Stanley Kubrick, the master of film. A man who created masterpiece after masterpiece after masterpiece. A man who was so well known for his attention to detail and his obsession for his film making precision, that there have been television specials detailing the boxes he kept. But what happens when you put five critical theorists together and let them analyse one of the man's masterpieces? Rodney Ascher seeks to find out. This is Room 237.
Bill Blakemore, Geoffrey Cocks, Juli Kearns, John Fell Ryan, and Jay Weidner each have an opinion on what Kubrick's The Shining really means. Sure, it is advertised as a horror film, a psychological thrill ride into the terrifying state of the human psyche, but is that what it actually portrays? These five professionals argue no and with a bit of pointing out, that becomes obvious. They each present a theory. They stretch from the understandable metaphor of destruction and genocide of Native Americans and their land to the absurdity of proof of Kubrick's heavy involvement in faking the moon landing. There is also a wonderful middle ground that demonstrates the impossibility of the hotel, the labyrinth of it, as Kearns suggests constantly. This is not five people swaying you to their views; this is five people presenting their own personal obsession with analysing details.
|This can really be that important.|
Each theory is fascinating in its own manner, however ridiculous it is. We hear the theory develop and are given frame by frame break downs of important details. Each theorist describes even the smallest factor with passion for their own personal logic. A poster of a skier - or is it a Minotaur? The chair that vanishes - a continuity error or parody of horror? The window that cannot be - simple construction error or elaborate design element? These questions seem absurd, like an English teacher that reads too much in the poetry the class are studying, but with detail, they become genuine points of interest. A director that pays so much attention to detail making continuity errors? They make valid points and you cannot help but get sucked into the obsession that the theorists share and that, no doubt, Kubrick himself had in his own films.
|The theorists thought Wendy was too transparent.|
There is a truth in the film that verbatim materials often lack. The interviewees deliver their thought process step by step, analysing the film with the audience alongside - pausing on important frames. One interviewee even pauses to quieten his son before returning to the analysis and the frame by frame breakdown. All points are backed up with heavy evidence. Particular positioning of objects and camera shots are analysed in detail. Most interestingly, maps are created of the overlook to emphasis points surrounding the architecture. Danny's tricycle rides are plotted with a line in regards to his location in the hotel and the way in which the three differ becomes a key point in one argument. This is a detailed critical analysis of a great film. Is it too detailed? That is up to the viewer. One interviewee makes the crucial point that author intent is only part of the story. The rest is the viewers reception. The main flaw, and arguably the only serious one, is the truth of the interviews meaning a lot of 'um's, 'erm's, and 'ah's, left in the final cut which can often detract from a point. Apart from this, the only complaint is when they do not point out a supposed face in the clouds. It seems, from the IMDb message boards, that I was not the only person who saw squat.
A fascinating documentary for those who love The Shining, Kubrick in general, or just plain ol' film theories. It almost felt like five people taking turns at guessing what would be said in a director's commentary of the film. A solid film.
Best Bit? The most intriguing moment is a segment about the way in which the film is meant to be seen: both forwards and backwards at the same time. Evidence of this, one superimposed on the other, creates a eerily exciting effect. Scenes contrast each other perfectly causing you to sit upright, jaw dropped, awe in your expression. Was Kubrick that clever? Probably not, but it is fascinating all the same.