Saturday, March 30, 2013

ROOM 237 IS A DOCUMENTARY ABOUT THE SHINING THAT'S IMPOSSIBLE TO OVERLOOK


There’s getting deeper into movies and then there’s ROOM 237. It’s a new documentary opening April 5, available on cable VOD right now, about obsessive fans of Stanley Kubrick’s 1980 horror film THE SHINING. The doc is both fascinating and frightening. It’s fascinating as it indulges these fans who find all sorts of layered symbolism in the movie, and it’s frightening as the more you here these fans go on and on, you realize they may be more than just a little off their rockers. In some cases, these movie buffs are scarier than anything Kubrick conjured up in his film about the haunted Overlook Hotel. 

I'm all for a good conspiracy theory and finding hidden meaning in art, but with these fans, I kind of wanted to yell, “Get a life!” (Like William Shatner had to in that famous SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE skit: http://dai.ly/114uCBk). Still, at the same time, I can appreciate how devoted movie fans can dig deep into a movie and find meaning reading between the lines of the screenplay. Thus, this documentary is heady and silly at the same time. Yes, there is all kinds of symbolism in Kubrick’s classic film, but is it there in practically every frame? And is he simultaneously commentating upon the Holocaust, faked moon landings, alien invasions and Indian retribution? The super fans in ROOM 237 absolutely believe so. 


Interestingly, we never get to see any of these over-the-top fans in ROOM 237. They're kept off screen, as we only hear their narrative accompanying the scenes played out from the movie that they insist are laden with hidden meaning. By doing so, filmmaker Rodney Ascher (THE S FROM HELL) might be saving them from ridicule. Or is he letting you watch his doc with the feeling that you're being joined on the couch by a fanatical friend? Maybe he wants us to feel like we're listening to some overly pretentious DVD commentary. No matter, it allows us to view and judge the scenes from THE SHINING for ourselves, at face value.


If any filmmaker knew how to toy with an audience, and was himself obsessive about every detail he put on the screen, it was Kubrick. But did he layer in such messaging?  Did he have it out for the US government for its mistreatment of the American Indian? Was he confessing to being part of a NASA cover-up and faking moon landings? Is the story of disturbed innkeeper Jack Torrance (Jack Nicholson) and his beleaguered family (Shelly Duvall, Danny Lloyd) really all about the Holocaust? I doubt that Stephen King meant any of those things in his bestselling source material, and I doubt that Kubrick intended it in his film either. (If you really want a conspiracy movie about the space program, check out Peter Hyams’ 1977 potboiler CAPRICORN ONE. You can read about that at imdb.com - http://imdb.to/XjanRd)

Still, there are certain details in THE SHINING that do beg questions. Why did Kubrick dress youngster Danny in that ‘Apollo 11’ knit sweater?  Why is there Indian symbolism everywhere in the movie, from the art on the walls to the eagle T-shirt Nicholson wears to the cans of Calumet baking powder seen in the pantry? And what is it with all the sexual imagery and the blood red rooms everywhere? Is Kubrick trying to equate ‘red rum’ (the word murder backwards in the movie, if you recall) with the blood of birth? Or the sins of extramarital sex? I’m not sure, but there is definitely phallic imagery in that carpet in room 237 when Torrance encounters the nude bather. That one's pretty obvious.
The intellectual maze that these fans create in regards to THE SHINING is as intricate and head spinningly complex as the garden maze that Torrance gets lost in at the end. And by the end of ROOM 237, you may not be certain of anything that Kubrick is showing you. Are even the titles symbolic? Are the dissolves trying to tell us something with their strange layering of one scene onto the next? Are those twins an extension of Shelly Duvall's motherly instincts? Egads, don't pass the popcorn! Pass the Advil! 


I’ll tell you one thing that I do believe ol’ Stanley intended. He and King had a great falling out during production as Kubrick threw out much of King's story and source material. It was so insulting to King that years later, in 1997, he produced his own version for TV. So when Kubrick shows an automobile accident in his film with red Volkswagen Beetle annihilated by a semi-truck, you better believe it has some significance. See, in King’s original story, the Torrance’s drove a red Beetle, but Stanley changed the color of the car to yellow for his film. Is it a coincidence that the red car is crushed? I think not.


No matter whether any of the theories are true or not, and many close to Kubrick say they are not, ROOM 237 makes for fascinating viewing. The ideal way to watch it is to make a double feature out of it. Start with THE SHINING and then watch it dissected to death in ROOM 237. You may not believe all that folks like conspiracy theorist Bill Blakemore believe are evident in the movie. (He’s even got his own entire website on the matter: http://bit.ly/49Xucz). But I’ll bet you’ll never quite look at “The Shining” the same afterwards. So proceed into that dangerous head trip of room...at your own caution!


(NOTE: The documentary ROOM 237 is currently playing in New York and will be released nationally on April 5. However, you can catch it now on cable VOD throughout the nation.)


2 comments:

  1. I saw this at Munroe Film Center in NY Friday night, with a friend (whom I hadn't known was a Shining buff) who'd invited me to go that day. I'm not a hardcore fan, but thought it'd be fun.

    Everything you say about the film is spot-on. Some of the theories espoused are so loony, audience members laughed out loud. The part I enjoyed most was about the Brooklyn movie theater where some fella thought up the idea of playing The Shinging forwards and backward simultaneously and superimposing the image of one over the other. Thus, as you get that helicopter view of the family driving up to The Overlook, there's the superimposed image of Jack Nicholson frozen in that photograph. There were lots of cool moments like that, too.

    After the screening, Director Rodney Ascher, Producer Tim Kirk, and one of the kook theorists (the Native American guy) did a Q & A. The theorist kind of stole the show and didn't really let the other chaps get a word in. I'd wanted to ask if Ascher or Kirk bought into any of the theories in the film, even just a little, but then they suddenly wrapped up the Q & A and, as my friend and I were starving, we shrugged and went for dinner. The film center was to have a midnight showing of The Shining, but I didn't want to get stuck in Manhattan if I couldn't make it to my commuter train on time, so I'm saving myself for a Shining screening in the near future. :-)
    Some Dark Romantic

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  2. Thanks for sharing this story, Mina! Glad I wasn't the only one who was finding so much of ROOM 237 so frustrating. Too bad the theorist was such a windbag and you didn't get to speak. He had the whole movie to espouse his theory already. Anyway, thanks so much for your thoughts and I hope to hear from you again here very soon.

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