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November 16, 2014

Room 237

by Franz Patrick


Room 237 (2012)
★★★ / ★★★★

“Room 237,” directed by Rodney Ascher, is a documentary that commands immediate appeal, at least for me, because “The Shining” is one of the movies I revisit just about every year. There is something about Kubrick’s film that demands to seen, to be experienced again and again, from the sinister space the director creates—both in terms of physicality, the interiors of the hotel, or headspace, the mental breakdown of Jack Torrance—to stylistic flourishes such as the famous unbroken shot of Danny big wheeling around the hallways of the Overlook Hotel as an increasing sense of dread runs parallel with every turn he takes.

The documentary is not about the horror classic. It is about people who love the film so much and have seen the picture so many times that they began to see patterns and felt compelled to construct themes that may or may not be there in the first place. It is about how these elements snowball into theories—some very wild—and how the theories, through word-of-mouth, have become a part of the collective unconscious of those who admire or find the film enigmatic, a puzzle to be solved.

Various unseen narrators—Juli Kearns, Jay Weidner, Bill Blakemore, John Fell Ryan, Geoffrey Cocks—present entertaining theories. I enjoyed how one of them pointed out that one can find a detail of impossibility in just about every scene. For example, a television is up and running but it has no cord that is plugged into an electric source. Another shows a room that appears to receive sunlight through a window… but the layout of the hotel suggests that the room is surrounded by other rooms. Now, I had seen Kubrick’s film at least fifteen times. I like to consider myself as an observant person so I was surprised—and tickled—that I never noticed such details.

Perhaps the most far out theory involves the movie being meant to be seen forward and backward. That is, images are superimposed so that the story is told from the beginning (moving forward) as well as from the end (moving backward). Certain frames captured are genuinely creepy—or silly, depending on one’s perspective—like Jack Torrance’s face looking like a clown when superimposed with the shot of two murdered girls in the hallway.

Though we never see the narrators’ faces, their voices are friendly and welcoming. It is important that they do not sound like they are lecturing the audience. After all, even if they have managed to link numerous elements that seem to support their theories, no matter how improbable, not one of them knows—or will ever get a chance to know—Kubrick’s intentions. Instead, it is appropriate that they sound like fans of the movie who are open to discussion even if a person disagrees with their proposed ideas.

Is the movie really about the genocide of Indian-Americans? The Holocaust? Demons being sexually attracted to humans? How Kubrick helped to fake the Apollo moon footage? I don’t know. Nor do I care. What I do know is that if a movie manages to inspire or get people talking for several decades, then the filmmakers have done something right.

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