Sunday, October 27, 2013

Movie Review: "Room 237"

When I first heard of Room 237 a couple of years ago I thought, "Oh, great; a bunch of guys in tinfoil hats sitting around spouting conspiracy-theory bullshit about what The Shining supposedly means," and I decided that I was not going to watch the movie.

Problem is . . . I've got every other movie ever made that was based on Stephen King's work.
  
Granted, Room 237 is about a Stanley Kubrick movie and is not technically based on a Stephen King book; nevertheless, my collection would (I told myself) feel incomplete if I didn't buy it.  And if I bought it, it would be wasteful not to watch.  Anyways, what's the worst that could happen?  If it sucked, it sucked; so be it. And so I ordered a copy from Amazon.
 
When the Blu-ray came in the mail I unwrapped it, looked at it balefully, and put it in the player.




And boy, am I happy that I did.  This movie is frickin' fantastic.

Not everyone agrees with me on that score.  Many reviews (professional and amateur alike) have been negative, and much of that negativity centers on the fact that a lot of reviewers cannot support what the people interviewed during Room 237 are saying.  The outlandish theories of those interviewees are being met with a great deal of eye rolling and WTFs and are-you-kidding-mes.  And hey, that was my reaction when I first heard about Room 237, so who am I to criticize reviewers for having the same opinions?
 
But...
 
What if I told you that Room 237 isn't asking you to believe what its interviewees are saying?  What if I told you that your belief in their opinions and interpretations is utterly irrelevant to what Room 237 itself is actually about?  Your reactions to what they're saying is important, and probably have great import to your own feelings about Stanley Kubrick's The Shining
  
However...
 
I would argue that whereas those reactions are important to your feelings about The Shining, they are considerably less important to your feelings about Room 237.  Rodney Ascher's movie, in my opinion, is NOT a documentary not about The Shining, but a documentary about the way in which we view and interpret movies.  It may be about even more than that; it may be about the way the mind views and interprets the world altogether.  However, I'm not quite bold enough to take that idea on, so let's restrict ourselves a bit.

You may already feel like rolling your eyes at what I'm saying here, but I hope you will give me a bit of latitude to make my case.  If you aren't inclined to do so, I understand.  You are more than welcome to disembark the post at this point, or at any other.
 
Everyone else, sit back and enjoy the ride.
 



The first thing we see in Room 237 is the disclaimer pictured above.  It also appears on the front of the Blu-ray, and on several of the film's various posters:


That's the front of the Blu-ray's slipcase.  The keyhole is an actual hole, with the disclaimer coming from this, the front of the thingy that houses the disc:



Pretty sweet.  Here's a trio of posters, too, just for the heck of it:






(Anyone who has one of those posters and wishes to mail it to me, you are more than welcome to do so.  I'll be your best friend.)

After the disclaimer, the movie proper begins.  The first image we see is a repurposed scene from Kubrick's Eyes Wide Shut of Tom Cruise walking down a street.




Artwork for The Shining has been inserted into the scene, replacing whatever occupies that space in Eyes Wide Shut (sadly, I don't own that movie, so I can't check to see what that is).  We get closer and closer:





We cut away several times to Cruise looking at these things with an enigmatic expression on his face, and all the while we are hearing someone -- soon revealed to be Bill Blakemore, the first of the film's five interviewees -- speaking about what The Shining means to him, and his experience of discovering it.

Because of the way the footage is assembled and manipulated, it plays as though Cruise's character IS Bill Blakemore, looking at the poster and the lobby cards with an enigmatic intense look on his face.  

Reading my description of this opening, what sort of picture do you have in your mind about what this scene looks and feels like?  If it were me reading the description, I would probably be imagining a crudely-achieved type of editing of the sort you sometimes see in fan-made videos (you know, the kind that end up on YouTube or BlipTV or other such sites).  This is not that.  This is slick, professional, and -- above all -- great-looking footage.  Elsewhere in the film, there is repurposed footage of various non-Kubrick films that is considerably less lovely (it depends, one assumes, on what quality of footage was available to Ascher in the editing process); but everything from Kubrick's films is of Blu-ray calibre.

The Eyes Wide Shut footage looks great, but in addition to that, Ascher's editing technique is exceptional.  So whatever you're imagining based on my description of this opening scene, just know that we are NOT talking about something some dude slapped together using the free-trial version of some editing suite.  This is a pro at work.
 
As Blakemore continues to talk, Cruise enters the "theatre," and we cut to footage of people inside a theatre, watching The Shining.  This footage (if I am not mistaken) was filmed expressly for Room 237.  Tom Cruise disappears, and we see a collection of moviegoers in his stead.  Blakemore talks about being on the edge of his seat, and we see a man sitting on the edge of his seat, rapt with attention.  Blakemore talks about staggering out of the theatre, overwhelmed by what he has seen; cut to grainy footage from All the President's Men of Robert Redford, staggering out of some street-level establishment!  Blakemore continues to talk about going to an underground car park to get his car after the movie ended, and we see footage (also from All the President's Men) of an underground car park.  He continues to talk about being in the car, in the back seat, thinking about the movie, and we now cut back to Eyes Wide Shut, with Tom Cruise in the back seat of a car, his face reflecting the look of a man deep in soul-stirring thought of some unknowable nature.

