Directed By: Rodney Ascher
Starring: Bill Blakemore, Geoffrey Cocks, Juli Kearns
Tag line: "Some movies stay with you forever.. and ever.. and ever"
Trivia: The film was screened in the Directors' Fortnight section at the 2012 Cannes Film Festival[
“One can always argue that Kubrick had only some or even none of these in mind, but we all know from postmodern film criticism that author intent is only part of the story of any work of art”.
When asked what he thought of Stanley Kubrick, the man who directed him in 1980’s The Shining, Jack Nicholson paused for a second, and then replied “[he] brings new meaning to the word ‘meticulous’”. With his preference for deep focus and symmetrical images, not to mention his obsessive attention to detail, Kubrick was, indeed, a meticulous filmmaker, and because he spent so much time getting things “just right” (he once held the world’s record for most takes of a single scene with 148, which, incidentally, occurred on the set of The Shining), you tend to believe that any themes or messages buried within his movies weren’t accidental.
Directed by Rodney Ascher, the 2012 documentary Room 237 introduces us to 5 people, namely Bill Blakemore, Geoffrey Cocks, Juli Kearns, John Fell Ryan, and Jay Weidner, who believe they’ve “cracked the code”, so to speak, when it comes to what Kubrick was trying to say with his unique 1980 horror film The Shining. Blakemore, a former TV correspondent, thinks the movie is a metaphor for the crimes perpetrated against Native Americans by white European settlers, while Cocks, a history professor, is convinced the movie was a comment on Hitler’s extermination of the Jews. Yet, in my opinion, the most fascinating (and far-fetched) hypothesis was presented by filmmaker Jay Weidner, who saw The Shining as Kubrick’s admission of the role he played in faking the 1969 moon landing (one popular conspiracy theory states that Kubrick was hired by NASA to shoot footage of the moon landing on a sound stage, which was then sold to the American people, and indeed the world, as the real thing).
On paper, the speculations presented in Room 237 sound insane, but the speakers themselves are clearly intelligent, and make their cases, if not convincingly, at least well enough to keep our interest. What also helps the film is that it isn’t a “talking heads” style documentary (in fact, we never once see the faces of any of the five participants). What we get instead are clips from various films, assembled in such a way that they match what each speaker is saying (as Blakemore talks about the first time he saw the movie in a London theater, we’re watching a scene from Eyes Wide Shut, where Tom Cruise enters a cinema and takes his seat). Along with clips from each and every one of Kubrick’s films (including Paths of Glory, 2001: A Space Odyssey and A Clockwork Orange), we’re treated to scenes from Schindler’s List, The Thief of Bagdad, An American Werewolf in London, even Demons, giving us a visual cinematic feast that, at the very least, helps make the often ludicrous concepts presented by its five hosts easier to handle.
More than a movie about The Shining, or a filmmaker’s attempt to convey a message through his or her art, Room 237 shines a light on the addictive nature of film, and how two people can watch the same motion picture and walk away with entirely different interpretations. Yes, the theories often cross the line into the ridiculous (Weidner contends that NASA and the government, upset that he revealed details about the faked moon landing, have been watching him for some time), but we can hear in their voices how passionate they are about this topic, and even if you roll your eyes at what they’re saying, you can’t help but smile that they feel strongly enough to share it in the first place, and damn the consequences.