AKA Room 237: Being an Inquiry Into ‘The Shining’ in 9 Parts
DIRECTED BY: Rodney Ascher
FEATURING: Offscreen interviewees and archival footage of The Shining stars
PLOT: Five obsessed fans explain their intricate theories about the horror classic The Shining.
WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: Stanley Kubrick‘s The Shining is a strange movie, but not half as weird as Room 237‘s obsessed fans believe it to be. This documentary is an off-the-wall must-see for dedicated fans of Kubrick’s lone horror effort, but it’s not that weird in itself; it just has some nerdy weirdo cinephiles as its subject.
COMMENTS: You shouldn’t interpret a Stanley Kubrick film the same way you would read an esoteric Alejandro Jodorowsky effort, but try telling that to Room 237‘s amateur film critics. Five obsessed fans explain their intricate gnostic theories about the horror classic, from the nearly plausible (it’s an allegory for the Holocaust) to the totally batty (it’s Kubrick’s guilt-ridden confession that he helped fake the moon landing). These commentators aren’t stupid—one of them has spent hours meticulously mapping out the impossible topography of the Overlook Hotel—but they are eager to attach abnormal importance to the movie’s most random moments. One thinks the appearance of a can of “Calumet” brand baking powder indicates that the movie is about the slaughter of American Indians; the guy who contends the movie is about the Holocaust counts 42 cars in the Overlook parking lot (Hitler began his “final solution” in 1942). The fact that little Danny once wears an Apollo 11 t-shirt at one point is damning evidence to the lunar landing conspiracy theorist.
These people have pored over the movie frame by frame, and they are able to point out plenty of little details and continuity that the casual viewer would have missed (the way the geometric pattern on the carpet reverses itself just before Danny sees the vision of the murdered twins had to be done on purpose, to subliminally disconcert us). They are also capable of seeing things that aren’t really there: one sees a minotaur in a background poster of a man skiing, another sees Kubrick’s face airbrushed into the clouds. Sometimes they provide legitimate insights: the lone female fan uncovers legitimate labyrinth imagery suggesting connections to the story of Theseus, another ruminates about how the film evokes the eternal recurrence of evil. But they underplay these valid points in favor of the more outlandish interpretations they find more interesting.
The most intelligent of the commentators, who seems to be some sort of historian, at least recognizes that his interpretation isn’t the only possible one, and admits it may not have been what Kubrick intended. In postmodern style, he argues that the artwork speaks for itself and its “meaning” is constructed in a dialogue between the artist and audience. This is true enough, but watching this sort of mangled thinking is disturbing, even when it’s directed at something as meaningless as the “meaning” of a horror movie. After all, there is nothing stopping a man who is capable of spinning out an elaborate genocidal theory based on the image on a can of baking powder in the background of a horror movie from serving on a jury where he may hold a man’s fate in his hands. Room 237′s official site includes the following strange disclaimer: “THE VIEWS AND OPINIONS EXPRESSED IN THIS DOCUMENTARY FILM ARE SOLELY THOSE OF THE COMMENTATORS IN IT AND DO NOT REFLECT THE VIEWS OF STANLEY KUBRICK OR THE SHINING FILMMAKERS.” Tell me about it.
Obviously, only those familiar with The Shining will want to tune in to Room 237. Visually, Ascher’s documentary is composed almost entirely of footage from The Shining, which is rewound, drawn upon, and altered (at one point Wendy watches herself watching herself on television in an infinite regression). Clips of other movies also illustrate the fans’ batty hypotheses, from just about every Kubrick movie to a peek at the minotaur from Satyricon. One of the most interesting bits is a replay of a few choice moments of synchronicity from an experimental showing of The Shining where the movie was projected backwards and forwards at the same time, superimposed on the same screen. Watching a calm Jack Nicholson interviewing for the caretaker’s job while a crazed version of his future self is hobbling through a hedge maze with an axe is an amazingly creepy sight. A British DVD release is scheduled for February 2013; no American release date has been set.
WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:
“[It has] a feel as strange as it’s subject matter.”–The Sun (contemporaneous)