Room 237 Review
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It is no secret that, to many, Stanley Kubrick was considered a genius. His dedication to his craft and, especially, his attention to detail resulted in works that are both fondly remembered and revered as masterpieces. His impressive back catalogue, though slim and disparate, demonstrated a prowess when it came to contrasting genres: from the science fiction of 2001: A Space Odyssey to the satire of Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb. In 1980 he turned to Stephen King for The Shining, in doing so producing his sole excursion into outright horror.
Given Kubrick’s stature, it should come as no surprise to learn that, since its emergence more than 30 years ago, The Shining has amassed a dedicated and, to put it mildly, obsessive fanbase. Ranking published authors among their number, these are people who have detected ‘significant’ traits in the film which aren’t particularly obvious to the casual viewer. They are also the people who, thanks to producer Tim Kirk and director Rodney Ascher, have created Room 237, an intriguing yet wholly subjective documentary peek into the intricacies of Kubrick’s picture and their theories as to its numerous hidden meanings.
Ask any film scholar or historian and they’ll happily confirm that Kubrick was among the most meticulous of directors. He wanted every single shot to be perfect and for everything within the frame to be pertinent to his narratives. It is this aspect of his character which has been pounced on by Room 237’s participants prompting them to study The Shining intensively, to conjure up discrepant hypotheses out of its undercurrents and, at times, to reveal startling discoveries that shed an entirely new light on the horror masterpiece.
We are assured at the very beginning of Room 237 that the views and opinions of the proceeding film are in no way to be associated with Kubrick, his trust, his family or indeed the studio for which The Shining was made. As viewers our instant reaction is to assume that the next 102 minute will be populated by paranoid nuts who have seen the film far too many times. Such instincts are partially proven right, especially when scenarios that seem largely like continuity errors are delved into, but nevertheless there are some captivating ideas as the documentary progresses.
Interestingly, several of the interviewees recall a disdain for The Shining on an initial viewing. The film confused and beguiled them, but it was also that very confusion which caused them to return. Only after further examination did they recognise its brilliance and, ultimately, discover its hidden meanings. Their various theories are delivered in voice-over (we never see any of the participants) and illustrated with clips from the film itself plus other Kubrick features and some dramatized re-enactments. Subtitled Being an Inquiry Into The Shining in 9 Parts, Room 237 is structured into segments, each of which, as you would expect, tends to contradict the other.
The vigour with which the evidence is delivered makes for an enjoyable ride as too do the manipulated excerpts from The Shining. Slowing down, freeze-framing and dissecting a scene has rarely been so enthralling, and the first half-hour is heavy in content: hypotheses on numerology, sexual repression, the Holocaust and the genocide of Native Americans. Room 237 may appear to be a collection of crackpot theories, but they’re presented with such belief (to a point that is almost arrogant) that the end results are captivating. And it keeps you enthralled too – the moment one of the voice-overs mentions his belief that Kubrick placed hidden meanings pertaining to his supposed involved with the moon landing footage (faked, naturally) your ears perk up and never retreat.
Ascher has produced an eerie and eye-opening documentary that, much like his interviewees’ responses to The Shining, depends on how much you are willing to put in. This isn’t to say that only those with a credulous disposition will take something away from their viewing, but rather that Room 237 is a film which requires a little patience and understanding. The scene, for example, where Kubrick’s film is played backwards and superimposed over the top of its original playback seems just too fastidious to be taken seriously, yet you come away having learnt how a work of art in whichever medium can be subtly allegorical and rather misunderstood.
Room 237 is being released onto UK DVD on April 1st courtesy of Metrodome Distribution. Presented in a ratio of 1.78:1 (anamorphically enhanced) the film is blessed with a fine image quality, but is somewhat less impressive in the audio department. Visually things are pristine throughout with the clips from The Shining and other movies all being sourced from excellent materials. The soundtrack, despite the choice of DD2.0 and DD5.1, is hampered by the poor quality of some of the interviews. The disc itself never compounds the problem, though some may find the wavering levels more than a little frustrating. There are no optional subtitles for the hard-of-hearing or otherwise. The sole extra is the theatrical trailer.