Film Review – Room 237 – A look behind the door of The Shining

The Shining is without doubt one of my all-time favourite horror films.

I also love the book, and despite Stephen King’s vehement objections to the film’s deviation from the original themes (the horror of a volatile and abusive alcoholic father, struggling with demons, while his traumatised son invents an imaginary friend to escape his memories) Kubrick’s version is equally interesting and terrifying. The maze scene in which Nicholson’s ‘Jack Torrence’ meets his end is one of the most memorable cinematic moments in horror history, and something that was not part of King’s original telling.

Kubrick has undoubtedly a completely different way of building tension, suspense and paranoid, uneasy terror. His almost visceral lack of subtlety bludgeons you into submission, and the surreal and intense colours and sickeningly long corridors (which make as little sense to your overloaded senses as the maze makes to the characters in the film) affect in a completely different way to the book. In a way that couldn’t be achieved in a book.

Kubrick’s reworking is also primed for conspiracy theory, as is all of his work. His infamously obsessive attention to detail, and insistence on cinematic continuity down to the tiniest insignificant detail makes his films the perfect playground for other obsessives to read into, to pour over, frame by frame, noticing a seemingly inexhaustible number of tiny oddities – possibly deliberate, possibly accidental, but all wholly and compellingly open to speculation over what the eccentric director intended them to show.

Room 237 explores some of these theories, in the style of a deconstructive literary interpretation – a presentation of five theories put forward by five very different obsessives whom we never actually see. What we do see is a beautifully directed and painstakingly thorough walk through of what led them to their varying conclusions – some of which are totally plausible, some of which are disturbingly paranoid and others which are just plain daft. We journey with these fanatics, who have watched the film, frame by frame, who knows how many hundreds of times.

The theories proponents range from historians, to journalists, to simply obsessively interested fanatics, and the readings vary wildly. That is the really interesting thing about this documentary – the vast difference of human minds, all of whom are obsessed with the same thing, and all of whom reach such utterly different conclusions – and like a dog with a bone, once they get a taste, they simply cannot let go.

From a historical commentary about the holocaust, to a narrative charting America’s systematic denial and refusal to really admit their responsibility for the genocide of the Native Americans, to a secret confession of Kubrick’s staging of the NASA moon landing in the sixties, each interpretation is passionately backed with perceived ‘evidence’. Some of which is compelling; some of which is utterly bizarre.

The question is, to what extent should we let ourselves indulge artistic interpretation before it becomes a kind of insanity – and again, The Shining is the perfect sphere in which to explore such a notion.

We also have to ask, with knowledge of the directors obsessive, deliberate nature and his filmic insistence on detail, is it in fact us – the average viewer, the fan of horror – that has missed the point.

Whichever way you look at it, the film, and the characters of those possessed by it (which some of them clearly are) make for very interesting viewing. Just be careful you don’t get as lost in the maze as Jack Torrence does. Most standard filmgoers will no doubt give you a frosty reception.

The other great thing about the documentary is that it made me sorry I had not been born when the film was originally released, to have seen it without expectation, and to have seen is as it was intended, in all its glory, on the big screen.

Thankfully, the last one is achievable. The director’s cut of The Shining is showing at the Watershed, so that is where I’ll be. Trying not to read too much into one of my favourite films, which I suspect will now look to me, slightly different.

 

Natalie

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