Room 237. The Shining as Rorschach test.

Room-237-UK-Quad-One-SheetStanley Kubrick had to know that something like this would happen. Someone who set out to make films so dense in meaning that they require multiple viewings, and then refused to talk about his work (or anything else for that matter) publicly, had to know that people would stop just looking at his movies and start looking through them, sort of like those old Magic Eye books. Remember those? There’d be a page full of squiggly patterns that said “BOAT” and, if you looked long and hard enough, you’d see the 3D impression of a boat. Kubrick’s films are like Magic Eye books full of squiggly patterns, but there’s nothing to tell you to look for a boat… or anything. So you look and you think you see a dog or a car or a minotaur.

I love The Shining. It’s not my favorite Kubrick film (that would be Dr. Strangelove) but it’s the film of his that I most enjoy seeing over and over again. I don’t really know why. Strictly as a horror movie, it’s not very scary. Honestly, I don’t think it’s scary at all. But it’s so insidious and weird. Think of the twins. The elevator. That guy in the bear suit. Those images just sort of worm there way into your brain and take up permanent residence. But I never consciously made an effort to figure out what it all meant. I just sort of let it wash over me and enjoy the trippy ride.

apollo 11 sweaterRoom 237, the entertaining new documentary by Rodney Ascher, is a dissection of The Shining by people who see God and/or Kubrick in the details… EVERY DETAIL! But it’s the variety of conclusions these people come to that make this movie fascinating. One person sees in the German typewriter Jack Torrance uses and the variations of the number “42” (as in 1942) on display as being Kubrick’s essay on the Holocaust. Another person sees, in the placement of cans of Calumet Baking Powder in the pantry and paintings of American Indians in the Overlook Hotel, Kubrick commenting on the genocide of the American Indian. Someone else sees, in the Apollo 11 sweater worn by Danny Torrance and the way the words “Room No. 237” are written on a hotel key, Kubrick apologizing for his supposed role in the alleged faking of the moon landing.

And that’s all Room 237 is; endless speculation on what this famously secretive and obsessive perfectionist was really up to. What would be written off as a continuity error in any other film is actually Kubrick commenting on the very nature of horror film making. But the fact that Kubrick took sooooo long to make his movies (it’s reported that one part of a scene took 160 takes before Kubrick was satisfied) gives some credence to the notion that EVERYTHING is there for a reason because Kubrick wouldn’t let even the slightest detail go unnoticed.

One aspect of Room 237 I thoroughly enjoyed is its examination of the floor plan of the Overlook Hotel. Basically, it’s physically impossible. Exterior windows exist in an office where they couldn’t possibly exist, because the office is in the middle of the hotel! Upstairs hallways wrap around in such a way that doesn’t match up with the already screwy geography of the lower level.

And that’s why The Shining rewards repeat viewings. The Overlook Hotel looks realistic on the inside and the outside. But the building seems to operate on a sort of dream logic, as does the entire movie. And whether or not Kubrick intended for ALL of the pictures on the walls or patterns on the rugs to be symbolic of something deeper or not, it’s hard not to think that some of these theorists may really be on to something. Or that they’ve all been staring at their TVs a little too hard.


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