Director: Rodney Ascher
IFC Films/IFC Midnight
Room 237 – and fans of The Shining will spot that reference right away – pulls together a handful of disparate conspiracy theories around Kubrick’s film of the Stephen King novel. The Shining, one of Kubrick’s great films – panned on release, and then a video classic (King hated it) – has so many of Stanley’s trademarks in terms of overall aesthetic (a look – the symmetry, the joy in mundane objects/furniture – that’s been an influence on Wes Anderson most certainly).
So here, told in voiceover, we find out that The Shining is – variously – an apology to the native American Indians, an apology for Kubrick’s hand in helping to shoot footage to sell the lie of a faked moon landing and a meditation on genocide.
Yes. You can determine all that – or rather, a handful of very special analysts have determined that – simply from watching and re-watching The Shining.
Rodney Ascher’s documentary is wonderful for many reasons, perhaps chief of all because he doesn’t judge any of the assembled voiceover cast; merely allows them to tell their side of the story and uses footage from the film, from other Kubrick movies and occasionally from film work outside of the Kubrick canon to help to tell the story.
An amazing score from William Hutson and Jonathan Snipes – interpolating some moments from The Shining’s original score and, again, from other film projects – helps to set the scene, creating an eerie mood.
Some critics have dismissed the film, some audiences will be sure that this is an utterly absurd premise for a documentary, that these are the thoughts of nutjobs being peddled either for sick – smug – entertainment value but it’s less about the ideas having validity and more about the power of suggestion, the power of the mind, how leaps in logic can appear startlingly meaningful when there’s some sense of certainty behind them due to powers of observation. It’s also a clever unpacking of Kubrick’s film – showing some of the hidden meanings he might have left as breadcrumbs, and gestures (such as props changing colours, or disappearing with the change of a camera angle) that can’t be explained now that Kubrick is no longer with us. Were they part of his plan, part of a game he was playing? Or were they simply continuity mistakes.
The film is also fascinating for how it dodges copyright issues, creating a mash-up of moments such as when Tom Cruise (in character from Eyes Wide Shut) is seen to be strolling towards the cinema to take in a movie poster for The Shining.
At one point The Shining is played over itself – forward and backwards at the same time – the superimposition creates some quite astonishing coincidences, which should appeal to not only fans of the film but to anyone who has ever lined up Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon with a copy of The Wizard of Oz in the hope (hype?) of being in some way wowed.
The attention to detail that Kubrick showed with his filmmaking – the decisions behind background pieces, their placement, their significance – has been the subject of much debate, of scholarly comment. And it’s certainly mindboggling to hear the particular and peculiar takes on just this one film that a bunch of people have arrived at. Smart people too – and just maybe there’s some substance to some of this. Or – then again – there’s not at all. The film never really resolves that. And nor should it.