Sundance Review: 'Room 237'
Rodney Ascher takes a particularly obsessive look at Stanley Kubrick's maddening horror classic
By William Goss Feb 15, 2012 6:58PM
The Overlook Hotel. It was a great name for the snowbound setting of Stephen King's novel, "The Shining," and it remained an ominous moniker in Stanley Kubrick's 1980 film adaptation. Now, thanks to Rodney Ascher's documentary, "Room 237," it's a fitting echo of a document defined by an affection for, and scrutiny of, details which have been overlooked in the overall cultural interpretation of the horror classic.
Subtitled "Being an inquiry into The Shining in 9 parts," Ascher's film is exactly that. Made up entirely of film clips (most from "The Shining," some from other Kubrick films, even more from unrelated films like "All the President's Men" and "Apocalypto") and audio interviews from those who have become experts of sorts on the subject: ABC correspondent Bill Blakemore, history professor Geoffrey Cocks, playwright Juli Kearns and more.
Depending on the speaker, the film is really about the genocide of Native Americans; for others, it's clearly about the Holocaust. Or maybe it's Kubrick slyly demonstrating spite for King's original novel, or maybe the auteur is actually apologizing to his wife and the world for helping to fake the moon landing, given his experience in sci-fi with "2001: A Space Odyssey." Some hypotheses are more far-fetched than others, but they all invite a new reading into a slippery study of psychological instability, and Ascher dispatches a welcome sense of humor about overthinking things on occasion to keep matters from getting too "freshman dorm room" for their own good.
The people make some fair points, though. Coming from such a notorious perfectionist, could continuity errors in furniture and geography really be accepted as mere mistakes? To hear it from one fanatic, "The Shining" was a film "made by a bored genius," and as such, the typewriter that changes color and the carpet that changes direction and the porno mags laying around in the lobby all must be there for a reason. With the repetition of key scenes, it's hard not to pick up on aforementioned details and further inform one's own viewing experience -- visions of visions, effectively "shining" within "The Shining."
Now, whether or not you will choose to only watch the film projected backwards and forwards simultaneously after this is a whole other story. If nothing else, "Room 237" brings the realms of film theory and conspiracy theory a bit closer together. It's some work, more play and a generally unique look at the fine line between watching a film and seeing deeper into it.