The Shining: Stanley Kubrick’s haunting adaptation of Stephen King’s novel about an off-season Hotel caretaker/novelist who allows the isolation of the giant, empty Overlook Hotel drive him insane and compel him to slaughter his wife and child, is widely regarded as the most terrifying movies ever made. But what’s it all about, really? Ghosts? The slaughter of the Native Americans? The Holocaust? These are just a few of the explanations offered by the critics, theorists, theologians, historians, journalists, filmmakers and fans in this documentary.
The director Rodney Ascher openly confesses to being obsessed with The Shining. Since seeing it as a child and being deeply affected, it has been a film that he has spent vast potions of time watching, re-watching, studying, reading about, writing about and now, finally compiling this documentary, which takes the form of a series of voice overs cleverly edited over clips from The Shining and other Kubrick movies and other movies, animations and some re-enactments.
The Shining is indeed a movie that is worthy of deep intellectual study. So much of what occurs is open to interpretation, not to mention the final shot which sees Jack Torrance appear in a photograph dated some sixty years before the film is set and the line spoken to him, “you have always been here” by the Butler. Was the whole film in Jack’s head? Are we watching a memory? These are certainly things I have dwelled upon for periods of time and am thankful that others have done the same.
Much of what is asserted from these very learned individuals can come across as the assumptions and assertions of people who have spent far too much time watching the movie and are now reading into things that from my point of view are not there and simply either continuity errors, props and extras placed to create authenticity to a set or cloud formations that vaguely resemble something. For example when Jack first meets the hotel manager Stuart Ullman, there is a moment when they shake hands and his paper tray forms an extension from his trousers that looks like he has a giant erection. The commentator asserts this is intentional and Kubrick meant it as a joke, whereas I just see this as a coincidence, observed by an astute viewer who has decided to interpret this in his own way. This is one of many examples in Room 237 of absolute absurd assertions based on little observations in the film, which garnered reactions that ranged from scoffs to laughs.
However, the fact the film was directed by Stanley Kubrick, a man who was reputed to be fastidious to the point he drove anyone who has the pleasure/displeasure of working with him to the brink of insanity, makes you wonder whether these tenuous coincidences might actually be all intentionally placed to make a statement. This is after all the man who left his daughter a 30 page manual of detailed instructions about how to feed his cat while he was on vacation.
Other eccentricities of Kubrick included regularly taking in excess of 100 takes per set up; he apparently made Tom Cruise simply enter a room 80 times for once scene. More specific to The Shining, the hundreds upon hundreds of typewritten pages that Wendy flicks through which supposedly say “all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy” actually all say “all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy”. It is this level of intense detail that makes you wonder whether Kubrick was so fastidious that he inserted all these hidden layers of detail in this film. It is this that gives even some of the more outlandish statements some validity.
There are some very interesting ideas about the movie’s ending that the commentators touch upon, which really make you take stock of the film as a whole. The connections the commentators make between Kubrick’s fascination with the slaughtering of the native Americans by the settlers and his obsession with the Holocaust and how The Shining may be a film about these two areas is also really fascinating. And the animations that show you the layout of the hotel and plot different character’s journeys around it is also greatly entertaining and ultimately just made me want to go and watch the film again in the light of all of these new ideas.
Strictly for fans of the film, or at the very least, people who have seen it, Room 237 provides a variety of in-depth, intellectual insights that range from the insightful and astute to the irrational and absurd. While it fails to create a strong emotional connection between the film and the filmmaker or do anything innovative within the confines of the form, the piece manages to be a consistently entertaining, adeptly made documentary.
Room 237 is on limited release from October 26th.
This article was first posted on September 20, 2012