[102 minutes. Unrated. Director: Rodney Ascher]
Question: When is a picture of a skier not a picture of a skier?
Answer: When the skier is a Minotaur (of course).
Question: What hidden image can (apparently) be found in the white clouds and blue sky of one of the opening shots of THE SHINING?
Answer: The visage of Stanley Kubrick (of course).
Question: When is a documentary not a documentary?
Answer: When that documentary is ROOM 237.
After multiple viewings over many years, I’ve tried my damnedest to see the masterpiece many others see when watching THE SHINING, but it’s never worked. With little payoff and a flagrant disregard for Stephen King’s actually-not-bad source material, Kubrick created an interminable bore of a movie, its bad decisions underlined forever by the miscasting of Jack Nicholson and Shelley Duvall as husband and wife.
I approached ROOM 237 with optimism and a sense of purpose – could the revelations housed within be substantial enough to change my opinion of THE SHINING and give it another chance?
Director Rodney Ascher does a commendable job with the film’s structure: brief introductions to the half-dozen or so contributors (who are never seen, for reasons that quickly become clear); a sense of organization dictated by white-on-black, Kubrick-style title cards (“The Enigmatic Bill Watson,” for example); and the use of computer graphics, slow motion, and clips from other films (by Kubrick and others) to drive home specific points. In this regard, ROOM 237 is successful.
Where it fails, repeatedly, is in its content. Using the guise of “documentary filmmaking” in a manner that would make Michael Moore blush, ROOM 237 is like a sad little conspiracy-theory roundtable given unworthy amplification through IFC’s distribution. Our “experts” go down various avenues of interpretation (some view the film as a metaphor for the slaughter of Native Americans, or the Holocaust) that begin with interest before rabbit-trailing into you-gotta-be-fucking-kidding absurdity. Actually, it isn’t even sad – given the ego and self-satisfaction radiated by most of the commentators, it’s enough to make a SHINING non-fan like myself swivel my head in an EXORCIST 360 and puke pea soup all over the screen. When one commentator insists Kubrick staged the Apollo 11 moon landing, it’s delusional jack-assery of the highest order.
ROOM 237 does contain one intriguing segment: the simultaneous forward/backward playback of the film, and the interesting overlap of imagery. While little more than an avant-garde stunt, it’s one instance where the truth is plainly displayed on-screen. (Though, as with everything else, I doubt Kubrick went to such lengths for the sole purpose of demented film-student dissection.)
In a sense, I “get” Ascher’s thesis: why leave cinematic interpretation to the stuffy, mothball-laden stiffs who provide “archival commentaries” on DVDs?
But he does nothing to make us believe these individuals are at all credible…which also may be part of his thesis.
Hear me out…
Rodney Ascher secretly hates Kubrick’s THE SHINING (and might actually be Stephen King using a pseudonym). His aim, in trotting out a bunch of disparate commentators to ramble on with their highly subjective, highly ridiculous interpretations, is to equate fans of THE SHINING with a bunch of asylum inmates, forever nattering about the same damn thing. ROOM 237’s ultimate goal is to make the most rabid SHINING fans look foolish for holding the film in such high regard. Notice the use of the snippet where Jack Torrance (Nicholson) takes his first drink since being on the wagon, served by spectral bartender Lloyd (Joe Turkel) – in succumbing to the sauce (even if it’s all in his head), Jack drips with sarcasm and crazy twitches as he chews the scenery – in essence, a snarky mockery of the interpretations on display, and an indicator of Ascher’s contempt for his subjects.
Given most of the shit posited in ROOM 237, that’s the only logical explanation.
1 out of 5 stars
(Photo from Machinations Into Madness.)
Jonny Numb works in the salt mines at the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, and is not allowed to wield sharp objects on Thanksgiving. He also co-hosts THE LAST KNOCK podcast. Find his movie reviews at http://numbviews.livejournal.com, and on Twitter @JonnyNumb.