Room 237

Room 237

****

Reviewed by: Owen Van Spall

A study of how films can mesmerise, even all-out consume us, Room 237 should not be watched in the belief that it is a behind the scenes look at how Stanley Kubrick's The Shining was made, or that it offers a judgement on what is the best way to 'read' the film.

Director Rodney Ascher has made a documentary not about what he thinks about Kubrick's famed adaptation of Stephen King's horror novel, but about what a group of devotees believe they have discovered through seemingly hundreds of repeat viewing sessions of the film over their lifetimes. They appear on the audio track for the film as mere voices - they are tantalisingly never shown on screen - as footage from the film accompanies their espousal of their theories.

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It is of course entirely a matter of personal preference whether or not you feel that the interviewees have really grasped a key angle, or have wasted decades of their lives chasing ghosts down those hallways. Certainly one of the more extreme theories put forward is that key images and scenes were planted into the narrative by Kubrick so as to form a confession that he helped NASA fake the 1960s Moon landing footage. To this reviewer at least, Geoffrey Cocks's theory that the film acts as a Holocaust parable, and Bill Blakemore with his belief that Kubrick is referencing the genocide of the Native American peoples (note all those indian carpet and mural designs in the hotel, even on the Calumet cans), are certainly worthy of consideration and at the very minimum will encourage viewers to watch the film again to try to spot some of these frames, sets, props and coincidences (and even continuity errors) that have gripped the fans so.

If Ascher's documentary achieves anything, it is to remind us of the power of cinema itself. Kubrick seems to have constructed a film so meticulously composed and yet so open to interpretation that some of its fans have become, as one admits, literally lost in the maze of the Overlook Hotel, approaching almost some kind of meta level absorption with the text. For those who have no time for the theories, at the minimum Room 237 serves as a reminder as to the power that The Shining has stylistically, the rivers of blood, the steadicam shots, the eerie hotel sets, the iconic and magnetic performance of Jack Nicholson.

This reviewer also came away from the documentary thinking about how, for better or worse, technology has made multiple readings of films even easier - DVDs allow frame by frame viewing, internet forums allow theories to spread and be counteracted in seconds across continents, modern computer image software lets the interviewees put their theories on screen in the Room 237 film itself via digital maps of the Overlook Hotel's interiors, along with animated graphs, spider charts, and handy arrows laid over the film that point to certain parts of the screen to guide the eye.This is very much a study of modern media technology and how it is changing or reinforcing the ways we watch films.

With the BFI soon to be releasing the US cut of The Shining onto UK shores for the first time, this intriguing film offers a fine chance to wander the halls of the Overlook Hotel again beforehand. You might spot something new when you next watch Kubrick's film...

Reviewed on: 24 Oct 2012
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Room 237 packshot
Wander down the corridors of the Overlook Hotel in this exploration of theories surrounding Stanley Kubrick's The Shining.
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Director: Rodney Ascher

Year: 2012

Runtime: 80 minutes

Country: US


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