The Shining is my ultimate horror film. The sense of dread in that film is palpable the second the film starts, and it does not let up until the final scene. I am so in awe of the power of the Shining that I try not to watch it too often as I am afraid it will lose its magic.
However many people, myself included, believe that a film maker like Stanley Kubrick had more in mind that just scaring us. Anyone with a passing familiarity of Stephen King’s book and Kubrick’s film will note the vast differences between the two. In fact, King was extremely disappointed in the liberties Kubrick took with the source material. My personal opinion is that they are both towering achievements in their respective formats. As an adaptation, the film might not be successful, but as its own entity its power is undeniable. But the point of Room 237 is, where was Kubrick trying to take us using the novel as a starting point (or perhaps we should say launching pad)?
Kubrick’s film was the second to make notably innovative use of the Steadicam, which can track motion smoothly without a dolly track. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Room 237 is an exploration of 5 interviewees’ thoughts on what Kubrick really had in mind. Format wise, the film is not what you would expect. We never see the “talking head” shots that you might expect covering this type of topic. Instead the film is composed of shots from the Shining, other Kubrick films, and surprisingly Dario Argento’s Demons (the Demons shots are used for a movie theater interior and audience.) This has both its advantages and disadvantages. Some of the visual material is repeated several times. Although this gives the film a hypnotic feel, it also can serve to distract from the voiceover as you start to play “name that clip” in your head. Also, I wouldn’t have minded a little bit more grounding as far as who the folks are whose opinions we are listening to.
Another point I found distracting was the fact that the five subjects are intermixed through he film. Tthis makes it hard for each opinion to flow properly and build to a conclusion. I would have preferred them to be presented one at a time.
The above may sound like I did not enjoy Room 237, but the truth is that I did. As a fan of the film for many years, I was familiar with a lot of the concepts presented, but there were several details that were new to me and really caused me to stop and think. Among the theories presented is the notion that the film deals with genocide–both of the Indians or of the Jews through the Holocaust. While I had certainly noticed and read about the Indian connections before (Hotel built on an Indian burial ground, native American motifs in the hotel, the Calumet Indian logo prominent in the pantry…) I had never really connected the film to the Holocaust. It was an interesting point of view that added a new layer to the symbolism in the image of the “river” of blood. And while it may seem hard to believe, there is a lot of evidence backing the theory that the film is actually Kubrick’s confession to staging the Apollo Moon landing! I had never noticed before the way the pattern of the carpet reverses it’s direction after Danny stands up, showing the Apollo Rocket on his sweater taking off. The concepts of abuse, physical, emotional, even sexual are there to be seen as well. Personally I think all of this is a factor, and all contribute to one of the more over-arching concepts Room 237 espouses; the film is about the effects of the past. How do we escape the past? Danny escapes by learning to be aware of the steps he has already taken, as we can see when he “backtracks” in the snow covered hedge maze. Jack however, is swallowed up by the past.
So while I may have issues with some of the presentation techniques, the material present here is fascinating, and more than makes Room 237 worthy of recommendation. Room 237 is now in select theaters as well as on Cable VOD, iTunes and other digital platforms.