Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining is, like Vertigo, infinitely complex, its every color, character, costume and plot point open to endless analysis. If they’re not careful, viewers can become trapped forever inside its construction like its hero is within the Overlook Hotel. Room 237 is a documentary narrated by viewers who weren’t careful: they fanatically identify every possible subtext—Freudian, numerological, historical-allegorical, personal-confessional—from the Holocaust and the genocide of the American Indian to Kubrick’s supposed participation in faking the moon-landing footage. (The movie, in that reading, is his way of working through his chicanery sort of like Elia Kazan did his name-naming in On the Waterfront.) “Kubrick is thinking about the implications of everything that exists,” one interviewee says.
Director Rodney Ascher obsessively investigates the film’s every stray detail because in Kubrick no detail is truly stray: every poster is carefully considered, every stapler purposefully placed. Using frame-by-frame analyses, slow motion, and hilariously edited clips from other films to illustrate the narration (he never actually shows the narrators—they’re all talking, no head), the documentarian shows how fastidious and fanatical the great directors are. But he also shows how audiences recreate artworks in their own images: how the moon-landing conspiracy theorists and the students of American Indian abuse discover evidence to support their own special concerns. Ascher doesn’t just get to the bottom of The Shining—he gets to the very essence of spectatorship.
Room 237 screens as part of the New York Film Festival’s Cinema Reflected sidebar tonight and again on October 8. More info here.