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.
Watched Room 237 last night. Yes, the clutching at straws sent the film geek meter off the scale for me; the comic book guy off the Simpsons often came to mind. I once watched another doco on Withnail & I (one of my all time favourites) but after watching so many enthusiasts giving their impersonation of their favourite scene I felt like a dick for ever being a fan.
What I did find interesting about Room 237 is how many of them had the same ‘meh’ reaction that I had when they first viewed the movie. Billed as a horror you go into the theatre with that in mind and take it on face and plot value only. It’s only when you watch it again that you realise it is an extraodinary movie (hey it’s Kubrick after all). The pace the, the enormous yet claustrauphobic set, the unsettling calm of the introductory charaters. Quite a beautiful thing. The waiter cleaning off the advocaat in the bathroom is the most memorable scene for me. I do find Nicholson’s signature Jack the lad style almost out of step with the movie, however it’s what sells the movie to the first time viewers I guess.
I plan to watch the actual movie tonight.
Thanks for your comments Simon … I tend to agree with you. Will be curious to know if your opinion of the film changes with your latest viewing. I know I found some elements quite jarring compared to how I remember them … in particular the sound track, and as you say Nicholson’s trademark acting style.
Oh, and thanks for the heads up on Withnail & I. I’ve yet to see that one … looks really interesting.
Finally got to see it again. Yes the soundtrack somehow seems inappropriate now (almost as bad as the ones they use on home reno/cooking tv reality shows). The Room 237 theories came to mind as the movie rolled on and caused me to scoff further (hard on indeed). Nicholson’s axe weilding hobbled maniac by the end was almost a comical charicature to me. However the pace and the direction kept me going to the end, stil a great movie.