Room 237


(out of 5)

No one could ever predict what director Stanley Kubrick was going to do next, and waiting for it was never easy either, so there’s no denying the shock to the system provided when a disturbing, chilling film like The Shining was released five years after his staid, Oscar-winning Barry Lyndon.  In the thirty years since its creation, this loose adaptation of Stephen King’s novel has become Kubrick’s most popular and discussed film along with 2001, and despite the X-rated shenanigans of A Clockwork Orange, his most controversial.  Rather than the debate over moral aptitude that his Burgess adaptation inspired, arguments over The Shining have generally focused on the possibilities of layers in its content: is it merely Kubrick treading water in genre filmmaking (albeit treading it with exquisite precision and strength)?  Or was he using the foundation of horror cinema, whose rise at the end of the seventies and early eighties was the crest of the wave that this film was riding on, as a method to deliver a deeper message in theme?  This entertaining documentary puts forth the theories of five individuals who have seen The Shining an inordinate amount of times and have plenty to say about it:  it’s a film about the Holocaust, it’s a film about America’s denial of the formation of the country through the destruction of Native culture, or it is Kubrick’s way of letting us know about his involvement in the falsified footage of the Apollo 11 moon landing.  For one woman there is a prevalence of minotaur imagery that ties in with Kubrick’s use of bull-like faces in his oeuvre.  In other sections we are given mapped out descriptions of the characters’ movements throughout the hotel that do not quite match up with a creditable architectural scheme (“The Impossible Window!”).  Then, of course, there is Room 237, where no one is allowed to go and from whence come visions of chilling strangeness.  Oddity is what is emphasized by director Rodney Ascher, who does not insult his speakers by making them sound like crackpot conspiracy theorists, but does not quite give them their due either.  We are given suspiciously little information about the people we are listening to: we neither see them nor are we given information about their lives (such as whether or not they are writers, teachers, etc).  Instead their commentary is played over footage from The Shining as well as others in the filmmaker’s canon, and then a host of other clips to accentuate their narrative (as there’s no actual minotaur in The Shining, Fellini’s Satyricon manages to come in handy).  Of course the theories being presented here reach extreme levels, but in all cases (including the moon-landing hoaxer), their hypotheses are supported by good visual and thematic evidence: just because they have seriously watched the film too many times and see too much in every detail does not put them in the same sphere as people who hear voices or see Jesus in their burned toast.  At worst they are overly analytical, and it is in the nature of academic film study to interpret details as being intentional and self-evident regardless of whether or not the theorist believes them to have been the conscious choice of the author.  Kubrick was, after all, famous for being tiresome about details, so who knows, maybe the continuity errors of shifting carpet patterns and impossible edits between floors were put there on purpose.  Thankfully, Ascher does not push the crazy button too hard (that is actually an expectation raised by the promotion of the film), but you don’t get the sense that he is fully confident about how to react to these people either.  For a half-baked film, it holds you in thrall throughout its entire running time, and even people who have never seen The Shining will get plenty out of this ride.

USA, 2012

Directed by

Screenplay by

Produced by

Music by ,

Film Editing by Rodney Ascher

Gotham Awards 2012

North Carolina Film Critics Awards 2012.  

Toronto International Film Festival:  2012

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