Much maligned when it first came out in 1980, Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining has subsequently proved it’s critics to be ill judged. It’s after-glow has been resolute. The power of the Shine seemingly grows brighter with age, and repeated viewings. For some, many many repeated viewings.
Directed, or more realistically composed by Rodney Ascher, the documentary Room 237 is the result of many (many) such viewings. Like the inspirational movie itself, this can be of both stunning insight, and potentially, ever so slightly, maybe a wee bit insane.
The basic premise of Room 237 is recorded interviews with various individuals explaining what they believe they’ve discovered whilst watching, whether it be subtle/not so subtle (though I never noticed them), subliminal messages and creative visual devices used in Kubrick’s big screen opus about the slow descent into madness.
Voice-overs of respected academics and their opinions are illustrated by sampling and remixing clips of various film stock (including The Shining) to a wonderful playful/thought provoking effect. It’s somewhat similar to having a chat with mates down the pub after seeing a great movie and discussing what everyone thought about it.
Also like being down the pub, as the movie/night goes on, some of the views expressed have a air of something having been consumed to jam open the doors of perception. Actually, a couple seem to have taken the doors off their hinges, axed them to pieces, then set them on fire.
This isn’t a criticism though. It may not be a deliberate device, but it does run parallel to Jack Nicholson’s character in the movie where in repetition (in this case re-watching the subject movie ALOT), folk start to see things. And from the safety of your cinema seat, hearing some of the views is like being a psychologist for a couple of hours.
It certainly helps to have seen The Shining, which for the record is one of my all time favourite movies. I read the original Stephen King book too, which I really enjoyed, but they are quite separate entities, so I don’t have a preference. King was known to be unhappy with the Kubrick creation, which in itself is one of the many rather funny bizarre moments in the documentary.
Ascher (right) is at great pains to make it clear that the movie is in no way officially related or endorsed to the subject film, nor anyone involved with it. There is a huge disclaimer on screen prior to the movie starting. During the movie it is very clear there is genuine love for The Shining, so the disclaimer only makes it an even more enjoyable adventure experience. It actually frees it from the constraints of corporate image control and manipulation.
Having said that, Kubrick was renowned for having a capacious, somewhat mischievous mind. He studied many subjects endlessly, and would research topics out of fascination and obsession, for months, if not years. It is recognised facts such as these that lend weight and potential credence to many of the points raised, though it has to be said some have very tenuous links indeed.
While developing the movie, Kubrick apparently had meetings with professional advertisers who were beginning to use research into subliminal advertising to trigger our emotional responses to whatever they may be trying to sell us. Clearly such information would be advantageous in the art of movie making. So even though Kubrick died years ago, is he still manipulating us from beyond the grave?
Because of this, as stated, it is difficult to absorb some topics raised. My take on The Shining is that everything was done to generate a response of unease, but this is why I love it so much. It’s a considered, almost academic madness, mixed up with some playful mischief, all to considerable effect.
Room 237 has a similar playfulness about it too. It is really enjoyable, thought provoking and considering a somewhat thrifty budget, looks amazing. It’s also the first time I experienced moments from The Shining on the big screen, which in itself is an utter delight.
Ultimately it’s a love letter to a stunning movie an a craftsman. If you love The Shining, you’ll love Room 237. It will only add to your enjoyment of Kubrick’s work and the belief of the positive effect art can have on your life if you let it, let the love Shine.
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Room 237 is released in the UK today by Metrodome Distribution.
The Shining is reissued on the big screen on 2nd November.