I did not entirely pick up on it the first time I watched the movie, but what is going on in this sequence is that Ascher is training us to respond to the way editing is used to build a narrative structure.  Three different "actors" are being used in this sequence to represent Bill Blakemore, and it doesn't matter that the film's editing changes actors, films, and film quality; it doesn't matter at all, because thanks to the continuity of the Blakemore narration (and the excellent musical score by William Hutson and Jonathan Snipes), the perspective remains the same.  For the duration of this sequence, we are in Bill Blakemore's consciousness, following him and his thoughts; and the visuals correspond to those thoughts so well that we eventually come to not even really notice that Robert Redford has turned into Tom Cruise.  Or if we do notice, we don't mind.
 
Ladies and gentlemen, behold the power of editing.  Done well, it has a power that is very nearly magical.
 
This is my cue to tell you that if you are uninterested in the type of editing I've just described, then the odds are good that Room 237 is not a movie for you.  And if so, fair enough; we don't all watch movies for the same reason, so maybe you don't care a whit for what editing can do.
    
But before you jump ship, I'd like to make one last argument to try and keep you here: filmmaking IS editing.  It's other things as well, but editing is what truly differentiates cinema from other art forms.  Everything else a movie does can be accomplished by other means (stage acting; music/sound; photography; painting; dialogue in prose; and so forth).  The only other art form I know of that can employ editing is comic-book narrative, and it does so in a very different way (one that can also be incredibly powerful, although that is a subject for a different post.)
 
So before you decide that you're hearing too much talk about editing, I'd ask you to consider that without editing, cinema does not truly exist.  Hitchcock would agree.  So would Spielberg, and Ford, and Truffaut, and Tarantino, and Scorsese, and, indeed, Kubrick.  Heck, the director of Maximum Overdrive might even agree with that.  If you see a good movie, then you've almost certainly seen good editing; good editing can exist in a bad movie, but I'm not at all sure I believe bad editing can exist in a good movie.
 
What does any of that mean in terms of interpreting The Shining vis-à-vis the interviewees who narrate Room 237?  That depends on how you feel about what each of them is saying at any given point.  As a viewer, you have no choice but to interpret their interpretations as they are delivering them to you: even if you blindly accept every word they say as fact, you have made a choice of sorts; if you reject every word, you have made a different choice.  I think the editing Ascher uses will play differently depending on your response, just as it will play differently still if you find yourself having a response somewhere in between complete incredulity and blind faith.
 
I won't try to impose a meaning on you in that way.  What I'll do is give you my own reaction.
 
As the opening scene continues, we hear Blakemore asserting that Kubrick's The Shining is a narrative about the genocide of the American Indians at the hands of the white man.  He reminds us -- as does Ascher, via the appropriate scene from The Shining -- that the Overlook Hotel was built on an Indian burial ground, and asserts that the tide of blood that emerges from the elevators represents the blood spilled in the taking of this continent by America.  He cites various moments of Indian-related content running through the film, such as the theming of the hotel's decorations; Wendy telling Danny that the loser of their footrace will "have to keep America clean" (a reference to a famous television commercial from the '70s that featured a Native American character weeping at trash being thrown on the highway); the supposedly darker-than-white skin of Bill Watson; and so forth.
 
One of Blakemore's big pieces of evidence is the prominently-visible can of Calumet Baking Powder, which is seen during the moment in which Dick first communicates with Danny telepathically.  "Calumet," Blakemore tells us, means "peace pipe," and so the placement of the can in that scene signifies a treaty of sorts, indicating that Dick and Danny are dealing true with each other.  Later, you see more cans of the product: when Jack is locked in the pantry and is talking to Grady, there are several Calumet cans, all with the labels turned so that on no single one of them do you see the entirety of the word "Calmuet."  In Blakemore's view, this represents a "false treaty" of lies between Grady (the liar) and Jack (the lied-to).
 
What to make of this?  Odds are that you think it's a ridiculous assertion, but let's be fair: Kubrick WAS indeed a highly meticulous director, and Blakemore says that there is photographic evidence of Kubrick arranging the cans.  We do not see that photo, but I am inclined to believe that it must exist.
  
Let's give Blakemore the benefit of the doubt and assume that he's right.  It is by no means beyond the realm of possibility to think that Kubrick might have wanted those cans to be turned so that the word "Calumet" was partially obscured on every single one of them.  It is also plausible that Kubrick might have known that the word "calumet" means "peace pipe" (I am taking Blakemore at his word that that meaning is in fact true) and that he wished to have the cans of baking powder in the scene to reinforce the running theme of Native American imagery.

So . . . is it possible that this was Kubrick's intent?  Yeah, sure.  It's possible.

My problem is that the rest of the movie doesn't back the idea up.  There is too much content in the film that has no connection to explicit Native American history/concerns for me to feel as if the entire narrative of the film can be seen as a statement on the white man's treatment of Native Americans.  Did Kubrick knowingly put recurring Native American imagery into the movie?  Yes; beyond a doubt.  Did he intend for the entire film to be viewed through that prism?  I don't think I could believe that, because there is insufficient evidence of it.
 
