Stanley Kubrick provided clear explanations for the cryptic endings of his two most famous movies to filmmaker Jun'ichi Yao during a phone call that was filmed for an unreleased documentary in 1980.
"People are wondering," Yao asked Kubrick about 2001: A Space Odyssey, "what is the meaning of the last scene? Could you give us answers?" Yao is referring to the scene where astronaut Dave Bowman is lying in a bed of a richly appointed house.
At first, Kubrick says he's reluctant to reveal his interpretation: "I tried to avoid doing this ever since the picture came out because when you just say the ideas, they sound foolish, whereas if they're dramatized, one feels it."
But he goes on to say, "The idea was supposed to be that he is taken in by godlike entities — creatures of pure energy and intelligence with no shape or form, and they put him in what I suppose you could describe as a human zoo to study him. And his whole life passes from that point on in that room, and he has no sense of time, it just seems to happen as it does in the film.
"And they choose this room, which is a very inaccurate replica of French architecture, deliberately so inaccurate, because one was suggesting that they had some idea of something that he might think was pretty but weren't quite sure, just as we aren't quite sure what to do in zoos, with animals, to try to give them what we think is their natural environment. And anyway, when they get finished with them, as happens in so many myths, of all cultures in the world, he is transformed into some kind of super being sent back to Earth. You know, transformed and made into some sort of superman. And we have to only guess what happens when he goes back. It is a pattern of a great deal of mythology. And that was what we're trying to suggest."
Yao then asks Kubrick about the last scene of The Shining, where Jack Nicholson appears in a hotel party photo from the 1920s.
Kubrick says, "Well, it was supposed to suggest a kind of evil reincarnation cycle where he is part of the hotel's history. Just as in the men's room when he's talking to the ghost of the former caretaker who says to him, 'You are the caretaker. You've always been the caretaker. I should know. I've always been here.' One is merely suggesting some kind of endless cycle of evil reincarnation, and also — well, that's it. Again, it's the sort of thing that I think is better left unexplained, but since you asked me, I'm trying to explain."