for a decade or two, garnering nothing but ridicule from most who glance its way. Its origins likely lie with a 1995 Usenet spoof article that claimed the U.S. government held Kubrick’s communist brother, Raul, hostage in order to get Stanley to comply. A 2002 French mockumentary, Opération Lune, also parodied the idea. Both may have had unfortunate consequences—it seems like conspiracy theorists took them at face value. Their story (usually) goes as follows: NASA, impressed by Kubrick’s attention to realism in his military farce Dr. Strangelove, coerced the filmmaker into shooting a mock-up moon landing on a soundstage. Kubrick’s operatic sci-fi 2001: A Space Odyssey allegedly functioned as a grand Research and Development project for the whole ordeal—a test-run, if you will, for the special effects and front-screen projection techniques he would later use to create such a convincing forgery.
Like most madcap hypotheses, the Kubrick-NASA connection probably would have faded into binary oblivion. However, the efforts of a blogger named Jay Weidner kept it alive. He’s a fascinating figure: the orchestrator, the ringleader, the mastermind behind the theory who’s spent years collating a database of so-called evidence that he claims offers undeniable proof that Kubrick had his directorial fingers in the Apollo pie. His website is a sight to behold: among articles about alchemy and reality-duplicating Archons (described as our mysterious off-planet overlords) is a four-page breakdown of the techniques Kubrick supposedly used to dupe the world in 1969, and the telltale “mistakes” that give it all away. Dodgily-photoshopped diagrams and low-quality screenshots serve as Weidner’s shaky evidence, which is no more convincing than the ramblings of a flat-earther.
But it gets better. A huge slice of Weidner’s support for his surreal argument comes directly from Kubrick’s 1980 horror classic, The Shining. While an entertaining Stephen King adaptation for most, for Weidner the flick is a codex of layered ciphers that reveal the truth through metaphor and clue. It’s in his excruciating breakdowns of shots, scenes, and minute details that the theory holds most of its humor. Weidner’s section in Room 237, a documentary about the many interpretations of The Shining, is hilarious to say the least, but I’d be lying if I said it’s not enthralling. The entertainment value comes less from the absurdity of the clues themselves, and more from the Herculean effort Weidner puts in to make them line up with his theory. Let’s jump in.
The most obvious visual hint in The Shining is Danny Torrance’s Apollo 11 sweater, which he notably wears while standing up from a crouched position—Weidner swears this is supposed to represent the rocket launching into space. Second, Kubrick changed the room number from 217 in King’s novel to 237 in the film, a change intended to represent the distance from the Earth to the moon: 237,000 miles. A quick Google search will tell you the average distance is actually 238,900 miles. Close, though. Thirdly, rearranging “Room No.” on the key tag spells “Moon Room.” I guess? “All” in “all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy” can apparently be read as A11, or Apollo 11. The garish hexagonal patterns on the Overlook Hotel carpet represents NASA’s launching pads. The list goes on, growing more and more tenuous until Wiedner proposes that a Native American wall mural looks like shuttles taking off.
This merely scratches the surface though; Weidner’s speculation burrows deep into the fabric of the plot itself. To subscribers of this theory, The Shining is far more than just a movie sprinkled with clues. It’s a confession. Kubrick, according to some, was wracked by guilt over his actions, but remained tight-lipped for fear of being assassinated. He could only communicate what really happened through indirect means, and chose The Shining to adapt because its narrative mirrored his broken life in the wake of the Apollo fraud. The mental breakdown that Jack Torrance experiences during his term as caretaker, the constant lies he tells his wife Wendy, the murder of Dick Halloran after he finds out what’s happening up in the snowy lodge… all allegory for the tough consequences the director faced.
Despite all the evidence pointing in the complete opposite direction, it’s almost tempting to find some nugget of truth in Weidner’s copious writings. Wouldn’t we all like this to be true? Something so inexplicable and unlikely upending our current understanding of history and science that somehow hid in plain sight all along? Alas, there’s a close to zero chance that Weidner is anywhere near the mark. Let alone all of the thinly-drawn connections in The Shining, there’s such a disparity between Kubrick’s moon effects in 2001 and the Apollo footage that it’s impossible they were made by the same team.
We aren’t going to be rewriting our history books anytime soon. Sorry to disappoint. So where does this leave us? What good, if anything, has come from this loony thesis? It’s easy to look at Weidner and scoff; the man has dedicated so much of his time trying and failing to gain traction with this deraged concept. We can read it and laugh, watch his videos and roll our eyes. But in some ways, the “Stanley Kubrick faked the moon landing” theory is a testament to the human mind. We’re wired to find patterns, to look for connections between data no matter how dubious they may seem. Weidner and company may be looking for something that simply isn’t there. But at least they’re looking. That, I feel, is something to be admired.
Besides, there are a few clues that take feats of mental gymnastics to come up with—if Weidner were competing in the conspiracy Olympics, he’d win gold. For example, Kubrick’s final film Eyes Wide Shut was released on July 16th 1999, 30 years to the day since the Apollo 11 launch. That’s an impressive, even spooky, find. And how can I ignore my personal favorite: there were seven Apollo missions to the moon, but only six of them landed. How does Kubrick represent this? Of course, with a shot containing six crates of 7-Up. Pure genius.
Thomas Lawson is a second year Cinema & Photo major whose wardrobe for the Doctor Sleep screening involves a tinfoil hat. You can reach them at firstname.lastname@example.org. Art by Guinivere Fullerton, Contributing Artist.