My point, then, is that while Blakemore brings up some interesting and relevant information, I think he is simply seeing what he wants to see in terms of the broader context of the film.  It is not a film "about" the genocide of Native Americans; it is a film seen by someone who cannot help but be reminded (by way of the film's subtheme of Native American imagery) of the genocide of those various native cultures.
 
The viewer views with his own eyes, his own perspective.  He brings his own experiences and concerns and interests to the experience.  I do it when I watch The Shining.  For that matter, I do it when I watch Room 237.  YOU do it, too; and guess what?  You're doing it right now, while reading this review, just as surely as I am while writing it.  (I type THIS sentence months later while revising for typos, and I'm doing a different version of it as I read my own words, and another simultaneously as I write new ones.  [Years later I'm revising again, and it's happening again, in compounded fashion.])
 
That, my friends, is what human beings do.  That may, in fact, be what consciousness and sentience are: the ability to interpret the world around us in a meaningful manner, and to then adjust those interpretations as necessary.  We do it subconsciously as a result of our nature; we do it consciously as a result of our talents.
 
And for some us, once we begin . . . we may have a hard time stopping.  That's what the five interviewees of this film are doing, and I think several of them go much too far at times; I also think that Rodney Ascher thinks they go too far, too; and I think that he has edited his film in such a way as to make it more than possible for us to realize that.
  

Rodney Ascher


Let's talk about some more of those theories from the interviewees (none of whom, I might add, are ever shown on-camera; we only hear their voices).
 
Juli Kearns talks for a while about the idea of the minotaur.  The minotaur, in Greek myth, was a half-man/half-bull who was imprisoned inside an elaborate labyrinth, and eventually had to be slain by Theseus.  In Kearns' view, Jack represents the highly-dangerous minotaur, while Danny represents the heroic Theseus.  This, I can roll with.  Kubrick certainly would have been aware of the myth, and while I can't say for certain that it lay behind his decision to place a hedge maze into the story (there is no maze in King's novel), it certainly seems possible when you consider that Danny does, indeed, defeat Jack inside that same labyrinth maze.
 
Also worth consideration: the fact that Kubrick's 1955 film Killer's Kiss is referred to in its on-screen credits as "A Minotaur Production."  Who produced Killer's Kiss?  Morris Bousel.
 
And Stanley Kubrick.
 
Where Kearns goes too far, for my money, is in seeing minotaurs where there are none.




See that poster of a skiier?  Kearns says that it looks like a minotaur to her, so much so that she is convinced Kubrick designed the poster to serve as a visual cue for us to interpret the film's story through the prism of the minotaur myth.
 
It just looks like a skiier to me.  I mean, I get how you could see a minotaur, in a rorschach-blot/ is-that-a-cloud-or-a-giant-bunny sort of way; but assuming that Kubrick wanted us to see a minotaur instead of a skiier is, for my money, a massive bit of illogic.
 
Kearns is on decidedly more solid footing when she talks about the Impossible Window in Stuart Ullman's office.





The window -- which looks out on the mountains -- is obviously a central component of the manager's office, and we see it early in the film, as Jack is first arriving for his interview.

However, as The Shining progresses we eventually discover (via the many Steadicam and tracking shots) that the manager's office is actually located somewhere near the center of the hotel; there is a hallway running behind Ullman's office.

There can, literally, be no window to the outside world here.  The window is impossible.




Kearns does not posit any conspiracy theories as to what this might mean.  Some people, evidently, believe that the movie ONLY has ghosts in it; that nobody in the film is actually alive at any point, and that everything we see is instead a sort of mummery enacted by long-dead spirits.  (Kearns does NOT mention that theory.  Nobody in Room 237 mentions it.  I bring it up only to indicate the sort of thing to which one could, theoretically, attribute the Impossible Window.)
 
Kearns merely points the Impossible Window out.  She mentions that the hotel's layout is, literally, maddening.  Remember, now: this entire thing was a set designed specifically for the movie.  Other than a few exterior shots filmed by Kubrick's assistants, there was no location photography of any kind.  So this is not a case of Kubrick being forced to utilize an existing location.  An alternative theory, posited by yours truly: Kubrick designed the hotel (or commissioned its design) during pre-production; then, during production, he invented shots that he knew would negate the layout of the set and betray its artificiality, but decided to proceed with filming the shots because he figured the layout of the hotel would not be consciously noticed by most viewers.  In other words, these might be mere continuity errors that Kubrick accepted, assuming that few viewers would be aware of them.  Many of Kubrick's collaborators (not merely from this film, but from his entire career) have spoken of his willingness to improvise; what seems like a rigidly-controlled mindset is not as rigid as it might seem.
 
In other words, Kubrick did not allow his set's geography to prevent him from filming some shots which he improvised months after the set's design.
 
It's just a theory, mind you.
   
I could also buy Kearns' contention, which is that Kubrick is playing with the geography of the hotel in an extremely subtle (a practically subliminal) way so as to make us feel, somewhere deep in the backs of ours minds, serious unease about this hotel.
 
Either way, once you've seen that Impossible Window, you may find it difficult to unsee its impossibility.  I know I won't forget it any time soon.  Fine by me; it adds a layer of spookiness to an already spooky film.
 
