Saturday, June 04, 2016

Room 237

There are some strange people in this world, and five in particular conspire to waste an hour and three-quarters of the viewer’s life in ‘Room 237’. Directed by Rodney Ascher, the film (I hesitate to classify it as a documentary) purports to be “an investigation” into Stanley Kubrick’s adaptation of Stephen King’s seminal horror novel ‘The Shining’.

That’s “investigation” as in letting five total nutjobs witter on at tedious length, by the way. Ascher never really introduces us to said individuals, simply flashing their names up on screen in fairly quick succession as they expound their theories in voiceover. Only one contributor is female, and therefore easy to identify as the film progresses. The others are all male and slightly too eager and emphatic in their intonation, and after only a short while it becomes increasingly difficult to tell who’s blathering on at any one point. Matters aren’t helped by an appalling sound mix which allows the background music (most of it hideous) to swamp the voiceovers on more than one occasion.

But what of the theories on offer? Two basically posit ‘The Shining’ as a metaphor for something else: the massacre of the native American Indians, and the Holocaust. Respectively, a picture of an Indian chief on a food tin, and a German typewriter, the number 42 and some images of an eagle are offered as conclusively as Rumpole playing the evidential trump card that gets his client off. (The food tins were an actual brand popular in the hotel/catering industry at the time; the typewriter was Kubrick’s own.) The numbers of the titular haunted room if reckoned as 2 x 3 x 7 equal 42. Apparently, in one exterior shot there are 42 vehicles parked outside the Overlook. Some people have way too much free time on their hands.

Enough free time – as we segue to theory number 2 – to plot out maps of the Overlook’s interior and determine that the window in Ullman’s office couldn’t possibly have been there, that corridors don’t seem to lead where they should, and that the dimensions in The Gold Room’s bathroom don’t match said room’s architecture. Indeed, this particular contributor follows her architectural obsession with the hotel’s interior to an equally notable dead end: these are merely a series of observations and not even a theory. Moreover, they are observations that betray a total lack of understanding re: how films are made. It’s the mindset of someone who watches ‘The Wicker Man’ and goes gallivanting off to Scotland only to discover that Summerisle is actually a patchwork quilt of other locations.

Elsewhere, continuity errors are explicated as part of some grand design, when anybody who’s seen ‘The Shining’ more than twice knows that the film’s full of them. I was amazed that nobody tried to claim Danny’s half-eaten then mysteriously resurrected sandwich in the scene where he tells Wendy about Tony as proof of something obscure and enigmatic.

The best – by which I mean maddest – theory is that Stanley Kubrick faked the moon landings and made ‘The Shining’ as an act of admission. A morass of detail is piled up to make the case, all of it patently nonsensical.

If ‘Room 237’ has any worth at all – it’s sloppily put together, with dozens of film clips assembled randomly, many of which have nothing to do with Kubrick, King or ‘The Shining’; it neither champions or challenges its contributors; and fails to make any particular point or arrive at a conclusion – it’s as a corollary to Jack Torrance’s splintered mental state. To watch ‘The Shining’ is to watch a man lose hold on his sanity; to watch ‘Room 237’ is to listen to five people slide deeper into their shared obsession.

At its most worrying moments, ‘Room 237’ reminds us that some of its contributors are academics and researchers, people who should be smarter than this; who ought to be contributing to a greater cultural understanding. But then again, based purely on listening to their monologues, they’re worryingly reminiscent of the most boring and socially ill-equipped person at the party – the one who hones in on you and won’t take the hint that you have no interest in their clingy behaviour and inability to close their mouth.

At its best, though, it offers up some hilarious examples of tunnel-vision. The moon conspiracy dude points to a key fob for “ROOM No 237”, discounts the lower case “o” as it’s a truncation of the word “number” and states with utter conviction that “there are only two words you can make from the remaining letters – room and moon. This is where the cover-up happened. This is the moon-room.” From the letters R, O, O, M and N, you can make at least a dozen other words, including “norm”.

Does this mean, then, that the central clue, buried by Kubrick deep in the fabric of his film, is that the answer to ‘The Shining’ is completely normal? That it is, in fact, about a haunted hotel? In much the same way that the novel it’s based on is about a haunted hotel? You know what, folks? I rather think it is.

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