Fantastic Fest ’12: Room 237 – Review



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Dense documentary dives deep into The Shining‘s mysteries

There’s a fine line between creative artistic interpretation and inflamed bullshit. Room 237, an in-depth exploration of Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining fully investigates that line. A celebration of nuanced examination and full-tilt masturbatory conspiracy theories gone wild, the film is a wonderfully dense film of and about obsession.

Director Rodney Ascher takes a clinical, deep scrub look at the inner workings of Kubrick’s 1980 adaptation of the seminal Stephen King novel. Giving a platform to a small collection of fans who have dedicated their lives towards dissecting the film, Ascher investigates the messy results that come with spelunking too deep into the rabbit hole of critical analysis. From theories that The Shining is Kubrick’s confession of his involvement in faking the moon landing to a reading of the film from one fan that suggests the movie is an extended allegory for the Jewish holocaust, Room 237 is a nine-part clinic on some of the more outlandish (and insightful) ways to read into Kubrick’s film.

The theorists, a collection that includes veteran journalist Bill Bakemore, university professor Geoffrey Cocks and playwright Juli Keearns, are never shown – allowing their words and ideas to speak for themselves. And speak they do – Ascher gives the interview subjects plenty of opportunities to provide a comprehensive exploration into their reading of the film along with plenty of time for subsequent justification. Alongside the interpretations of the movie are other, smaller tangents including a brief study in the Overlook Hotel’s impossible architecture and a quick interview with a theater programmer who has come up with a novel way of watching the film – projecting it forwards and backwards simultaneously. The symmetry of Kubrick’s film, shown through all-too-brief demonstrations of the simultaneous screening, is remarkable. It also represents something the film just doesn’t have enough of – brevity.

The simultaneous screening segment is just the right length – tantalizingly short. Audiences are left craving more and still lusting over the mystique of the interpretation. Too many of the other theories contained within Room 237 are dragged on way past the point of infatuation. Utterly fascinating for the first ten, fifteen or even twenty minutes, these theories suffer as the film continues to peel away at the flimsy evidence compiled by the conspiracy nuts. In this slow burn look at the core theories contained within Room 237, the film crosses the line from fascinating to frustrating. And maybe that’s the point – just as Jack Torrance’s obsession with the Overlook Hotel drove him to madness, so, it seems, has some of the subjects’ obsessive dissection of the film driven them to absurd leaps of logic.

In creating his film, Ascher took a fascinating approach – crafting the movie from the bones, skin and organs of other films. Clips from The Shining are, of course, used judiciously but the other titles from Kubrick’s filmography are all on display – giving a visual accentuation to the micro-lectures from the film’s subjects. In addition to Kubrick’s films, Ascher uses an assortment of other movies to provide visual accompaniment to what would otherwise be a very detailed podcast. Sometimes this accompaniment is a straight-forward as Ascher using a specific clip that the subject is talking about but other times the director gets a little more creative, using scenes from Kubrick’s films to provide accompaniment to the documentary’s narrative structure. For example, if a subject talks about going to see The Shining at a theater, Ascher might use a scene from Eyes Wide Shut in which Tom Cruise visits a porno.

The result is never quite fluid but then again, a movie of this nature was never meant to be. Room 237 is a college lecture crammed into not-quite-two-hours. The transitions between topics are jarring, some of the themes underdeveloped and parts of the lecture occasionally sleep-inducing but by the time the end credits begin to roll audiences will feel thoroughly introduced to the inner workings of Kubrick’s film.

There are just enough interesting (and new) approaches in Room 237 regarding The Shining to give audiences the rarest of treat – a mental scrub. It doesn’t matter how many times you’ve seen The Shining, you have most likely never jumped to some of the conclusions presented in the documentary. After watching Room 237, it becomes impossible to look at Kubrick’s horror film and not see the patterns so carefully laid out by the documentary’s subjects. The documentary acts like a car wash for the mind – scrubbing away pre-conceived notions of a classic film and giving audiences a fresh perspective in which to examine a beloved film.

Director: Rodney Ascher
Notable Cast: Bill Bakemore, Geoffrey Cocks and Juli Keearns
Writer: Rodney Ascher

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