Allied somewhat with Kearns' approach is the final of the interviewees, John Fell Ryan.  He, too, sees Kubrick's game plan to have been to work subtle visual cues into the film, many of them on a nearly subliminal level.  "He plays on visual information," Ryan says, "and also your ignorance of visual information."  Fair enough.  What does Kubrick do with it?
 
Ryan notes that in the editing of the film, Kubrick uses a series of extremely slow dissolves between one scene and the next, with one scene overlapping the other for a brief period of time.  Within these dissolves, Ryan sees curious things.



 
In the one above, you see a janitor mopping the floor of the Overlook.  View it in a different way, and you see a ghostly giant looming among the trees.
 
What does this mean?  Ryan does not say.
 
Check this one out:
 


 
Here, as the photo of Jack in 1921 dissolves into a close-up of his face in the same photo, the hair on the top of the smaller Jack's head forms the image of a Hitler-style mustache on the larger face.
 
Do I believe for even one second that Kubrick intended this?  I do not.  Does John Fell Ryan believe it?  He doesn't quite say.
 
Speaking of Hitler, this seems an opportune time to bring up Geoffrey Cocks, who believes that The Shining is a coded message about the Holocaust of the Jewish people at the hands of the Germans during World War II.
 
Sigh...
 
In Cocks' defense, he does at least specify that it is a message that exists on the level of "deeply-laid subtext."  Okay; that's at least moderately palatable.
 
Kubrick was indisputably fascinated (and horrified) by the Holocaust.  Among the movies he spent years trying to make but never actually filmed was The Aryan Papers, which would have tackled the Holocaust head-on.  He is said to have been unable to figure out how to fit the entirety of the horror of the Holocaust into a movie, and gave up -- seemingly with some relief -- when Steven Spielberg's Schindler's List premiered to mass acclaim.  Cocks mentions that one of the things that most fascinated Kubrick was that the Holocaust -- and the Final Solution -- was, in some ways, a machine of tremendously dull bureaucracy.  There was something in that juxtaposition -- the mundane paperwork on the one hand, the six million murders on the other -- that struck Kubrick as being uniquely horrifying.  (Why wouldn't it?  If the Holocaust doesn't horrify you, you should probably report yourself to the authorities and let them lock you away somewhere.)
  
Cocks sees Jack's typewriter as a symbol of that bureaucracy; Jack -- madman, murderer -- sitting at a typewriter, pecking away blithely while his brain rots from the inside, or at least his soul.  (Cocks also mentions that in Schindler's List, typewriters are used on numerous occasions, but that's perhaps neither here nor there.)
 
Now, before you dismiss this one entirely, let's have a look at a couple of screencaps:


Jack's typewriter is a German model, the Adler.  What does "adler" mean in German?  Eagle.

And the eagle, of course, was used prominently in Nazi imagery.


Eagles are also, of course, important within American imagery, and eagles pop up in at least two other places in The Shining:





As with the running theme of Native American imagery, it is impossible to deny that the adler/eagle imagery is present in The Shining; and, given Kubrick's meticulousness, it is difficult to believe that these images are present in the film via mere happenstance.  It is also a matter of record that Kubrick was concerned, as a storyteller, with the Holocaust.  Add those things up, and you have yourself a subtheme.
 
But does this subtheme have any actual, tangible meaning within The Shining itself?  If it does, I don't think it means what Cocks thinks it means.
 
Let's give Cocks a little more room to hang himself.  A key piece of evidence he uses is the repetition of the number "42" throughout the movie.  Danny wears a sports t-shirt that has it as a jersey number; the number can be seen (dimly) on Dick's license plate; there are multiples of seven throughout the film (such as the 1921 date, 21+21 equaling 42).  Why does this matter?  Because 1942 was, to put it mildly, an important year for the Holocaust.  And not a good one if you were a German or Polish Jew.

Another piece of evidence: in the overhead shot of the Overlook prior to its closing, there are how many cars in the parking lot?




You guessed it!  Forty-two!  See?  Rodney Ascher has numbered them for you.

Except no.
 
I already thought all of this numerology was bullshit, but let's consider the above screencap a bit further.  You will notice that there is a snowplow which Ascher did not number.  I'll grant you that a snowplow is not, technically-speaking, a car; nor is it a truck.  Still, it's a motor vehicle.  (If this were Cars or Cars 2, that snowplow would talk just as surely as the 42 cars and trucks would.  And if Pixar says it counts, that's good enough for me.)
 
It gets more damning.  Reversing Room 237 a few frames, prior to all the layered-in numbers, reveals this:




Unless my eye deceiveth me -- and I knoweth that it doth not -- there are more than a few cars to the right of that snowplow.  None of them were counted in the great Geoffrey Cocks Overlook Car/Truck Inventory.  Why?  Because there being more than 42 vehicles didn't suit the narrative?  Because he simply couldn't count?  Because he paused the film at an inopportune moment?  Your guess is as good as mine.  Whatever the answer, it's hard to take Cocks' parking lot theory seriously in the face at that, isn't it?  If you stick with him -- at least regards the parking lot -- in the face of my evidence, then you are doing so out of bias; it's just that simple.
 
