How do you find the truest test of a film’s success. Does affirmation lie in the box office take? Can you find it in the quantity of critical acclaim? How about longevity and continued veneration? Perhaps the number of Simpsons references and Spaced homages it inspires? Take one or all of the hypothesises listed above and The Shining stands its ground. Now, 32 years on from its release, Rodney Ascher’s documentary Room 237 revisits The Overlook Hotel to find out what Kubrick’s classic was really all about. The “answers” are guaranteed to surprise you.
Nazi typewriters, M.C. Escher floor plans, penis carpets and a NASA conspiracy theory that would make David Icke blush, Room 237 finds five film lovers delving deeply into Stanley Kubrick’s adaptation of Stephen King’s horror classic and finding much more than just a simple ghost story. Each interpretation is more bonkers than the last…
Pleasurably presented using Kubrick’s body of work as a backdrop for the reverence and ramblings, Room 237, a darling of this year’s festival circuit, is a Film Studies teacher’s simultaneous wet dream and nightmare. As the handful of narrators kick off what they think The Shining represents, Ascher, the director and editor, lulls the viewer into a false sense of security playing the speakers thoughts as simple everyday readings. As the wormhole opens the sanity of all involved begins to be questioned.
Those unfamiliar with Sir Stanley Kubrick’s genius level of intellect might brush off many of the theories – or even the entire enterprise – as delusional dirge, but the use of archive footage reminds us of two things; 1) Kubrick had a talent that may never be repeated, and 2) he was a really, truly mischievous bugger. So moments that would be dismissed as simple continuity errors in someone else’s films become the basis for concepts violently defended by those that were ‘special’ enough to discover them.
Half the fun of the fair is picking and choosing – if any – which tales you take as possible or probable. As much as many will scoff at the Apollo links and subliminal erections, the idea that Kubrick littered the film with big “Fuck Yous” to Stephen King is fantastically plausible. To Ascher’s credit he never picks on or bullies these theorists and never takes a side. In fact, the care and attention that has gone into compiling Room 237 suggests the biggest fan involved is the one in the editing suite. While, to quote another 80’s classic, the contributors methods are sloppy and the conclusions highly questionable, the fun is in searching for the answers.
Try it yourself, we’ve got a theory about the darts that Danny throws that’ll make your want to bash your own brains in. Bash ’em right the fuck in.
So much more than just a cool DVD extra, Room 237 is a wry, comical look into obsession and interpretation. Rather than detracting from the film’s power it cements it, proving once again that The Shining is a film you can get lost in forever. And ever. And ever. And ever…