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Directed by Rodney Ascher
Starring Bill Blakemore, Geoffrey Cocks, Juli Kearns, Stanley Kubrick, Stephen King, Jack Nicholson, Shelly Duvall
Originally Released: January 23, 2012
If you haven’t checked it out yet, my fellow G.O.D. standing for the horror fans, FamousMonster, put together an awesome 31 Days of Horror list to get you all ready for Halloween this year. While running through his list, I came across one film that grabbed my consideration immediately, for I had not seen it before: Room 237.
That’s because it’s a documentary, and not a horror flick. Not that I do not watch documentaries (I like a doco thing), but I’d just never seen it before. Room 237’s mission is simple – get in touch with as many Stanley Kubrick enthusiasts as possible and ask them to deliver their differed and in-depth interpretations of the filmmaker’s adaptation of Stephen King’s The Shining.
The Kubrick Universe is a relatively new galaxy for me – only in recent years have I taken the time and effort to explore The Shining, A Clockwork Orange, and so on – which might astonish the mind for some of our readers. The truth is, in my youth I was more switched into the George Lucas and Steven Spielberg realm of filmmaking.
As a young child, 2001: A Space Odyssey had no TIE Fighters, so it disinterested me. That being said, since revisiting the film, I found it to be an extraordinarily insightful piece of work, inspiring me to finally begin swimming in the pool that is Kubrick’s brain.
To some degree, I think this gives me a little bit of an advantage over some Kubrick fans, as I arrive to these now-classic movies with fresh eyes, with some extensive experience of dissecting symbolism in movies for many years now (or rather, channeling my OCD into obsessing over continuity and all things nerdgasmic).
There is another side to this coin. The disadvantage is that Kubrick is well known for layering his movies (with physical elements and props too) to drive home certain ideas, messages, threads, and symbols – and that these elements are so richly embedded in the movies, I haven’t had the years of re-watching these flicks as his fans have to pick up all these subtleties.
As a result, my initial experience was The Shining was a journey into a vastly different version of the King story, and I mainly caught the surface story along with some of the subtext that was closer to the surface.
I never realized how much I missed until watching Room 237.
The presentation of Room 237 is very hands-off – meaning that you only HEAR the enthusiasts chat about their findings and interpretations of elements of The Shining, as opposed to seeing them interviewed, while shots of Kubrick’s films (and other movies) are shown to emphasize particular points. The graphical analysis of The Shining is damn impressive, and rivals that of the obsessive nature of Star Wars fans or Star Trek fans analyzing the in-universe histories of their chosen franchise.
There are voluminous interpretations of The Shining that are well-known, and have been examined for some time now, such as the inferences of historic genocide, and the Holocaust, all hinted throughout and indeed discussed in this documentary. But other less-discussed elements arise in the analysis, such as Kubrick’s insertion of subliminal aspects to reinforce the story and the deeper subtexts, strengthening the long-term power of the film.
Props that appear, vanish, show prominently, or are positioned in different manners play a key role in The Shining – including set dressings that are physically impossible in the layout of the hotel itself. They are all highlighted and investigated in Room 237, sometimes agonizingly so, but for the most part they become an enlightening viewing experience. I couldn’t find Kubrick’s face in the clouds though, but would love for someone to prove to me that it’s there.
One of the more interesting suppositions that crop up in Room 237 is the assertion that Kubrick was responsible for filming what some people believe was the staged moon landing of Apollo 11. To be clear, the individual making the claim elaborates that he doesn’t automatically believe the moon landing was a hoax, rather the filming and documenting technologies just may not have been up to par for the historic event.
As crackpot as the concept seems, the elements hinted at in The Shining are indeed shown on-screen, while this theory is elaborated on, making for a compelling argument (and yet without evidence). I’ve often looked into the landing hoax theories, and found some of the analysis of photographs to be relatively sound – so it could well have been that the tech just wasn’t available. Or maybe their cameras broke. Either way, it’s a fun segment of the film, no matter your opinion.
While the documentary is enjoyable, and the analysis will keep you magnified to the screen, the audio levels are absolutely terrible. The movie begins with a soft audio level in the beginning, and then the audio of the interviewees (which sound like Skype phone calls to be honest) are of varying levels causing the overall volume to be inconsistent.
The audio mixing is, quite frankly, atrocious, and is big losing factor for the documentary overall. There’s even one segment where you can hear one of the commentator’s children throwing a tantrum in the background.
The higher level of analysis was something I found to be thoroughly enjoyable and captivating, though I suspect many viewers will find this of major disinterest. Some folks just want to watch a movie to zone out of the world with, and you can certainly do this with The Shining by just following the surface plot/literal narrative. This kind of film screams to the hearts of the movie nerds out there.
I did find this to be a nice insight into Kubrick’s brain. It makes me want to go and rewatch The Shining now.
Overall Rating: 4 out of 5