Here's another piece of Cocks' evidence:


Now, that is hard to argue with.


Lemme check the math . . . yep, 2x3x7 definitely equals 42.
 
So what?  Even if Kubrick WAS consciously layering in the number 42 as a means of referencing the Holocaust, so fucking what?  If Kubrick was going for that, he failed to do anything interesting or compelling with the idea.
  
This, methinks, is another case of a viewer -- Geoffrey Cocks, in this case -- bringing his own concerns and obsessions to the viewing and seeing only what he wishes to see.  I do not know Geoffrey Cocks, but my read of him based on this is that he is a man who has less interest in what someone else has to say than he does in what he himself has to say.  I suppose we are all like that to one extent or another, but if you tell me about your trip to the grocery store and all I hear is a veiled subtext about the extermination of the Jews, perhaps I'm not doing a very good job of listening to you.
 
Either that, or you shop at a really fucking strange grocery store.
 
Speaking of strange...




Let's turn our attentions toward Jay Weidner, who sees a great many things in The Shining, and is, therefore, at least not one-note.  He is perhaps most vocal about his theory that the film is a veiled text by Kubrick in which Kubrick confesses to having helped fake the footage of the Apollo 11 moon landing.
 
Theories that Kubrick had been involved in such a charade are decades old at this point, and were already semi-well-known even before The Shining was filmed.  At least as far back as 1971, a James Bond film -- Diamonds Are Forever -- included a scene of a moon expedition being faked.  (Kubrick's name was not mentioned, but still, the faked-footage narrative was a widespread enough conspiracy theory to make it into a frigging James Bond movie!)
 
You can look all this up yourself, if you're inclined to do so; if you're not, Weidner's contention is that while American astronauts did go to the moon, the footage broadcast on our televisions was fake.  He contends further that Kubrick was involved in the filming of that fake footage, probably during the filming of 2001: A Space Odyssey.  Weidner says you can actually see the front-screen projection in the footage; I say that if Kubrick had been involved, he'd probably have had enough technical know-how to keep that from being the case.
 
In any case, what Weidner says is that the following screencap means something:




Specifically, what it means is that Kubrick is using this as a means of slyly saying, "Yes!  Yes!  I did it!  I confess!"
 
Does it at no point occur to Weidner that this might have been Kubrick thumbing his nose at the conspiracy-theorists?  Seemingly, it does not.  But given that Kubrick was a genius-level intellect, I don't think it is beyond imagination to suspect that he might have put that sweater on Danny simply as a means of trolling a bunch of dudes who subscribe to Fortean Times.  If so, that would have to be the most successful practical joke in the entire history of the world; it makes me so happy to consider that possibility that I almost can't stand it.  I'd also like to cite the fact that Kubrick collaborators routinely talk about how Kubrick was one of the funniest people they ever met.  His filmography doesn't hint toward that, but I don't see that as a damning contradiction; instead, it's an indication of Kubrick's professional interests, and not of his personality.
 
What else could Danny's sweater mean?  Well, it could simply mean that Danny and/or his mother have incredibly tacky taste in sweaters.  It could mean that Danny, Wendy, or even Jack were big fans of the space program, and thought a sweater with Apollo 11 on it would be incredibly cool.
 
It COULD mean something else, too.  (This next bit isn't Weidner's assertion; it's my genius addition to his work.)  At the beginning of this scene, Danny is kneeling on the carpet, and if you recall, one of the astronauts on Apollo 11 was NEIL Armstrong.  Coincidence?!?
 
Probably.
 
Let's examine another piece of Weidner's evidence:




I now quote Weidner: "[T]here’s a key in the lock,” he says, “and on the key is the word ‘ROOM’ and then the word ‘No, which is an old acronym for ‘number.’  So, ‘ROOM No 237,’ except that the only capital letters on the key are R-O-O-M and then the N from the acronym ‘No,’ and there’s only two words that you can come up with that have those letters in them, and that’s ‘moon’ and ‘room.’  And so on the key -- the tag -- it says ‘MOON ROOM.’  And [room 237] is the moon room; this is where everything happens, and none of it’s real, and it all has to be lied about, and you can’t let anyone know what’s really going on in Room 237."
 
Well, okay then.
 
This is a full-tilt detour into crazytown, as far as I'm concerned; and really, I don't know that much more credence need be lent this assertion than that.  However, I cannot help but point out that there is at least one other word you can spell using those letters.
 
You can spell the word "MORON" with those letters.
 
Elsewhere, Weidner has much to say about the sexual subtext of the movie.  He claims that there are hundreds of subliminal visual cues in the film expressing a subtext of sexual desires of one sort or the other.  This I can buy, mostly.  However, Weidner can't resist seeing boners where no boners exist; and so it is that in the following screencap, he sees the top of the paper tray on Ullman's desk as a massive hardon, with which Ullman is greeting Jack:




See it?  It's a gigantic black cock.
 
Or it's the top of a paper tray.  You tell me.  (And if you're curious what Geoffrey Cocks would make of this, you're not alone.)
 
I'm of the opinion that sex probably IS on our minds more often than not, especially at a subconscious level.  I watched Friday the 13th Part 2 last night, and I can promise you, I must have spent half of that movie thinking about titties.  I don't know why that should be the case; but doggone it if it wasn't.  So yeah, there probably IS quite a lot of The Shining that can be interpreted from a standpoint of sexuality.
 
