Title: Room 237
Director: Rodney Ascher
Screenwriter: Rodney Ascher
Cast: Bill Blakemore, Geoffrey Cocks, Juli Kearns, John Fell Ryan, Jay Weidner
Screened at: SoHo House, NYC, 12/18/12
Opens: March 22, 2013
Maybe you’ve had this experience. You come out of a movie and begin to discuss your impressions with a friend only to hear your pal say, “Hey, relax, it’s only a movie!” This is the kind of outlook that had led to experts holding film’s role as a mere stepchild to great painting and literature. When you come out of Stanley Kubrick’s “The Shining,” or his “2001: A Space Odyssey,” or his “Full Metal Jacket” or “Clockwork Orange,” you’re likely to find true art, the equivalent of classic literature. Many things are there to discuss, however, though most of these post-film chats would deal with the quality of the direction or the acting or production design or what-have-you. But dig more deeply into a Kubrick film and you may find that the master—who is said to have had an I.Q. of 200—had placed challenges within his works that only most prescient of film buffs would discover. In fact if you were to see in “The Shining” what Rodney Ascher, director of “Room 237” did, and tried to convince your pals of some off-the-wall interpretations, you might be laughed out of Starbucks where you hoped to make salient points.
We don’t know to this day whether Kubrick intended to throw symbols into “The Shining” as though he were challenging moviegoers into finding them if they stared hard enough or saw the film enough times. He did not leave any interviews, any magazine articles or books revealing this intention—like the magician who even on his deathbed would not reveal his tricks. But this omission is the very thing that allows Ascher to glorify Kubrick as a man who not only could scare the bejeezus out of us and to show how immensely talented Jack Nicholson could be, but one who like the designer of a crossword puzzle would tantalize us into a Kabbalistic analysis. For example, did you know that the number 237 was chosen because 2 x 3 x 7 equals 42 and that the Holocaust began in Europe in 1942? I didn’t know of that relationship and perhaps Kubrick himself didn’t know, but Ascher has fun for over an hour and a half with his fetching theories including one that indicates that Hotel Overlook in the Colorado Rockies in which the action takes place was chosen because it was built on an Indian burial ground. And what’s more, “The Shining” is really about the Holocaust and about the genocide committed by the U.S. against Native Americans.
You don’t have to believe this, and probably most of the people in the audience for this doc may scoff. But as my middle school teacher said many times over, what’s important is to ask questions, not to determine answers. All this makes “Room 237” tantalizing. And by the way, whatever happened to Shelly Duvall, a principal actor in “The Shining” along with Nicholson, who had not made another movie since 2002, while Danny Lloyd, the seven-year-old in the role of a kid with supernatural powers, was seen only once more in a TV movie? C’est la vie.
Using lots of edited strips from Kubrick movies and scores of others, Ascher interviews folks like Bill Blakemore, a journalist, who notes in a poster that he saw in Britain advertising “The Shining” as depicting “the wave of terror that swept across America” and concludes that the “terror” is not 9/11 which, of course had not taken place in 1980 when “The Shining” was released, but is actually the genocide against the American Indians. Another subject, the academic Geoffrey Cocks, notes that the portable typewriter that is essentially a character in one scene is German, the Adler model, and since Adler means Eagle, the Nazi symbol, “The Shining” is about the Holocaust. Jay Weidner, an author, notes that room 237 was chosen by Kubrick because that is the sound stage that Kubrick used in 1969 for his fictional moon footage.
Few people have the 200 I.Q. that Kubrick is said to have possessed, so who are we groundlings to poo-poo the basic theory that Kubrick went beyond Stephen King’s 1977 novel—whose title came from a John Lennon song and not from visions of genocide—to have his own metaphoric fun?
The movie is marred by shots from “The Shining” that are repeated ad nauseum and from the director’s interjections of “you know” perhaps fifty or more times during the course of the commentary. Where is the editor?
Thought provoking all this is, but then again, you’re likely to leave the theater with “It’s only an interpretation.”
Unrated. 102 minutes © 2012 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online
Story – B+
Acting – B+
Technical – A-
Overall – B+