Directed by Rodney Ascher. Featuring Juli Kearns, John Fell Ryan, Jay Weidner, Bill Blakemore, Geoffrey Cocks 15A cert, IFI/Light House, Dublin, 102 min
IF YOU HOLD this newspaper to the light, a faint image of the Masonic compasses can be glimpsed in the upper right-hand corner. Well, it’s possible. Look hard at any item and you will discover the hidden meaning that suits your personal psychosis.
That is among the lessons of this fascinating study of eccentric takes on Stanley Kubrick’s imperishable The Shining (1980). Rodney
Ascher has gathered together five interviewees to put forward various colourful theories: the film is about the Holocaust; it concerns extermination of Native Americans; it has to do with the Minotaur.
There is, to be fair, much for theorists to work with. One need not don a tinfoil hat to detect strange anomalies in Kubrick’s vision. A chair vanishes from one shot to the next. The pattern on a carpet reverses. The geography of the Overlook Hotel makes no sense whatsoever.
Noting Kubrick’s famously fastidious working patterns, the average viewer regards these quirks as mischievous jokes or, perhaps, as allusions to the protagonist’s mental instability. Others construct fanciful patterns. (Interestingly, many of the suppositions hang upon scenes that appear only in the US cut, finally released in domestic cinemas next week.)
The most absurd theory drags up a ludicrous urban myth arguing that Kubrick helped fake the Nasa moon landing and imagines allusions to his lingering guilt in the arguments between Jack Nicholson’s blocked writer and Shelley Duvall’s flattened homemaker. None of this makes sense. All of it is unintentionally hilarious.
As is so often the case with conspiracy theorists, the contributors feel they are adding nuance and complication to the text – you think it’s just a horror film, you fool? – whereas their real aim is to simplify and demystify. The Shining is “about” anti-Semitism. It reveals Kubrick’s secret career. If any of this were actually true, the piece would hardly be worth watching.
Room 237 is a little overlong, and the so-so original score is sometimes infuriatingly intrusive. But Ascher has great fun juxtaposing footage from The Shining with carefully chosen clips from related hokum and counterbalancing classics. Look out, in particular, for the hilarious clip of Stephen King (culled from Creepshow) yelling madly at the television.
King famously hated Kubrick’s version of his book, but, considering the effect the film seems to have had on impressionable minds, he might approve of Ascher’s amusing study. Heck, if they hadn’t mucked around with King’s original novel, none of this would have happened.