However, I'm of the opinion that if someone is seeing a cock instead of a paper tray, that probably says more about the person doing the seeing than it does about the movie in which the cock paper tray is appearing.  If Mr. Weidner is seeing schlongs where no schlongs are present then I would suggest that Mr. Weidner -- whose name, incidentally, is pronounced like Widen-Her (GET IT?!?!?) -- must have schlongs on the brain.
 
There's nothing wrong with with having schlongs on the brain, but if we are thus inclined let's not pretend that Stanley Kubrick was responsible for it.
 
Speaking of having dick on the brain, here's something John Fell Ryan points out:
 



See that magazine Jack is holding (in plain view of his boss, on the first day of work)?
 
Let's have a closer look:




Jack...!  Buddy...!  Playgirl?!?
 
It is posited -- whether by Ryan or by Weidner, I cannot remember -- that we ought to read something into that headline that says "INCEST: Why Parents Sleep With Their Children."  Specifically, we ought to read into it the possibility that Jack has been buggering Danny.  No evidence is presented for this assertion, which leads me to wonder WTF.  Especially when there are other headlines on the cover that yield more text-ready suggestions.  I won't point them out; that's for you to figure out on your own.
 
Alright, fine, I'll point one out: the David Soul interview includes both a reference to selling one's (S)oul AND a reference to another actor who appeared in a Stephen King project for Warner Bros.

It strikes me as being far more likely, though, that the Playgirl ended up in the scene as the result of the sense of humor of one J. Nicholson.  And since you can barely identify the magazine even when watching the film on a movie-theatre screen, I think that assigning ANY significance to the choice is a dead-end road; or, if that seems too restrictive a judgment, it's at best a curiosity.
 
You may have noticed that I'm spending a lot of time talking about how much I disagree with what the people in the movie are saying.  If so, you might be asking yourself why I said up front that I enjoyed Room 237.  Well, the answer to that lies in the fact that even when I find myself disagreeing with them -- which is 95% of the time -- I enjoy the ways in which their arguments are being presented.  The way Ascher edits the footage to illustrate their points is terrific.; he drops in occasional shots from 2001 to reinforce Widen-Her's Weidner's thoughts on the moon-landing fakery, for example.  When Kearns is making the case for Jack being a representation of the minotaur, Ascher shows us his vaguely bull-like face; then, he follows it up by showing similar Kubrickian faces from Dr. Strangelove, A Clockwork Orange, and Full Metal Jacket.  So, at the very least, we get -- whether we agree with Kearns or not -- some direct visual referents indicating that the look on Jack's face is an ongoing Kubrickian trope.

One of my favorite moments in the film comes when Ascher's editing seems almost to come right out and refute something that Cocks says.  Cocks focuses on one of the movie's continuity errors, stating he does not believe it to be a continuity error at all.  Let's look:




See Dopey?




Well, later, Dopey is missing!
 
In Cocks' view, this is a cue signifying that as a result of his dream of the flooding tide of blood, Danny is no longer a "dope" (i.e., is not longer ignorant of the horror of the world, which Cocks, tediously, sees as proof of the text's Holocaust-centricity).  I'll admit that it seems like a massive continuity error for Kubrick to have made.  I'll go no farther, because there is nothing specific in the film to permit me to do so.  I'd just be making shit up.
 
In any case, directly after Cocks makes his assertion about Danny/Dopey, Ascher cuts to a scene of Jack sitting at the bar.  "Anything you say, Lloyd," grins Jack; "anything you say!"
   
Jack's tone of voice does not indicate that he puts much faith in Lloyd's veracity.
   

It is worth pointing out  -- and, again, this is my analysis and not analysis from Room 237's interviewees -- that a subtheme dealing with cartoon characters is present in Kubrick's The Shining.  Many of them (like Dopey) are Disney characters: Danny wears a glorious Mickey Mouse sweater at one point, and you can see a Goofy doll in his bedroom; Jack pretends to be the Big Bad Wolf (who at one point was perhaps most famous from the Disney version of The Three Little Pigs [a film that Cocks calls out for its pre-WWII anti-Semitism]); Danny watches a Road Runner cartoon.  What do I think this means?  Beats me.  I don't know that it means much of anything, beyond indicating that Danny is just like most other kids circa 1980.  But it is undeniably there, and it must mean something.
  

from the Blu-ray


I would assert that most (not all, but most) of the assertions the interviewees are making should be considered to be dubious at best.  And yet, all five interviewees speak well; if you are easily persuaded, you will be persuaded by them.  They speak clearly, and in an entertaining manner; they don't stutter; they don't sound like they are phoning from insane asylums.  These, clearly, are intelligent people.
 
That is a big part of what helps carry me over the rougher patches.  It brings to mind something Ellsworth says to Swearengen in an episode of Deadwood (and I paraphrase): "I don't trust you any farther than I can throw you, Al, but goddam, I like the way you lie."
 
