‘Room 237’ is bonkers
By ED SYMKUS - GateHouse News Service
Feature length documentaries, those hopefully insightful, educational, entertaining slices of cinema, are more popular than ever. Anyone who’s seen “Rivers and Tides,” “Murderball,” “Winged Migration” or “Woodstock” (among many others), would agree that they can be as great as any fiction film.
But now along comes first-time feature documentarian Rodney Ascher with “Room 237,” an examination of themes running through Stanley Kubrick’s both celebrated and reviled 1980 film “The Shining.” Oh, it’s entertaining and, some would say, insightful. But a line’s gotta be drawn as to whether it’s educational.
Let me be more blunt: This film is bonkers!
Its subtitle is “Being an inquiry into ‘The Shining’ in 9 Parts.” An inquiry? It’s more like a series of acid flashbacks as told by a group of “experts” who have seen the film far too many times.
It combines scenes from “The Shining,” and clips from all of Kubrick’s films – yup, all of them, from “Fear and Desire (1953) to “Eyes Wide Shut” (1999) – with off-screen comments by a handful of writers and film aficionados (Bill Blakemore, Geoffrey Cocks, Juli Kearns, John Fell Ryan, Jay Weidner – nope, I never heard of them, either), each authoritatively opining on what “The Shining” is “really” about.
One insists, “It’s about the genocide of the American Indians.”
Another says, “I was convinced that it had a subtext about the Holocaust.”
Another goes on about the film’s “plentiful supply of subliminal images that tell an extremely disturbing story about sexuality.”
Huh? “The Shining” is about a blocked writer (Jack Nicholson) who, along with his dim bulb wife (Shelley Duvall) and impressionable son (Danny Lloyd), becomes the winter caretaker at an isolated, ghost-plagued resort, and eventually turns into an ax-wielding murderer.
Hold on. One of those experts is correcting me. It’s actually about a hotel that’s standing in for the labyrinth on Crete, and Nicholson is playing the Minotaur.
Wait, no, I’ve got it wrong again. When we see blood gushing out of the elevators in “The Shining,” we should realize that it’s about “the blood on which nations are built, certainly the United States with the genocide of the American Indians.”
Seriously? Are you gonna start with that again?
That’s OK. The discussion gets a lot better. One of the specialists we hear blathering decides to compare and contrast the source novel by Stephen King and the film, introducing his theory by stating that the film has a deeper story than the book:
“And this deeper story has its birth in the idea that Stanley Kubrick was involved in faking the Apollo moon landing.” A detailed, one-sided debate ensues.
“Room 237” (the room in which some of the story’s murders take place, although in the book it was 217) is a film in which a group of crazy people continuously offer up absurd observations, and do it all with completely straight faces that we’re never allowed to see. But it’s a lot more fun than the dull, not-the-least-bit-scary horror film they’re ranting about.
• “Room 237” (Unrated, includes brief scenes of violence and nudity). The film’s grade: B-.