Monday, 1 July 2013

Room 237

Stanley Kubrick is my all-time favourite filmmaker and Stephen King is one of my all-time favourite writers. In 1980, Kubrick made a film based on King’s novel The Shining. The Shining is one of my least favourite King novels and by far my least favourite Kubrick film (and indeed their collaboration was not a happy one).

Nevertheless, the brilliance which made Kubrick my favourite director is very much in evidence in The Shining if I put aside my distaste for the subject matter, though, until I saw Room 237, I was not willing to set that distaste aside long enough to study The Shining

Room 237 is a documentary (directed by Rodney Ascher) about the hidden meanings in The Shining (room 237 refers to a hotel room where some particularly nasty things take place). Kubrick was well-known as a filmmaker who enjoyed populating his films with details and hidden meanings which require repeated viewings to uncover. So the people whose views are presented in Room 237 had good reason to be suspicious and to watch The Shining over and over again in search of clues (but does that make them sane?).

The result is, for me, scarier than The Shining itself. Room 237 reveals how obsessive some people are about films (and especially Kubrick films) and how deceptively easy it is to find hidden meanings just about anywhere if one is looking for them. Some of the attempts to read meaning into the details and inconsistencies in The Shining not only feel tedious and unwarranted, they feel absolutely ridiculous (like superimposing a backwards running of the film onto the film and seeing how images overlap). But other attempts are utterly fascinating and much more difficult to discount. 

Among my favourites are the attempts to show that Kubrick’s film is really about the genocide of Native Americans or about Kubrick’s obsession with the Holocaust and his/our need to find a way to let go of the horror and pain of the past. But by far the most compelling and frightening of the hidden meanings relates to Apollo 11 and the first walk on the moon. 

While I have heard conspiracy theories about how the filming of that first walk on the moon was faked, I had not heard that it was Kubrick who was supposed to have done that filming. One of the presenters/interviewees in Room 237 (himself a filmmaker)makes an incredibly convincing case that The Shining was Kubrick’s fake filming of King’s novel. What Kubrick was really filming (albeit subtly) was his story about the filming of the moon landing. The pieces of The Shining which were not in King’s novel include speeches by Jack Torrence in which he tells his wife about the importance of contracts and responsibility and the need to sometimes hide things from his wife. Then there is the unexplained change of the room number from 217 (in the novel) to 237, something Kubrick actually lied about. The moon is 237,000 miles from the earth. There is also the way the boy, Danny, stands up in a critical moment in the film and we see that he is wearing a sweater depicting Apollo 11. There is much more of the same for those willing to look for references linking Kubrick to the moon landing. The interviewee makes it clear that he doesn’t question the moon landing itself, only the filming of it. This may all simply be the ravings of a madman, but this is scary stuff!

Whether Room 237 is supposed to show us how crazy and obsessive people can get trying to uncover hidden meanings in film and/or to show the power of the viewer in the film-watching experience and/or to present compelling evidence for Kubrick’s genuine intentions, this is a very entertaining film. A must-see for Kubrick fans, it gets ***+. My mug is up.

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