The last major thing I want to talk about is something that comes near the end of the movie.  Spurred by a suggestion from the analysis of mstrmnd (a prominent analyst of the film who declined to be interviewed for Room 237 but who does contribute an excellent commentary track on the disc), somebody had the bright idea of running the film both forward and backward simultaneously, with both images laid one on top of the other.  The idea, I guess, is not so much that Kubrick intended this to be the case, but instead that the film's subtext had enough examples of forward/backwardness (such as Danny walking backwards within his own footsteps) to at least make the idea an interesting one.
 
Now, I want to state right up front that I in no way think that Kubrick had an idea like that in mind.  That would be craziness beyond even a Lovecraftian level of insanity.  However, I would be a complete liar if I did not admit to being thrilled by some of the images that the forward/reverse simultaneity apparently yielded.  Let's have a look at some of the best ones Room 237 shows us:



This one is cool, John Fell Ryan points out, because Jack Nicholson is represented in three places simultaneously, all of which are in intersection with each other: he is in the car, he is in the fourth photo from the left on the middle row, and his name is overlaid on both.  Neat!




Fucking creepy.


Beyond awesome.  Jack's face looks like a bloody clown's.  The blood is that of the Grady sisters, murdered by their father...the very man to whom Jack is ostensibly talking in that scene!

I like this one an awful lot, too.

This reminds me of an experiment I once did.  Actually, it wasn't even an experiment; it was an accident.  I was watching a Charlie Chaplin silent film; The Gold Rush, I think, though it might have been one of the others.  I was watching with a friend, and we both hated the lousy silent-film music that was playing on the soundtrack.  So we muted the sound, but this made it even worse.  He suggested I put on a CD, and for some reason, my mind turned to a soundtrack compilation I'd recently purchased: a collection of Nino Rota scores to Federico Fellini films.
 
You cannot even believe how well the music fit the film.  There were places where it seemed almost to have been written with Chaplin's film in mind.  It fit THAT well.
 
That is how powerful coincidence can be.  And let's be clear: that's all those overlaid images of The Shining are; coincidence.  Does that make them any less compelling?  Not for my money; but how many incredibly mundane, uninteresting ones must there also have been?  And would running any other given movie the same way potentially yield similar interesting results?  I'd guess that it would.
 
By this point, though, Room 237 has trained you to be cognizant of how the juxtaposition of images with ideas can work.  You should doubt it sometimes; you should heed it at others.  But you should always be aware of it, because everything means something.
 
Just maybe not what you thought it meant.  And maybe not what that guy over there is claiming that it means, either.
 
I have seen Room 237 four times now (if you count the commentary track), and it has grown more compelling with each viewing.  What it says about The Shining is almost insignificant; hell, I'm not convinced it actually says anything about The Shining.  Instead, it says something about the dreamlike existence that movies can have within our minds.  It has been suggested that movies attempt to externalize the process of dreaming; they can certainly be as mundane or surreal as any dream, but with the benefit of allowing us to revisit them.  Have you ever had a dream you would gladly re-experience if you could?  Yeah, I thought so; most of us have.  And I imagine that there is something to the idea that when we go to a theatre, we are comforted by the fact that all in attendance are communally experiencing the same "dream."
 
But the dreams do not mean the same thing to each of us, and maybe that, too, is a part of the attraction.  Some of us look at a film like Room 237 and see a paranoid mess of delusions; others see a reflection of what the language of cinema is capable of suggesting.
 
It's all in what you bring to it.




As is increasingly my format, I've got some leftover thoughts I wanted to present.  "Deleted scenes," if you prefer.  Here they come, via bulletpoint:

  • When Weidner is talking about the significance of Danny's sweater, Ascher shows Danny standing up, slowly.  Into the soundtrack, he has mixed sounds of a countdown, which reaches zero when Danny reaches his full height.  Genius!
  • Weidner also talks for a bit about how much Stephen King hated the changes Kubrick made to the story.  Ascher inserts a scene of King from Creepshow, showing his character watching television.  In Creepshow, it is a pro wrestling match; here, it is King's credit from The Shining!  Awesome.



  • Weidner mentions that in the novel, King specifies that the Torrances drive a red Volkswagen.  In the movie, Kubrick has made it a yellow Volkswagen.  However, when Dick passes a wreck on the snowy highway, the wrecked car is clearly a red Volkswagen.  In Weidner's view, this represents a bit of a "fuck you" from Kubrick to King.  And in this case, I'm inclined to admit that that is a strong possibility.  An amusing one, too.  Kubrick the troll; delightful!



