Room 237: Sundance Film Review
3:43 PM PST 1/26/2012 by Todd McCarthy
“The Bottom Line
A wacky, sometimes hilariously esoteric deconstruction of the subliminal messages and hidden meanings in Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining.
Sundance Film Festival (New Frontier)
Rodney Ascher’s doc investigates the hidden meanings in Stanley Kubrick’s 1980 horror film “The Shining.”
The fastidiousness, intellectual obsessiveness and attention to minute detail for which Stanley Kubrick was known is matched by some devoted acolytes in Room 237, a fanatical, sometimes hilarious analysis and deconstruction of hidden meanings to be found in the director’s controversial 1980 horror film The Shining.
Nutty, arcane and jaw-dropping in equal measure, this is a head-first plunge down the rabbit hole of Kubrickiana from which, for some, there is evidently no return. Festivals, buff venues and anywhere Kubrick freaks are plentiful would provide natural markets, but while an end credit proclaims that the abundant clips are used in accordance with fair use provisions, it remains to be seen whether Warner Bros. gives this a pass or tries to block showings in commercial venues.
This clever homemade curio actually more closely resembles the kind of highly personal reworkings of and reflections on movies that one can easily find online than it does more conventional documentaries or academic inquiries into art works. Technically quite accomplished, the film consists mostly of sequences from Kubrick’s adaptation of Stephen King’s novel (the author famously despises the result), along with behind-the-scenes footage from his daughter’s documentary about its making, related clips from his films and others, and a few amusingly staged bits involving mock audiences.
Director Rodney Ascher divides his “inquiry” into nine parts, the first of which builds a case, based on the prominent display of Calumet baking soda can in the film and the fact that the Timberline Lodge was built on Indian burial grounds, that The Shining is actually about the genocide of Native Americans and, in a broader sense, the Holocaust. The latter speculation stems from the fact that the typewriter Jack Nicholson uses is a German brand and because a prominently featured sports jersey bears the number 42, the year the final solution was implemented.
Throughout, various voices are heard expounding on this sort of esoterica. It’s impossible to tell who’s doing the talking at various moments and it doesn’t really matter; they’ve all seen the film many times, run it backwards and forward (one amusingly illustrated sequence argues that The Shining is in many ways 2001: A Space Odyssey in reverse), magnified images, found and rationalized continuity errors and identified subliminal messages. One of the more edifying portions has an architecture expert analyze the layout of Ken Adam’s fantastic hotel set and point out the “impossible” window in the office of the general manager played by Barry Nelson.
One speaker insists that Kubrick busied himself with such matters because, after Barry Lyndon, he was “a bored filmmaker” looking for new ways to make films. Rather too much time is given over to one commentator’s resurrection of the shibboleth that Kubrick staged the Apollo moon landing using the front screen projection technique of 2001.
Shot through with wit, wayward intelligence and ample evidence that some people just have too much time on their hands, Room 237 is one of the more idiosyncratic blocks in the ever-growing temple devoted to Kubrick’s unique talent and legacy. There will be more.
Venue: Sundance Film Festival (New Frontier)
Producer: Tim Kirk
Director: Rodney Ascher
Music: Johnathan Snipes, William Hutson