Even though it has been over three decades since Stanley Kubrick released The Shining, that doesn’t mean that the passing of time has slowed down his fans who still dissect and theorize about the film.
A truly avant-garde deconstruction of one of the greatest horror movies of all time, Rodney Ascher’s Room 237 sits down with five Shining scholars who all have wildly different theories involving World War II, Native Americans, genocide, the faked moon landing, and numerology and explores them through interviews, re-enactments and more.
Dread Central recently chatted with Ascher and Room 237 producer Tim Kirk about their own fascination with Kubrick’s iconic adaptation of the Stephen King novel as well as their thoughts on why the film continues to capture our imaginations all this time later. We also spoke to them about their approach to the documentary and much more on The Shining as well.
Check out the highlights of our exclusive interview with Ascher and Kirk below, and look for Room 237 in limited theaters this weekend.
Dread Central: Even though it’s been about 33 years since The Shining was released, it’s still a movie that people love to talk about, which is rare for a horror movie. Surely a lot of that has to be Kubrick but in your eyes, what do you think it is that people are still looking for in The Shining?
Rodney Ascher: You know, I’m not sure. I know it’s a movie that sent me running from the theater at a very early age so that was the beginning of my own personal fascination with it. But I do think a big part of it is that The Shining represents this intricate puzzle that in some ways represents the greatest filmmaker of all time but it’s missing a few key pieces, thus making it almost impossible to solve it.
Even at the very simplest level of story, there are huge gaps in what we see and what actually goes on in The Shining; we never even find out what happens to Danny in Room 237- it’s never explained, let alone shown. Kubrick even went as far as to present us with that mysterious black and white photo at the end of The Shining that was probably meant to answer some of the questions, but it ends up posing even more questions about what’s happening in the film.
So I think people are attracted to watch it and then re-watch it again and again to try to solve those puzzles but end up finding new ones as they continue to dig deeper. Not a lot of movies in the last few decades have been able to do what The Shining did in 1980 so I think that’s a huge reason why the film still continues to be examined by film fans to this very day. Inception is an example of a great modern movie that really makes you dig for those answers but that’s really the only one I can think of.
Dread Central: So what inspired you guys to take this fascination and turn that into a documentary?
Tim Kirk: Well, I was just stumbling through the internet one night doing my usual obsessive thing and looking for anything that happens to say The Shining on it; that’s when I found this compelling essay that Jay Weidner had written about his take on the film. I sent that to Rodney immediately and the very next thing you know, we began looking for more theories on The Shining and just unearthed so many fascinating theories online. We were astonished as to just how many different theories were out there really and many of them incredibly in-depth analyses that were so thoughtful and thorough.
Rodney Ascher: Because both Tim and I often spent time theorizing about The Shining ourselves, we had an idea that people had probably seen all kinds of interesting symbols and number play and word play in The Shining that we never even considered but this was the beginning of a whole new direction for us; we set out to see what else was there and surprisingly enough, most of what we found was very recent which proved that The Shining is just endlessly fascinating filmmaking.
So we set out to do something that wasn’t just a thousand soundbites of people talking about this and that; that approach didn’t interest us. We wanted to really hone in on just a few of the theories and let that theorist take their time in laying the groundwork and then expand on it exclusively. That’s what really interested me as a filmmaker and as a fan of The Shining.
Tim Kirk: I think there was a probably a point in the research process of Room 237 where we were going to do a more comprehensive approach and try and include almost every theory that is out there, but it became clear early on that it was just insane to even consider doing it that way. We’d have a 20-hour movie on our hands. I still have the original spreadsheet we made that mapped out all the topics and how they overlapped with each other; once that started to get out of hand, I knew we couldn’t do it that way so we just let them talk.
Dread Central: I thought the visual storytelling devices you used in Room 237 were really interesting and made for a nice companion to the interviews since you decided to not go with the ‘talking heads’ approach here. What was behind your decision to make Room 237 this very atypical documentary then?
Rodney Ascher: This was a style that I started using on a short film that I had done a couple of years earlier which I thought worked in some interesting and unexpected ways. I really liked how I could play around with it and sometimes use the footage literally or sometimes subjectively where it really opened up the doors to new ideas completely.
I also think stylistically that sometimes when you see the talking head shot it can take you out of the story of the documentary; you get immersed with all these images or montages and then when you cut back to the interviewee, it’s almost like snapping you back into reality. I didn’t want Room 237 to feel like that at all; I just wanted this to stay immersed in that dreamlike world of ideas and pictures and let the movie feel like conversations taking place in outer space and or during wartime or in the middle of a movie theater and not somebody’s office or anything like that.
Because this is a movie more about ideas than individuals, I think there’s something really cool with how we keep things feeling like you’re adrift in this culture of the movies too; that’s a huge reason why we didn’t just use clips from Kubrick’s movie to tell this story; using different clips really allowed us to open up viewers to seeing things from very different perspectives but keeping it fun to watch too.
Dread Central: Yeah, I enjoyed seeing some other fun movies pop up in this too like Demons and An American Werewolf in London– was it tough to get those rights in addition to all the Kubrick films?
Tim Kirk: Demons 2 is in there too! Yeah, getting all the rights took quite awhile but we had a crack clearance team that went through a really long process to get everything nailed down for us there. We decided very early on that we weren’t going to go looking for the cooperation of the Kubrick estate for Room 237 just because it wasn’t necessary to the story we were telling. We had no interest in speaking with anyone who was actually involved in the making of the film because that wasn’t what our story was about. It was exploring what the film became after it was released, not what was happening while they were making it.
After the box office failure of Barry Lyndon, Stanley Kubrick decided to embark on a project that might have more commercial appeal. The Shining, Stephen King’s biggest critical and commercial success yet, seemed like a perfect vehicle. After an arduous production, Kubrick’s film received a wide release in the summer of 1980; the reviews were mixed, but the box office, after a slow start, eventually picked up. End of story? Hardly. In the 30 years since the film’s release, a considerable cult of Shining devotees has emerged, fans who claim to have decoded the film’s secret messages addressing everything from the genocide of Native Americans to a range of government conspiracies. Rodney Ascher’s wry and provocative Room 237 fuses fact and fiction through interviews with cultists and scholars, creating a kaleidoscopic deconstruction of Kubrick’s still controversial classic.
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