Room 237 (2012)

Directed By: Rodney Ascher
Written By: N/A
Starring: Bill Blakemore
  Geoffrey Cocks
  Juli Kearns
  John Fell Ryan
Room 237

In order to celebrate Halloween this year in true Gorepress style, Sarah, Matt and I found ourselves at Canterbury’s Gulbenkian Cinema, watching a double bill of Stanley Kubrick’s seminal The Shining and 2012’s documentary on the film, Room 237.

Sarah has talked at great length about The Shining here so I’ve been lumbered – did I say ‘lumbered’? I meant ‘blessed’ – with the task of reviewing Room 237.

Going into the documentary, I was simultaneously intrigued and dubious; I always enjoy hearing how other people interpret films – indeed, it’s one of the many joys of being a film fan – but having read that there was a discussion about how the film was Kubrick’s admission that he faked the moon landings of 1969, I was a little hesitant. But regardless, once the three of us had re-settled after a quick mid-viewing cigarette break, I chose to remain optimistic.

The documentary takes the form of a series of intercut interviews with five different people, each explaining a number of different interpretations – of varying degrees of outlandishness – of Kubrick’s masterpiece. Herein lies the first thing that threw me off guard: there is no narrator linking the interviews together or explaining the significance of each of the interviewees. A little caption informs the audience of their names and their professions…and that is everything they get.

In retrospect, director Rodney Ascher made a smart move here. Whilst it’s a little jarring at first, especially since we have been given such little context regarding the interviewees, as the documentary progresses the lack of a narrator has the effect of making the documentary seem more like a conversation rather than a presentation. Backed up by relevant clips from The Shining, along with many from Kubrick’s back-catalogue (some chosen more arbitrarily than others) and explanatory graphics and images, the documentary never presents the opinions as anything but themselves; no judgement is made on how legitimate or bonkers they may seem. They are simply aired, and it is left to the audience to form their own opinions on the validity of them.

Now, despite my predilection for film discussion, I’m a firm believer that, given the right viewpoint, meaning and significance can be found anywhere; and fanatical zealotry does nothing but exacerbate this. So you’ll forgive me for being dubious about thinking that The Shining is Kubrick’s admission of guilt over the moon landing videos just because Danny happens to be wearing a jumper with a rocket on it and that the letters of ‘Room No. 237’ happen to spell ‘moon’ and ‘room’ (they also spell ‘moron’, but who am I to judge…).

That said, however, some perspectives remain somewhat more convincing; that of The Shining being a huge analogy for the genocide of the Native Americans by the settlers, for example. Nevertheless, even then a certain amount of suspension of disbelief is required; as much as I’m aware of Kubrick’s obsessive attention to detail, I’m dubious about reading meaning into the fact that Jack Torrance’s typewriter mysteriously changes over the course of the film. Or the fact that a chair happens to disappear mid-scene. Plus, as fascinating as the results are, I highly doubt Kubrick had deliberately shot The Shining with the intention that it would be played alongside itself…but backwards.

I’m in two minds about Room 237. On one hand, it’s promoting analysis and discussion of film, which I am fully in support of. But on the other, it’s utterly, utterly bonkers and you may just spend the whole thing stifling laughter behind your hand. Regardless of how seriously you take it, however, it’s certainly enjoyable so for that I give it credit.

Rating: ★★★★★★½☆☆☆

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