Room 237 (2012) – directed by Rodney Ascher

I recently managed to catch the documentary Room 237 by Rodney Ascher. Room 237 is Ascher’s deep and fascinating analysis of Stanley Kubrik’s The Shining that caused quite a stir at the recent Sundance film festival. Obviously I wouldn’t recommend watching Room 237 without seeing its subject matter first. I had seen The Shining way back in the 80s, but as luck would have it, only a couple of months ago I encouraged Seema to sit down with me and experience it again. With it fresh in our heads we had the good fortune to catch Ascher’s doco soon after.

Notably absent is the usual shtick of talking heads of theorists and film makers, instead the Room 237 cleverly illustrates its point with clips and voice overs. Likewise, it does not concern itself with the practicalities of production values and idiosyncrasies, this is not a “making of” doco, instead it focusses on what The Shinning means, and explores the deeper subtexts that lie well beyond its superficial plot. Native American genocide, Nazi Germany, and the fake moon landing footage are all claimed as subliminal subtexts, and whilst The Shining might be read as such, it is a quite a leap to claim that Kubrik was cogniscant of all these claims. Indeed, Room 237 makes it explicit that postmodern film theory concerns subtext on a subjective level and borrows from the relationship between the auteur, the film, and the spectator. All indications point to Kubrik being aware of such subliminal messages but to what extent he was aware is anyone guess. Room 237 runs the risk of over extending its reading of The Shining, but it is gracious enough to admit on occasion of clutching at straws. However, there is no question that it opens your eyes to the genius of Kubrik as a film maker, even if half of what is claimed is true. Certainly Kubrik was a film maker who was aware that film operates on a subconscious and subliminal level even beyond the intention of the film maker, and that it would be reflective of so much more than the superficial plot. This is the broad claim that Room 237 makes of The Shining, and you have to admire its boldness.

This is a very rewarding watch that I highly recommend … just prepare to take parts of it with a few grains of salt.

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