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Monday, April 1, 2013

Room 237 Review

IFC Midnight
Room 237 Review
2013, 102 minutes
Not Rated

Room 237 is a fascinating and bizarre documentary that explores different people's interpretations of Stanley Kubrick's horror masterpiece The Shining.  Told entirely through clips of The Shining and other films with interviewee voice-over, Room 237 is a deceptively simple documentary that not only raises questions about The Shining, but also about artistic intent.

Interviewed in this film are five different people who obsess over The Shining and all have theories and readings on what it means and Kubrick's message to the audience.  One thinks that something Kubrick was trying to reference was the genocide of the Native Americans.  Another one believes it is an allegory for the Holocaust.  The most outrageous (and certainly the one that got the biggest laugh out of the audience) was one that said that The Shining is Kubrick's apology for faking the moon landing!  How these people come to these conclusions must be seen to be believed.  I am not here to disclose that information to you.  I am here to review the quality of the film.

Director Rodney Ascher edited the film into nine parts and organized his material brilliantly.  By using no interview footage and all film clips, Ascher illustrates the theorist's points in vivid detail, frequently slowing down or replaying a scene from The Shining to make sure the audience sees what they need to see to understand the interviewee's point.  In addition to The Shining and some comical uses of clips from other Kubrick films, Ascher includes clips from other films or TV shows when they fit with some of the voice-over.  While this approach is very viewer-friendly and just a smart directorial decision, I would have liked to see the film's subjects to put a voice to a face during the movie.  However, this did not detract very much from the film.

A movie such as Room 237 raises the question of whether Stanley Kubrick intended for people to read into The Shining as far as they do.  Room 237 directly addresses the question and concludes that whether Kubrick intended for people to read into the movie what they do, people still will read into the film and continue to obsess over it.  It doesn't matter what Kubrick's intent was.  People will always read into works of art and that is the beauty of it.  No matter if you believe the conspiracy theories or readings or not, this movie is about so much more than that.  This movie epitomizes why we go to the movies and why people love the movies.  There are endless possibilities to what one can see in movies, and the discussion that ensues illustrates the power of the art.

I personally don't buy into most theories presented here (the Native American genocide one is the most plausible), but it does not matter.  The film is told in an entirely objective manner neither agreeing or disagreeing with its subjects.  It simply shows them and their theories and lets the audience decide what to think, which is very admirable.  These people, I believe, read way too far into the movie.  Kubrick was a genius and a brilliant filmmaker, but let's face it, he did not use The Shining as an apology for faking the moon landing.  The interviewees have a strange habit of pointing out supposed errors in the film.  While they maintain that the "errors" are not errors, but really messages that Kubrick was trying to send to the audience, this seems to be simply untrue.  There are such things as film errors and when making a film on the scale that The Shining was made on with the long running time that it has, there are bound to be mistakes.

Overall, Room 237 is a fascinating film about the power of cinema.  It is very detailed, well-crafted, and insanely funny.  This is absolutely worth a watch for anyone who thinks that they may over-analyze films or who are fans of The Shining.  As long as you take the interviewee's readings with a "grain of salt", you'll have a blast watching this unique movie.

-Joshua Handler

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