This couldn’t have been planned better. Right in the midst of Horror Week comes a new documentary about one of the all-time classic horror films.
Just a film? Yeah, right.
Seldom do we come across a film as dense with subtext and hidden meaning as The Shining. From what was originally a simple haunted house novel (albeit one shot through with Stephen King’s trademark missing father subtext) Stanley Kubrick created a piece of art that is fascinating and infuriating in equal measure, and still provoking intense debate and theories of every stripe more than thirty years after its release. In Room 237, we are shown five of these subjective viewpoints from five different self-confessed Shining obsessives. Some of these ideas may be new to you, some of them you may even have come up with yourself, but they will all make you see this classic film in a new way.
Ever since I heard about this film, I have been looking forward to it. I first saw The Shining at a friend’s house when I was about 14 years old, and my first thought was something along the lines of “is that it?”. My little brain simply could not comprehend the depth of what I had just seen. As I have gotten older and more analytical of the films I watch, The Shining is the one I have been determined to decipher more than any other. Now, after sitting through Room 237, I’m going to have to start all over again. And I can’t wait to begin.
Using narration from his five contributors, director and editor Rodney Ascher has compiled a patchwork of archive clips from Kubrick’s entire oeuvre (as well as other unrelated films) and reenactments to tell this story. If ever a documentary deserved to be called mind-bending, it’s this one. The sourcing and editing of the footage alone deserves an award, with the juxtaposition of voice and image serving to deepen the understanding of both, and occasionally getting a laugh or two as well.
The opinions of the interviewees cover ground as varied as “The Shining is a metaphor for the genocide of the American Indians” (according to ABC News reporter and Kubrick historian Bill Blakemore) to “The Shining is Stanley Kubrick’s apology to his wife for being responsible for the fake lunar landing footage” (sayeth conspiracy theorist, author and filmmaker Jay Weidner) and everything in between. If there is one definitive fact presented by Room 237, it is this: there has never been another filmmaker as deserving of the word artist as Stanley Kubrick.
Room 237 is thought-provoking, funny, intense and ingenious in equal measure. I can’t say it strongly enough: if you can possibly get to one of the screenings (here in the UK, it is currently showing in London, Bristol, Sheffield and Edinburgh), do not miss this. It is the perfect appetiser in advance of next week’s re-release of The Shining itself, with the longer US cut appearing in British cinemas for the first time.