When Familial and Cinematic Histories Meet: A Review of Simon Roy’s “Kubrick Red”


Few books walk the space inhabited by Simon Roy’s Kubrick Red. At once obsessive, dark, philosophical, academic, and touching, Kubrick Red is a bizarre memoir that manages to deconstruct and celebrate Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining while laying out the hardest moments of Roy’s life as well as the continuing impact the film has had in his life. The result is a book that jumps from childhood memories to scene analyses to hybrid/experimental literary territory to coping with the loss of a loved one, and it does so with an ease and grace rarely seen in a debut.

Simon Roy’s relationship to the film The Shining is a perfect example of how people can develop meaningful, strange, lifelong connections to cultural products. Roy first saw the movie when he was ten years old. At the time, a particular line delivered by Dick Hallorann, the chef of the Overlook Hotel, while he is giving the Torrance family a tour of the hotel, stuck with him. “How’d you like some ice cream, Doc?” asks Hallorann telepathically. The impression left by that line/scene was so strong that Roy eventually came back to the movie. Then he watched it again. Now, the author and professor has seen the movie over 42 times (42 being a crucial number for Kubrick and in the book) and has taught it in many occasions. However, the bond between Roy and The Shining is deeper than that; he sees a correlation between the evilness presented in the film and his family’s “macabre lineage,” which includes murder and suicide. As he analyzes the film and Kubrick’s vision, Roy highlights the parallels between the narrative and his family’s troubled, bloody history and how finding those parallels has allowed him to better understand human nature, domestic violence, evil, and fate.

Roy’s writing is both elegant and succinct (kudos to Jacob Homel for the translation). He coveys information effectively but also constantly leaves the door open to interpretation. Much like Kubrick’s work, there is an in-your-face weirdness that hides multiple layers of meaning and almost begs for a deep, careful reading. That the writing will resemble the film’s nature, as well as the fact that there is more to it than a memoir that’s tied to a film, becomes clear early on:

I must have watched the shining at least forty times. I was ten years old at my first contact with The Shining. “How would you like some ice cream, Doc?” I watched it a few more times: simple curiosity. Then more regularly as a teacher. A little bit OCD myself, I like to pretend I’ve seen the movie forty-two times, even if I know it has to be more than that by now. Like a certainty that slowly takes shape, I realize that the interest shared by my students and myself for this excellent movie can’t be the only reason I systematically put Stanley Kubrick’s film in my syllabus. By now, weariness for his work would have overwhelmed me, was it not for the fact that The Shining contains the tragic signs of the flaw within me.

In the pages that follow that chapter, as well as in the rest of the book, Roy talks about his life, the film, and oftentimes about the correlation between the themes that can be found in both. When talking about his personal life, the author is candid. A dark, bloody family history that would be stashed away by most is brought out to center stage and exposed, analyzed, and explained. Awful actions leave awful marks that last generations, and Roy decided to deal with his family’s past in a very public way but with the same introspective, honest approach one would use while processing/coping with something alone. Then there’s The Shining, the film that is much more than celluloid or an adaptation of a novel by Stephen King. If Kubrick is a meticulous, hyperobservant, somewhat neurotic director, Roy is the same in terms of analysis and interpretation; an intelligent, perceptive observer ready to look beyond the veil. The way the film is written about here brings together academia and poetry in ways that make this memoir a must-read for fans of both:

Twelve hard knocks two through silence as deep as the grave. Twelve hard knocks ringing off a Navajo tapestry suspended in one of the Colorado Lounge’s walls. A determined-looking Jack Torrance stands before it. We can guess symmetric patterns of slender silhouettes, standing straight. Among them, two spindly azure figures. As the shot progresses—a shot where words are unnecessary—references to the Native American genocide are mixed in with allusions to the Holocaust under the empty gaze of a bison whose stuffed head observes the scene of symbolic destruction from on high.

That Roy has thought about the way The Shining and his personal history correlate is not that strange. However, that most reader will wholeheartedly agree with his views and understand why he became as obsessed as he did with the movie by the end of the book is a testament to his storytelling skills and writing chops. Furthermore, there is something else that merits mention here: for a debut that happens to be a memoir, Kubrick Red fits nicely in both genres while also having touches of true crime, history, drama, philosophy, and film studies. On top of that, of course, is the writing, which is as smart as it is poignant:

Solitude is dangerous. Over a prolonged period, it forces a person to face himself, to meditate and his destiny, on his feet. If the individual in question has nihilistic tendencies, solitude can lead him into the abyss of desperate thoughts.

Anvil Press, an independent publisher from Vancouver, landed on my radar recently, and if the two books I’ve checked out (this one and Peter Babiak’s outstanding Garage Criticism: Cultural Missives in an Age of Distraction) are any indication, you will be seeing many more reviews of their new titles from me. In the meantime, do yourself a favor and check out Kubrick Red and let the elevator doors of your mind open.


Kubrick Red
by Simon Roy; translated by Jacob Homel
Anvil Press; 160 p.

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