All in the mind
FOR THE uninitiated, Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining is a 1980 horror film in which leading man Jack Nicholson goes crazy and tries to chop up his wife and son.
As if. The Shining is actually a Holocaust movie. It’s Stanley Kubrick’s coded apology for helping Nasa stage the moon landing in 1969. It’s all about the genocide of Native Americans. It’s the director’s reworking of Theseus and the labyrinth. It’s the White Man’s Burden. It’s America.
These are just some of the readings collected in Rodney Ascher’s Room 237, a fascinating documentary snapshot of the subculture that has grown up around Kubrick’s intriguing ghost story. “Room 237 is very much the story of what happens in the mind of an audience when a film leaves the filmmaker,” says Ascher. “What happens when the audience attempts to solve the mysteries they encounter in a film.”
We meet Ascher just hours ahead of Room 237’s premiere at the London Film Festival. The editor-director had initially envisioned making a short film along the lines of The S From Hell, his nine-minute folk history of the Screen Gems logo. In the end, he had trouble keeping the runtime under two hours. Kubrick fans may already be familiar with Liverpudlian film artist Rob Ager’s video maps of The Shining and the masses of Shining-related data collected by online theorist Kevin McLeod, aka “mstrmnd,” Ascher’s film posits five major theories but that, he says, is only the tip of the iceberg.
“Almost immediately, we found that this is a gigantic world that lots of people are writing and contributing to,” he says. “It’s not just something that’s confined to the darker corners of the internet.”
Commendably, the film is never seen to judge when contributors talk of Kubrick’s face appearing in the clouds, or trace the Apollo launch pad in the hexagonal design of the Overlook Hotel’s gaudy carpets. Was there anything that proved too outlandish to make the final cut, we wonder?
“Absolutely,” he nods. “There were theories I found that I couldn’t quite understand. Or they just would have required too much time and trouble to explain. There were theories about what happened when you turn the frame sideways and connect the dots. And I found all kinds of disturbing things that didn’t make the final cut for a variety of reasons. There was one man – who made me pause – who found that at various times an offscreen voice would say ‘shown’, and that it indicates that some kind of shining is present. And I thought ‘Yeah, I guess I can kind of hear that’. But I had an eerie feeling that he realised this by staring at the movie so intently that he could have made that anomaly manifest itself. Then months later, another interviewee discovered a voice doing the exact same thing.”