Wednesday, 29 May 2013

Film Review | Room 237 (2012)

The Shining is one of those films that has firmly embedded itself across the entire spectrum of cinematic notoriety. Even casual moviegoers are likely to recognise at least some of the references to lines, characters and scenes that crop up in popular culture fairly regularly. At the other end of the scale we have the fanatics, the obsessives and the theorists; those who have watched and rewatched Kubrick's horror masterpiece to the point that they no longer see a narrative, more a collection of interconnected clues to a greater meaning behind the film. Rodney Ascher's Room 237 rests its focus upon a quintet of Shining enthusiasts who enjoy analysing the film to within an inch of its life. Sadly, the documentary can't live up to the movie geekgasm it seems to promise.

The theories presented range from the fascinating to the tenuous to the downright laughable. Some seem to have a fair amount of evidence within Kubrick's film, such as the choice to add several references - some overt, some subtle - to Native American culture not found in Stephen King's source novel. The leap to then declaring The Shining as being about the genocide of the Native Americans is quite a large step further, however; moreover, a step which requires a fair amount of gap-filling and dot-joining on the viewer's part. Other theories pieced together through over-obsession can only be viewed as crackpot (Kubrick filmed the Apollo 11 moon landing footage, and The Shining is "littered" with hints and clues towards this), whilst one section about playing the film simultaneously forwards and backwards on top of each other feels like Kubrick devotees clutching at straws and in all honesty is just plain dull.

If you haven't watched The Shining recently, do so before watching Room 237, otherwise references to some incredibly specific elements of the film will almost certainly be largely lost on you. Most of the citations are accompanied by footage from The Shining to illustrate whatever theory is being presented, but all the same it's better to have some frame of reference as to where each part being analysed appears within the original film. The use of footage from other Kubrick films, as well as several other sources, is neatly done and is probably Room 237's greatest strength.

It's a shame then that several other parts of the film fail to impress. Ascher immediately throws you straight into each interviewee's separate theories without any preamble or introduction, making the film's opening feel somewhat limp and disorientating. Ascher's choices from there fail more often than they succeed. At no point do we see any of the five speakers, not only making it difficult at times to differentiate between who is actually talking, but also more importantly makes it hard to develop anything more than an arbitrary engagement with those involved. Ascher also remains entirely without agenda or indeed purpose, making it difficult to know exactly how he wants us to view the ideas and people he's presenting to us. The theories are put forward without any exploration of the lives or personalities of those putting them to us, which ultimately makes them far less interesting than they could be.

In the end, Room 237 feels like something of a wasted opportunity. Numerous interesting questions (such as why Jack appears in the New Year's Eve 1921 photo) and factoids (Kubrick reportedly preferred the shorter European cut of The Shining, which actually removes some parts analysed here) are completely ignored, which will surely disappoint many who were hoping for some theories regarding these most notorious of mysteries surrounding Kubrick's film. But the biggest failing of Ascher's film is its execution. As a documentary, Room 237 is amateurish to the point of feeling at best like a special feature on a non-existent DVD or Blu-ray edition of The Shining, at worst like an extended YouTube video.


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