Reporting from AFI Fest 2012 presented by Audi
A few weeks back, I wrote a piece for the site about being an active consumer of culture, to open your eyes and your mind as you’re watching movies or reading comics, and really see all the subtle nuances the art forms can provide. As geeks, we are prone to being obsessive with the things we love, and I really encourage all of us to be smarter viewers.
I was thinking about this a lot as I watched the enormously entertaining documentary Room 237 this weekend at AFI Fest.
Room 237 is a documentary about obsessive movie watching. The film in question here is Stanley Kubrick’s 1980 horror classic The Shining. Anybody who‘s a fan of Kubrick’s work knows that the man was exceedingly meticulous in his craft. When Tom Cruise worked with Kubrick on Eyes Wide Shut, that movie was famously in principle photography for 18 months. I can remember the mouth breathers in the entertainment media speculating how much money Cruise had given up to work with Kubrick for a year and a half. The Shining itself shot for over a year with enormous sets being built in England. (Kubrick lived there and refused to work elsewhere.)
Room 237 interviews numerous Kubrick geeks who, in turn, provide their theories about what various patterns and symbolic clues in the film represent. A few of them seem more or less plausible. One of them suggests that the film is about the genocide of Native Americans, while another says the film is really all about the Holocaust. Those theories are pretty reasonable. After all, the Overlook is loaded with photos of Native Americans, and Jack types very specifically on a German typewriter.
A more bizarre idea put forth is that The Shining was Kubrick working through his guilt for helping stage a fake Apollo Moon landing. The theory goes that Kubrick used the front projection technique he perfected in 2001 to help the government fake the Moon landing, and anytime the film deviates from Stephen King’s source novel (which is fairly often) that new material directly relates to the Apollo fraud. It’s sounds nuts until the guy starts to show his evidence in the film, like Danny wearing a sweater with an Apollo rocket on it or the hexagonal patterns in the hotel carpet being an exact match to launch pads at Cape Canaveral.
But, the most wackadoodle theory of The Shining involves interdimensional demons who want to have sex with humans. Somehow, the decaying, old crone in the Overlook’s Room 237 has something to do with that.
One of the exceptional things director Rodney Ascher has done involves his meticulous film editing that coincides with his interviews. Room 237 is essentially a talking heads documentary (It’s just these people talking about their views of the film.), but rather than just present the interviews on screen, Ascher has painstakingly edited footage from The Shining, other Kubrick films like Barry Lyndon and A Clockwork Orange, and other random movies to reflect the intellectual or emotional content being discussed. It’s often a very amusing approach to making the film more fun to watch, and it must have taken forever to edit.
Whether you’re buying these theories or not, Room 237 presents some really cool insights into The Shining. For instance, I never realized how bizarre the Overlook Hotel is. The idea is that Kubrick was subconsciously letting the audience know that something is horribly wrong with the place by the unreality of the hotel’s physically impossible design. Early in the film, Jack Torrance meets with the hotel’s manager, and the manager’s office has an exterior window with the sun shining through. This window simply can’t exist in the hotel, as the office is positioned in the middle of the lobby. Also Danny’s riding his Big Wheel through the hotel makes increasingly little sense as he starts to ride in patterns that would simply be impossible given what we know of the hotel’s layout. And, the hotel seems to change in size and shape as exterior shots of the actual Oregon hotel don’t always match the exterior set of the hotel that was built outside London. Or maybe these were all just gigantic continuity errors. In the case of Stanley Kubrick, I can’t imagine that’s the case.
I’m a huge Kubrick nerd (Dr. Strangelove is one of my two or three favorite movies of all time.), and I had a ball with Room 237. If you’re not much into Kubrick in general but love The Shining specifically, I think you’ll find a lot to like.
It’s catnip for film geeks.