Directed by: Rodney Ascher
The contributors include:
- Bill Blakemore
- Juli Kearns
- Geoffrey Cocks
- John Fell Ryan
- Jay Weidner
Stanley Kubrick was bored. He had conquered the cinematic genre and accomplished everything he had wanted to achieve. A man with, reportedly, an IQ of 200 plus, Kubrick wanted his next movie “The Shining” (1980) to make use of carefully placed subliminal messaging to get the viewer to understand he wasn’t really telling the story of a man going mad in a remote Colorado hotel, he was indirectly telling the story of the genocide of the American Indian…. or was it the Holocaust?
So begins Rodney Ascher’s critically lauded documentary. It examines Stanley Kubrick’s classic horror movie “The Shining” in a very simple yet effective way. We hear the audio of 5 people discussing their theories about the film’s meaning: both its overt one and its covert one. I could call these people movie enthusiasts, or obsessives, or even cranks but that would dismiss what they had to say. In the course of the documentary’s 102 minute running time, we cover such wide-ranging topics as the genocide of the American Indian, the Holocaust, the Apollo 11 moon landings, Theseus & the Minotaur, deliberate (or not) continuity errors, impossible map locations and many many more. If Kubrick intended some or all of these then he really was a genius. He’d have to be.
Ascher, for his own part, has marshalled the material brilliantly. These ’theories’ are organised into coherent sections which are illustrated by pausing, replaying, rewinding and highlighting various parts of the movie itself. This would be a slog in itself but he also makes use of excerpts from the rest of Kubrick’s back catalogue of movies (“2001”, “A Clockwork Orange”, “Paths of Glory”, “Eyes Wide Shut”, “Full Metal Jacket” etc.”) There is a glorious moment at the beginning of the movie when one of the contributors (Bill Blakemore I believe) describes the moment he first saw the poster for “The Shining” and then went into the cinema to watch it. While we listen to his description of that moment in his life, we watch footage of Tom Cruise, hijacked from “Eyes Wide Shut”, walking down the mocked-up streets of New York’s Lower East Side at night and standing outside a movie theatre. Cruise stares at the original “Shining” poster, taking in the tag line “The tide of terror sweeping America is here” before walking into the cinema.
Now, I’m pretty sure this was the moment in “Eyes Wide Shut” that Cruise’s character drops in to see his old pal Nick Nightingale play piano at a late night jazz club but in Ascher’s documentary the footage is used to fit the audio description with great panache. In fact, this movie is near perfect in its content and approach. If there is a criticism, it is that there is a slight dip in the pacing about two-thirds of the way through but this is a minor quibble in the grand scheme of things. The eighties synthesiser music on the soundtrack doesn’t hurt either.
Of the theories themselves I will not divulge too much as that is the joy of the movie: discovering them for yourselves and judging them on their own merits. Some are more plausible than others, some are laugh-out-loud ridiculous but in Ascher’s hands they are never dull.
The one theory that I particularly enjoyed detailed the spat between Stephen King, whose novel “The Shining” was based on, and Kubrick himself. King was apparently apoplectic that Kubrick had bastardised his novel to such an extent that it was almost unrecognisable when it came to the movie. Consequently, Kubrick in response showed the main character, played by Jack Nicholson, driving a yellow VW beetle instead of the red VW beetle that King had written. Now this may not seem a significant change yet Kubrick also included a red VW beetle in the movie; only this one is shown as having been crushed by a massive car accident. Reading between the lines, this could be interpreted as a massive two-fingered salute from Kubrick to King. In those terms, it is understandable why King may have been moved to engineer another version of “The Shining” which more closely followed his original intention.
And that’s the point behind this movie: what is the author’s intention? What did King intend? What did Kubrick intend? The internet is full of countless blogs, books and articles which have tried to ascertain the meaning behind “The Shining” and countless other movies throughout the entire history of cinema. Yet, Ascher, perhaps paradoxically, decided early on in the process not to ask the maker’s of the movie he was myopically examining to tell their version of events. No one involved in the making of “The Shining” was ever contacted. This was because he felt that “even if you know the intention of the author, it doesn’t necessarily make sense of it all”.
Despite all the great theories and all the great footage from Kubrick’s movies (which are absolutely stunning on the big screen), this documentary has something celebratory to say about movies and art generally. Namely, that it is collaborative process where the viewer adds in their own experiences and interpretations so that the meaning can be vastly different for each person. While Kubrick’s work is seemingly ideal to attach many conspiracy theories too, given his own perfectionism and ludicrous attention to detail, this really could have been any movie we were examining. Indeed, you don’t have to be a fan of “The Shining” to enjoy this documentary. You can just be a fan of movies.
By way of further illustration, my own interpretation of “Room 237” added in my personal experience of a read through for new playwrights’ work I attended earlier this week. It became clear to see that plays (and movies by extension) take on a life of their own when actors, writers and directors all bring their own experiences and their own interpretations to bear on a piece of work. The meaning of the piece is consequently often altered as a result, through this collaboration. Yet, the final important piece of collaboration is when the viewer takes in the production.
Ascher’s documentary, therefore, can be seen both as an intense examination of “The Shining” and as a hymn to the beautiful interactivity of cinema.
Or, am I just reading too much into it?
IN SHORT: Brilliant examination of “The Shining”, and the interactivity of film-watching itself.
Rating : 4.5 out of 5 stars
Enjoy your stay at the Overlook!
What did you think? Did you enjoy “Room 237“? Rate it below here:
- Read about the film on IMDB.
- Read about the film on Rottentomatoes.com
- Read Peter Bradshaw’s review in the Guardian
- Read Xan Brooks review of the film in the Guardian
- Read a review in the Telegraph
- Read a review in the Huffington Post
- Read about “The Shining” on Wikipedia
- Read about the film on Wikipedia
- Read a review of the film on Empire’s website
- Check out the film’s own site: room237movie.com
WATCH THE TRAILER FOR “ROOM 237” BELOW:
WATCH THE TRAILER FOR “THE SHINING” (1980) BELOW: