Stanley Kubrick’s 1980 horror masterpiece The Shining is a film that has been watched and re-watched, poured over and pondered. Its obtuse finale, its destruction of much of Stephen Kings source and its meticulous details and clues, fuelled by the fans knowledge of the directors infamous shot compositing, has paved the way for this great little film essay by Rodney Ascher. Room 237 takes a hand full of The Shining’s super fans and gives them the floor to pitch their views, feelings and alternate meanings of exactly what else Kubrick was trying to say.
Theories range from plausible to ridiculous but it’s never less than fascinating. A look at how we watch films as well as a study of one particular one, the documentary tells us that the classic horror could in fact be a metaphor for the desolation of the American Indian, a deep Freudian story of child abuse, the Holocaust film the director could never bring himself to make or even as a tool to mask Kubrick’s own dismay and guilt at having secretly helped NASA fake the footage used for the Moon landing in 1969 in studio 237.
The film is only composed of voice over and still and slowed frames and scenes from Kubrick’s films, immersing us in his clinical world and obsessing over aspects of one shot of the film as much as Kubrick did over every piece of work he made. The comedy comes from the interviews themselves, film buffs and couch critics banging on and on about the fake windows in the Overlook Hotel may not be the most gripping of monologues but the oddness of how we view film and of how our own subconscious shapes them is beautifully rendered. Why do we obsess over open endings? Why does a mainstream audience need to know? Is subtext and parable really there in more modern film making than we realise?
Rodney Ascher’s film is certainly an odd watch but you have to give him credit for making a film already filled with such an odd sense of mystery, another seemingly unobtainable level of it. In the scene where it’s revealed that Stanley swapped the novel version of Jack Torrence’s red VW beetle for the yellow version of the same model for the film may not strike you as significant… until later on he puts a red one, crushed flat, under a semi trailer in the final snow storm. Did Kubrick have ulterior motives on one of the most notorious shoots of all time or are we just all staring slightly too close at the mysteries of the Overlook Hotel?