Rodney Ascher’s Room 237 may not be the documentary game-changer for which many had hoped, but it’s nonetheless entertaining and insightful. Weaving together five broad interpretations of Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining, the work is an in-depth exploration of film obsession, the likes of which few viewers (or even scholars) aspire. Ascher never shows the speakers, opting to play their arguments over carefully assembled video clips that cover each of Kubrick’s films, animated maps of the Overlook Hotel, and a wealth of relevant imagery. Each reading is a stretch, relying on esoteric information and background details, but after the compelling early argument that Kubrick was (perhaps more than any other filmmaker) capable of such multilayered cinema, one’s mind grows more receptive than usual to wild claims and allows them their proverbial day in court.
Perhaps due to a personal affinity for all things space (aided by my father’s Apollo 11 slides, which I frequently persuaded him to project and narrate when grade school friends stayed the night), I found Jay Weidner’s argument of The Shining as Kubrick’s way of dealing with faking the moon landing footage to be the film’s most fascinating case. Finding basis in Kubrick’s key divergences from Stephen King’s source material and buoyed by clues that include a sweater and keychain, the reading’s implausibility is matched by Ascher’s passionate presentation, making for an engrossing experience whenever attention turns to Weidner’s speech.
Much of Room 237 is of this high engaging caliber, though the film drags a bit when Ascher slows a handful of The Shining’s scenes to reveal hidden meanings that may only be seen at a frame-by-frame rate. The same goes for a later segment where a copy of Kubrick’s film is superimposed over a second copy played in reverse. The work of an experimental film screening, this especially unlikely approach is further cheapened by its proponent’s frequent sniggering while he explains its significance.
A more nagging issue, however, is that Ascher’s decision to feature disembodied voices over the well-chosen clips results in an odd disconnect from his speakers. Though the respective theories remain distinct, the lack of physical identification with each interviewee prevents the level of human interaction that such communal film nerdism suggests. Along with audio quality that turns surprisingly poor at times (one interview was noticeably conducted via phone and has a noisy child in the background; other chats may very well have been held in this manner), the result is akin to an internet message board spruced up with cutting-edge multimedia. Such uneven aspects ultimately prevent Room 237 from rising to its potential, though its frequent highs in spite of this approach keep it a thoroughly worthwhile view.
Room 237 is currently playing at the Carolina Cinemas on Hendersonville Rd.
Why can’t we just admit that it’s a really crappy adaptation of a pretty good book and leave it at that? It’s really no different from any other adaptation of a novel in which the title is the only thing about the work that the filmmakers don’t change.
Not having read “The Shining,” I can’t comment on Kubrick’s film in terms of adaptation. I do, however, think the film is wonderful.