This review was originally published on 20th October on http://www.frontrowreviews.co.uk, where I gave it 3/5 as part of our LFF Coverage.
Room 237 has to be the craziest and zaniest documentary I have ever seen; but what more can you expect when the study is Stanley Kubrick’sThe Shining? Now we live in days of DVD and Blu-Ray, where it is easier to get off hold films and rewatch them in a variety of ways, where we can see making of after making of on various extra features and where a film is now always open to interpretation, it is most necessary to delve deeply into the works of Kubrick, and why not start with a Stephen King adaptation, one of Kubrick’s best known films and one of the films which made him an auteur?
The director, Rodney Ascher and producer, Tim Kirk approached the idea of working on a documentary to uncover the secrets of The Shining, when they found and were enthused by the various ideas and theories that worked their way around the internet about what the film could be about, and what it could be saying. Whilst they discovered they were excited about these ideas themselves, they also found that discussions could be had about whether any of these ideas made sense and then they were opening up to an even bigger world, where discussions could be had surrounding The Shining, but also around Kubrick himself and whether he was trying to say something outside of the story of the film.
Room 237 does not work like a traditional documentary, in the cinema vérité way as demonstrated by John Grierson who isoften considered the father of documentary filmmaking. This documentary doesn’t have any talking heads, we aren’t brought into the discussion and asked to come up with answers and there is very little connection between many of the images on the screen but instead the film is told through a selection of interviews with theorists and academics, who have written (either online or in books) about what they think The Shining is about. In terms of what we are being shown on screen; it differs depending on the person talking. If there are scenes in the film to illustrate the theory, then we are shown them – this is an interesting method because for a brief period of time, I found myself (like much of the audience, I am sure) believing or at least wanting to believe what they were being told – I mean, it was right in front of our eyes – this must made sense. Although, what the documetnary does question as well as the film itself, is the methods at which the audience are meant to believe. The same scenes are then recut and shown again later on from a different theory and then the audience are meant to decide what they believe, surely they can’t all be true?
This was something which particularly interested me, as the film itself is a question of what is being shown on screen and the madness, which Jack Torrence (Jack Nicholson) is going through whilst at the Overlook Hotel. Therefore the audience have two lots of things to debate if they know the story of the film; are they to believe what is happening in Jack’s head and which theory are they to believe in the documentary? It’s as if Ascher’s own decisions in the film are mirroring those of Kubrick.
There are a variety of suggestions made about what The Shining actually means and what Kubrick was trying to say. These range from Kubrick admitting he helped fake the Apollo moon landings in 1969, to an analogy for the holocaust and the colonisation of Native America. Through the use of specially cut scenes spliced together, and the bodyless voice guiding us through the map of the Overlook, the film and it’s meaning, these reactions and theories both seem ridiculous and madly accurate at the same time. Personally, my two favourite interpretations were the mapping of the Overlook, illustrated on screen through specially drawn maps of the hotel proving that the layout is impossible as corridors and rooms do not match each other and the ways in which the characters walk through the hotel. My other favourite is the suggestion that The Shining is a film which should be watched both forwards and backwards as there are many scenes which either make more sense (physically) watching them backwards and that there are further suggestions to the meaning. The writer of this theory then guides us through a selection of illustrations where the film has been superimposed playing backwards on top of it playing forwards – this was fun to watch and really thrilling for those who know the film. It certainly did line up several of the plots, which do connect throughout the film and play them on top of each other, for example the alignment of Jack with his son, Danny and the gradual madness of Jack is so interesting to watch.
Furthermore, as well as The Shining, Room 237 also makes use of other scenes from other Kubrick films, which makes thedocumentary an interesting one for Kubrick fans generally. Cutting scenes from Eyes Wide Shut and Full Metal Jacket, almost give the film a sense of authenticity about what it is talking about and that we are meant to believe the interpretations we are being show.
All in all, the weakest part of the film was the disconnection I felt throughout; although the film was highly interesting and the cutting of the scenes was skilled, I was too distant from what I was being told because it was all just voices and seemingly random scenes. The scenes from the film were specially chosen to illustrate the theory, and they therefore had very little relevance upon the rest of the film but also, just by having voices, I felt like I was just watching an academic textbook being read out to me.
Room 237 is an interesting documentary, with a lot to say for itself. It suffers trying to be too much like the film it is talking about but at the same time, I have never seen a documentary like it!
Room 237 will be playing on the 11th (VUE), 13th (VUE) and 15th (ICA).