The film I was most looking forward to at TIFF this year, was the documentary Room 237.
Documentarian Rodney Ascher tumbles down the rabbit hole to investigate the numerous deconstructions of Stanley Kubrick's 1980 adaptation of Stephen King's The Shining.
This documentary is infinitely fascinating. I spent some time beforehand seeking out some of the source material that Room 237 would be covering, and it was quite mind blowing. But I'm getting ahead of myself here.
As far as docs go, this is a pretty good one. The format is quite unusual in that there are no “talking heads.” All the interviews are done via phone or voice recorders, and visually represented onscreen through film clips. The Shining is used liberally of course, as well as most of Kubrick's filmography, in addition to other works. I have to say I was quite happy to see numerous clips from classic horror films like American Werewolf In London and Demons during the proceedings. I applaud Ascher for trying to get away from convention, as it probably works in favour of the credibility of the interviewees as the theories range from reasonably sound to downright ridiculous.
Initially, you'll probably start out laughing at the insanity of it all, but as some of the theories come together piece by piece, they become more plausible. I liken it to the famous Dark Side of Oz urban legend. The more it lines up over the course of the film, the less it seems like it can be coincidence. The three strongest positions in Room 237 are Bill Blakemoor, who poses that the film is about past injustices done to the Native American Indians, Geoffrey Cocks, who says The Shining represents the Holocaust and Jay Weidner, who alleges a purging of guilt by Kubrick himself for orchestrating the Apollo 11 moon landings. The latter one in particular is so well thought out, you really have to wonder if he's not onto something.
Sure, with the twenty or so minutes Weidner is given in the film, he may seem like a crackpot, but I implore you to check out his doc, “Kubrick's Odyssey” and then not tell me it is at least a well constructed position. I should also point out that he doesn't propose that the U.S. didn't go to the moon, just that the landings were faked to keep the Russians from learning NASA secrets. What I find the most interesting about Weidner's theory is that he has a reason for every perplexing change that Kubrick made to the source material.
|Pic taken at Room 237 party at a “secret” location.
My only real criticism of the doc is that it is almost fourty minutes before it gets to Weidner. I might have brought out the “big guns” sooner. While it is true that being inundated with several theories in such a disembodied nature can seem a little fragmented, there is plenty of variety in the nature of each interviewee. In edition to the more academic pontifications, there is Juli Kearns taking on the impossible task of mapping out The Overlook, the hotel featured in the film. Through several onscreen maps, you are shown that the geography of the hotel seems to defy logic.
There is also John Fell Ryan who conducted an experiment where he projected The Shining both backwards and forwards at the same time. Though this does make for some interesting visuals, anyone who knows Kubrick is aware that he loves one point perspectives, so it shouldn't be a shock that a lot lines up.
At the end of the day, some theories are better than others, but together they solidify that The Shining is more than just a moody horror film. Kubrick was not the kind of man that left anything to chance, so that makes his films ripe for interpretation.
I guess the greatest thing I'll take away from this experience is the strong urge to rewatch not just The Shining, but all of Kubrick's films, especially Eyes Wide Shut. Considering its secret societal subject matter, it is likely teeming with possible subtext. I wonder if that'll be Ascher's next project. Here's hoping.
For an interview with Blakemoor, click here.
For Weidner's doc Kubrick's Odyssey, click here.
For Kearns' Overlook maps, click here.
For more info on the Fell's dual projection project, click here.