Perhaps the ultimate cinephile's playground, 'Room 237' details the obsessions of devoted fans of Stanley Kubrick's 'The Shining', the now legendary, much discussed and debated horror film, which at a glance appears to be a simple story about the breakdown of a psychologically damaged writer from the effects of isolation. Yet, with microscopic frame-by-frame analysis there emerges some equally deranged but sometimes irrefutable dramatic subtext that deepens this already beguiling film.
Room 237 (2012) dir. Rodney Asher
By Alan Bacchus
There are some great documentary films made about obsession. The entire body of work of Errol Morris is an examination, to some degree, of obsession. More specifically, there are also a number of great films made about conspiracy theories, most recently the masterful Resurrect Dead: The Mystery of the Toynbee Tiles. Room 237 plays in this arena but with an even more savant-like fastidiousness.
Director Rodney Asher respects the audience and wastes no time with establishing the background to the film. He jumps right into the first analysis, which is the repeated use of Native imagery and references to this imagery in the background of many of the frames. But it's really meant to introduce and establish the characters and style.
As each interviewee gives their own personal theories we never see their faces. As such, the entire film consists of stock footage, often much of it from Kubrick's other films. But there are also memorable and non-memorable films which delightfully lampoon the notion of dramatic recreations.
The theories posited range from a very deep subtext of the American Indian genocide, allegories to the Holocaust and Kubrick's involvement in shooting the Apollo 11 fake moon landing. While many of these theories are ludicrous, what is indisputable is the number of continuity errors, which, considering the attention to detail Kubrick devotes to composing his frames, can only be purposeful.
Asher also recounts the substantiated story that Kubrick consulted advertising agencies to discuss how subliminal imagery could be used to affect an audience's perception of a film. Whether any of this is true or not is beyond the matter, as one of the interviewees adroitly reminds us of a common axiom of art criticism - the authorial intent is irrelevant to understanding the work of an artist.
Room 237 works on the level as a brilliant post-modern comedy, but more importantly it furthers the reputation of Stanley Kubrick as a master of cinema. He was so far ahead of the curve, all these years later we're only starting to break the surface of this mind-bending film.