Posted by Pablo Kjolseth on October 21, 2012
Room 237 (2012) is a documentary by Rodney Ascher that delves into several different theories that might lurk behind the infamous door of Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining (1980). Anyone who watches The Shining at face value alone will walk away having seen a horror film about an alcoholic and abusive writer who is haunted by ghosts until he goes mad. But when you take into consideration the fact that Kubrick was reading a lot of Freud in preparation for shooting The Shining, and that he was also deep into Jungian concepts about the duality of man, suddenly The Shining takes on other meanings as well, all of which are aided by Kubrick’s fastidious nature and his love for symmetry. These complexities are all well documented in the impressive tome released by Taschen titled The Stanley Kubrick Archives. Room 237 does not go down these well trod paths of analysis, but rather goes off the beaten path and down five completely different rabbit-holes.
The interviewees in Room 237 are:
Geoffrey Cocks, a professor of History at Albion College in Michigan, who shares his views The Shining as a parable on the Holocaust.
Juli Kearns, a playwright and author, who focuses on how she feels Kubrick is working out his own version of Theseus and the Labyrinth.
Bill Blakemore, who has covered a dozen wars as an ABC News correspondent. Blakemore sees clear clues as to why the real text behind The Shining is one in which The Overlook serves as a metaphor for the entire U.S. and its role in Native American genocide.
John Fell Ryan is a performer, musician, and recording artist who writes and edits KDK12. He has been working on an ongoing visual analysis of Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining and has found eerie treats galore (and ga-gore) by playing The Shining forwards and backwards simultaneously – with one image superimposed over the other while the audio alone plays forward as normal. Only at the midway point does it sync up into one solid image (and this is when Dick Halloran is in bed with the picture above his head).
Jay Weidner is a director and producer of several documentaries, and has been referred to by Wired Magazine as an “authority on the hermetic and alchemical traditions.” In Room 237 he tries to show how buried in The Shining is a parallel narrative, a hidden message in a bottle, that was constructed by Kubrick as a way to assuage his guilt for his role in helping NASA fake the moon landing.
These five interviews, along with an array of the expected visual clips (which helped bog the film down in legalities), vy for attention for a duration of just over 100 minutes. The two who get the shortest shrift are Ryan and Weidner, and one is left with a sense of having only touched the tip of the iceberg (Ascher himself estimates that he only used 10% of the interviews he conducted). Ryan’s work, however, is sure to find a life of it’s own, much the way clandestine screenings of The Dark Side of the Rainbow were arranged that paired up Pink Floyd‘s Dark Side of the Moon with screenings of The Wizard of Oz.
Speaking of the dark side of the moon, Weidner’s been busy. He released Kubrick’s Odyssey: Secrets Hidden in the films of Stanley Kubrick, Part One, Kubrick and Apollo (2011, 70 mins) and Beyond the Infinite:Kubrick’s Odyssey II, Secrets Hidden in the films of Stanley Kubrick (2012, 61 mins).
The idea that a smart director could skillfully weave a variety of subtexts into any given film is nothing new, nor should it be surprising. In the case of Stanley Kubrick you have a director who not only had a high I.Q., he may also have had Asperger’s Syndrome, a form of autism that sometimes manifests itself via an inability to interact socially and/or also manifesting itself via intense interests in a given subject. This might explain Kubrick’s infamy for retakes for a movie. Most films shot during the celluloid era had shooting ratios that average between 5 and 15 retakes per every scene. The Shining had a shooting ratio of 102:1, which was enough to drive Shelley Duvall into a nervous breakdown.
The most compelling reason that I have for believing that Kubrick would insert a variety of subtexts into his films would boil down to his well known passion for chess. A good chess player always stay several steps ahead of his opponent by trying to look ahead into the future and anticipating what moves lie ahead with every move of a chess piece. True chess champions can look farther into the future than any average player can fathom. The caveat is that the number of moves in chess go beyond the number of electrons in the universe – and that way lies madness. Think about it: Bobby Fischer, Paul Morphy, Wilhelm Steinitz, Harry Pillsbury… there’s a reason professional chess players suffer from a much higher risk of insanity than the rest of us.
Being able to predict the future, insanity, infinite possibilities…. hmmm…. isn’t that what The Shining is all about? This is why I have my own theory about the film. I think Stanley Kubrick’s chess playin’ us.
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