Room 237: Nutbags talkin’ Kubrick

Another (slightly belated) review from the Melbourne International Film Festival.

As far as I’m concerned, there are two types of people in this world. There are those people who love Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining, and then there are those that the forces of the universe have placed before me in order to test the limits of my sanity.

As a teenager I remember being a huge fan of Stephen King, only to discover that he disapproved of Kubrick’s adaptation of his novel. How could this be? How could the minor populist talent that was King stand before the Grand Auteur and reject the honour that was bestowed upon him? It’s the equivalent of Da Vinci condescending to paint a portrait of Snoopy, only to be refused. Madness. Which it was of course, King’s criticisms were mainly steeped in a rejection of the ambiguities that made the film a masterpiece, and he also later approved of the schlocky TV adaptation directed by Mick Garris.

And so it is that the themes of madness and The Shining coalesce once again in Room 237. Room 237 is the first feature length documentary from Rodney Ascher, a fascinating film about the endless obsession of cinephiles with The Shining, and the tendency to over-read in its subtleties a plethora of complex and non-existent subtexts. The film is made almost entirely of footage from The Shining and other movies that are somehow meant to be related (the constant use of footage from Lamberto Bava’s Demoni is a bit of a stretch). The whole production is narrated a by a series of individuals who each have their own takes on what the “true meaning” of The Shining is. The most normal of these individuals could probably be best described as having an exaggerated belief in his case regarding the film, while the rest can be unanimously classed as totally and utterly insane.

I won’t go into detail on these individuals, but perhaps the most entertaining reading is that of a man who sees The Shining as a thinly veiled confession by Stanley Kubrick that he was responsible for helping the United States government fake the moon landing. Indeed, this man goes so far as to say that the visual techniques employed in the movie were clearly learnt while secretly filming the landing in a studio. Crazy stuff.

The whole movie is fascinating from start to finish for any cinephile, especially one who holds Kubrick in high esteem – however, this is in spite of the quality of the production rather than because of it. The reality is that listening to insane people say absolutely outrageous and largely unqualified things about a movie you love is inevitably going to keep your attention no matter what. It is this that saves this amateurishly produced documentary from falling apart. The footage chosen throughout the film is sometimes inappropriate, the sound editing was clumsy (occasionally the audio volume would drop drastically in one clip, only to return with a vengeance in another), and the movie could have done with interjections from individuals that might have provided a more sensible and enlightening textual analysis of the film.

But, so far as it goes, this is a film that should not be avoided by any Kubrick fan.

James Curnow is an obsessive cinephile and the owner and head editor of CURNBLOG. His work as a film journalist has been published in a range of print and digital publications, including The Guardian, Broadsheet and Screening the Past. James is currently working through a PhD in Film Studies, focused primarily on issues of historical representation in Contemporary Hollywood cinema.

19 thoughts on “Room 237: Nutbags talkin’ Kubrick

  1. You’re wrong – they are correct. All of them. Even if they contradict each other;)
    (Or is it Kubrick’s genius that his film can hold so many messages at once…?)

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  3. I hardly dare say it…OK, I will. As much as I normally love Kubrick’s work, I am not a huge fan of The Shining’. There, it is done, and out in the open. So, rest assured I will not be watching this either. (Pause as I duck…)

  4. Nice review! I done some work into The Shining for a project which also compared Kubrick’s, A Clockwork Orange & Full Metal Jacket concerning male dominance. Really interesting character and extremely good at what he did! Thanks for the follow by the way!

  5. Room 237 sounds really interesting – I hope I get to see it in the UK sometime soon. The relationship that book fans have with film counterparts and vice versa is fascinating, so this sounds right up my street.

  6. After studying film, adaptation, and auteurism for so long, I lose interest in the “it wasn’t as good as the book” or “wasn’t faithful” debates.

    However, the conspiracy theories regarding The Shining are never ending. Some say it’s an allegory for The Holocaust. Regardless of the literary theories, it’s a fantastic film.

  7. Of course Kubrik’s Shining was a masterpiece and Stephen King is an idiot for thinking otherwise. He’s best described as a scriptwriter, since his books make better movies than they do novels. So anything Kubrik could do to realise King’s vision should have been welcomed. I could probably have got a part in Room 237 at the deranged end of the spectrum.

  8. I really hope I get to see this at some point, sounds really interesting. I’ve done a fair bit of reading into The Shining, so would be good to hear the more leftfield theories. I’d heard though that because it features clips from quite a few other films, it might have a problem securing a proper release.

    • Definitely check it out.

      That’s quite possible – there’s a lot of random footage, although a lot of it is other Kubrick films, out of copyright silents and Italian exploitation stuff…

  9. This film sounds nuts. Now I want to check it out lol Were any of the people interviewed actually wearing a tinfoil hat?

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