Deep dive into ‘The Shining’
By Ann Hornaday
Friday, April 12, 2013
In an era when Audience is King -- when movies can get made on the strength of a Kickstarter campaign and an amateur effort like “Fifty Shades of Grey” becomes as big a hit as the “Twilight” books that inspired it -- there’s a certain sense to be found in the existence of “Room 237,” if not in its substance.
Rodney Ascher’s documentary about the 1980 Stanley Kubrick horror film “The Shining” and five obsessive viewers with elaborate ideas about its hidden meanings belongs to a post-modern wave of film consumption, wherein spectators are increasingly emboldened to short-circuit conventional criticism and even a filmmaker’s stated aims and take the wheel of cultural discourse themselves.
“Room 237” might be ushering in a new and inevitable genre: fan faction.
Propelled by the certainty of a chest-poking drunk at a cocktail party or the most dedicated buff peering out from a manhole on Dealey Plaza, the testifiers of “Room 237” are nothing if not tireless in convincing us that they hold the golden ticket to Kubrick’s deepest motivations. ABC News correspondent Bill Blakemore elegantly links the director’s strategic positioning of Calumet Baking Powder cans in the Overlook Hotel’s pantry to prove that “The Shining” -- which was based on Stephen King’s 1977 novel -- is an allegory for the European genocide of Native Americans. History professor Geoffrey Cocks notices the typewriter Jack Nicholson’s character uses to not write his novel in the film and finally deduces that “The Shining” is Kubrick’s cri de coeur about the Holocaust.
Playwright Juli Kearns harbors an abiding fascination with the window in the hotel manager’s office, which opens -- at least figuratively -- to myriad architectural impossibilities, which she has neatly catalogued in a series of carefully drawn maps. Artist John Fell Ryan specializes in screening “The Shining” backwards and forwards simultaneously to elicit buried synchronicities (no word on whether Pink Floyd is involved), and Jay Weidner is convinced that Kubrick made the film as an apologia for his role in staging the Apollo 11 moon landing.
It would all be insufferable had Ascher not made the brilliant decision to stage “Room 237” not as a talking-heads documentary but as a montage of Kubrick’s own films, using snippets of “The Killing,” “Lolita,” “2001: A Space Odyssey,” “Eyes Wide Shut” and others to illustrate what his subjects are saying off-camera (the filmmaker also makes judicious use of other films from the era, including “All the President’s Men”). What might have been a tiresome stew of obsession, projection, Freud, Jung and continuity errors re-purposed as conspiracy fodder instead becomes a hypnotic homage to a cinematic master whose absence is all the more palpable for his fans’ desperate attempts to revive them: resurrection by interpretation.
You don’t have to buy into these revisionists’ most outlandish notions to find their meditations intriguing -- and even true in the most global, humanistic sense. “Room 237” turns out to be about many things, including how we process history, human evil and our own mortality. But perhaps there are buried meanings in “Room 237” itself, which at its most touching and profound seems suffused with unresolved grief. Kubrick died too soon in 1999 at the age of 70. As “Room 237” attests, at least we’ll always have his movies to kick around.Contains disturbing material.