Directed by Rodney Ascher
Something awful awaits in Room 237, and it’s not that rotting giggling granny. Rodney Ascher’s misguided documentary on hidden meanings in Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining (1980) builds its own labyrinths of irrelevant speculation and loses itself in them. Kubrick was famously a highly careful filmmaker, and his work lends itself to in-depth analysis—but listening to “hermetic” scholar Jay Weidner link the number of the Room 237 to the set number where Kubrick supposedly duped us all by creating the fake Apollo 11 moon landing is embarrassing.
And the sweeping, unsubstantiated, and unchallenged pronouncements do not end there. How about the entire film being about the Holocaust as stated by German historian Geoffrey Cocks?—there’s a German type writer in one scene and lots of eagle imagery. Or the Native American genocide as recounted by ABC reporter Bill Blakemore, a thought sparked by the placement of Calumet baking powder cans, one painting, and one mention of the hotel being built on Indian burial ground?
Almost totally unsubstantiated, the six speakers, who are never shown on screen (and barely credited with title cards so you have no idea who is speaking sometimes), make claim after claim of what is “really” going on in The Shining—this is pure cinema studies seminar conspiracy. We aren’t even given context of why they where chosen to speak on this subject; I had to research everyone of them online to even get a sense of it.
Another speaker (again off screen—author/artist/blogger Juli Kearns) notes the Minotaur imagery as “obviously” displayed in a Monarch Ski poster (which is an image of a skier, plain as day) located in one of the hotel’s heavily paneled rooms. While I can see Jack running through the maze is like a Minotaur, there is no bullheaded imagery on that poster. Another speaker mentions you can see Kubrick’s face in the clouds during the credit roll at the beginning, but it would have to be Photoshopped a bit so we can really see it (I wish I could tell you who, but once each speaker was introduced at the beginning, no title appears to identify which of the disembodied voices is speaking at any given moment.). It soon seems the Overlook has taken hold of the speakers as it did with Jack Torrance, driving them bat-shit insane.
Speaking of the Overlook, many of us have seen Juli Kearns’ maps of the hotel’s layout, which are featured in the film along with her voice-over. They depict, as the characters move through the hotel, the hallways, windows, and placement of the architecture change to the point of being impossible and deliberately inconsistent. Which is a fascinating point that goes to the disorienting quality of the film, but it remains a superficial reading that takes us nowhere. (Rob Ager’s nearly 10-minute breakdown “The Shining—Something in the River of Blood” on YouTube is much more rigorous and interesting than this entire film. Though by no means conclusive, it at least respects its viewers enough to stick closely to actual evidence based on what is actually onscreen and the circumstances of production.)
Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining is a fucking masterpiece, and having “experts” like John Fell Ryan run it backwards to find its deeper symmetrical meaning or others claiming to see faces in the clouds comes very close to disrespecting the work. It’s like being trapped in a bad cinema studies seminar where bullshit artists fill time with crackpot nonsense to the point where you question if they even saw the film. Their explications reveal only their own obsessions and prejudices, their own egotism and muddy thought processes.
Our “experts” engage very little with the actual material of Kubrick’s films as a whole—the visual and allegorical themes, structures, and the genuine obsessions and influences that recur throughout his body of work, some of which inform The Shining. They never discuss the possibility that scenes were shot a certain way to explore the then-recently invented steadicam technology. They don’t even address Stephen King’s novel with much depth. The source text itself would seem to be a fruitful place for investigation and contrast, even considering the liberties Kubrick took with King’s material. No mention either is made of Rober Marasco’s Burnt Offerings and its film adaptation, both of which can be seen as influencing aspects of The Shining novel and film. The focus is on bullshit and wastes the viewer’s time. (Uncredited clips from the movies American Werewolf in London and Demons 2, neither of which is related to The Shining beyond sharing a genre, further confuse matters, which again speaks to the sloppiness, laziness, and self indulgence of this project.)
Fans of The Shining or fans of cinema in general should shut the door on Room 237. Having conspiracy theorist dilettantes ramble on about such a classic is downright disrespectful. Is not worth your time and is certainly not academically rigorous or insightful as sold. (Maybe the Calumet cans just spoke to the use of red as a motif in the film? Maybe: There’s no less evidence for that speculation than the point made in this film.) It would have been interesting to find out why these “experts” in question are obsessed with The Shining and why they are putting so much of themselves into the reading of it. One of them even mentions they feel trapped in the Overlook like Jack, going over it again and again like an unending feedback loop. Here we might find the patterns we are looking for—and the insights into humanity, which Kubrick ultimately has given us in film after film.
Writer’s Note: For a better look at Kubrick’s work, I recommend Vivian Kubrick’s documentary The Making of The Shining (available as a supplement on the current Blu-ray of The Shining as well as more recent DVD releases) or Jon Ronson’s documentary Stanley Kubrick’s Boxes. There is a great documentary-meditation to be made on Kubrick’s iconic horror classic, but Room 237 isn’t it.
1 out of 5