The Torrances were once again driving a red car in the miniseries remake, though.
  • Returning briefly to the supposed significance of the number 42, I have this to add: since Danny is clearly wearing a sports-related t-shirt, let's ask if there is any sports-related significance to the number 42.  On that subject, I don't have to look far: 42 was the jersey number of Jackie Robinson, the first black man to be allowed to play major-league baseball.  That makes him a very prominent figure in America's race-relations history.  Is there any content in Kubrick's film that might be said to touch on ideas of racism?  There is indeed, what with Grady and Jack referring to Dick as a "nigger."  Leaving racism aside, is there anything baseball-related in the film?  Does Wendy knocking Jack out with a baseball bat count?  (For Weidner, it probably counts as a giant dong.)  So, if we assume that the number 42 means something -- and I'm not saying that it does, but IF it does -- then what's more persuasive: the idea that it represents the Holocaust (which is never once, not ONE SINGLE TIME, mentioned in the movie)?  Or the idea that it represents Jackie Robinson,  whose occupation (baseball) and chief obstacle to said occupation (racism) are most definitely present?  You'd have to be willfully ignorant to answer "Holocaust" to that question, I think.  So is The Shining secretly a message about Jackie Robinson's importance to America?  Danny wears his jersey numbers; Wendy wields the tool of his profession.  Are they -- the survivors of the film -- symbols of Robinson's endurance?  Should I take part in the sequel to Room 237 when and if such a thing should happen?
  • Toward the end, Ascher edits together scenes from Jack walking through room 237 with scenes from the end of 2001: A Space Odyssey, which takes place in some sort of weird alien environment that might be thought of as the representation of hotel room.  There is at least one image in this sequence (from Room 237, that is) which thrilled me almost beyond measure:
If you know 2001 well, then odds are that this thrills you, too.  (And no, not because of the titties.  Pervert!)

Hopefully, this will have convinced a few people to check out Room 237, and hopefully at least a few who do will dig it as much as I do.  It's easily one of my favorite movies from this year, and a hugely welcome addition to my King collection, my (woefully inadequate) Kubrick collection, and my movie collection in general.
 
At some point in the next few days, I'll be posting a revised list of my Worst-To-Best rundown of all the King-related movies.  I've been wrestling with whether or not to include this on that list; I'm leaning toward doing so.
 
We'll see in a day or two, I guess!
 
And now, leftover screencaps and other images:



I'm tempted to go crazy theorizing as to why Ascher included those three other posters.  Why THEM, specifically?  Probably something to do with 9/11 or the Bilderberg Group.

Remember the Impossible Window?  Well, here's an impossible television, which seemingly has no power cord of any sort.  Creepy!  (Also of note: the movie Danny is watching is called Summer of '42.)

Here, the editing has arranged it so that Danny is watching the start of The Shining.  Cool!

The idea of this one -- Wendy Torrances watching one another stretching clear into infinity -- freaks me the fuck out.






Final thought: I need to try and find a copy of that issue of Playgirl.  It'll only be for the articles, I promise.

15 comments:

  1. Great breakdown! What an entertaining film and I'm glad to see it praised for its most visually pleasing aspetcs: the spliced-in images/ playful editing, and those wonderful reverse/forward overlays brought to such attention.

    When coincidence, attention to detail, and a masterwork intersect, I imagine a theory can be made for just about anything. Some theories work better than others, although ultimately I "buy" none of them. But that's really secondary to me. It's like Paul Is Dead. I just enjoy the process of mapping out the alternate reality. Is the film about the moon landing? I mean, it's absurd. But it's the degree of absurdity that is part of what entertains me.

    Something I always come back round to: the "better" something is, the more interpretations can fit it. Just by being true to itself, a story can reflect multiple meanings, the way an actor's keeping his or her face neutral on screen allows the audience infinite projection. If it's in service of a crappy film, the degree narrows; when it's a multi-faceted jewel like a Kubrick production, you can see all the way to Earth-666. Like you say, coincidence is powerful; when amplified by a powerful film, it can even illuminate the most outlandish theory.

    Like Fitzgerald said, the test for any intelligence is to hold two contradictory viewpoints in mind simultaneously. In our century, I'd say it's more like eight or nine. It's well-proven or at least widely agreed at this point that reality is 95% perception and 5% solid ground. Fantasy and fiction even moreso.

    Some random thoughts:

    - I personally don't read the red/yellow VW thing as giving King the finger.

    - I've never understood either the Playgirl thing or the crazy picture in Halloran's hotel room.

    - I'm disappointed there is no Helicopter Theory based entirely on the shadow of the helicopter against the mountainside in the opening credits. I will call this "The Airwolf Theory." One day I will formulate a credible version of it, but it requires watching all of Airwold start to finish first. So: it'll be awhile.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. "Airwolf", huh? I suggest changing it to "Blue Thunder." You can save yourself a lot of time that way!

      I'll tell you how I perceive the thing with the pictures in Dick's room. For one thing, I think that is probably Dick's house, as opposed to a hotel room. If we assume he lives at the Overlook while the hotel is in season, then surely he has a permanent residence in Florida, and that is bound to be it. Now, from there, I think you have to ask yourself what sort of man would have two photos (paintings?) like that in his bedroom. Answer: a determinedly heterosexual one, and one who is either highly sexualized or is giving himself some sort of substitute for being highly sexualized. There are probably other interpretations, but those are the ones that strike me.

      But what do we SEE in the scene? We see Dick -- to whose name I am implying zero significance, by the way (although it would be possible to do so) -- merely lying in bed, watching the news, looking bored with life and seeming about as far removed from being sexually active as a fella can get. He seems to me like a man whose biological usefulness has evaporated long ago.

      Something like that, at least.

      As for the Playgirl...apart from the "Jack and Kubrick thought it would be funny to play a joke almost nobody would ever notice" angle, I've got nothing. Some people see it as proof of Jack being homosexual -- or at least bisexual -- and that serving as a cue that what Wendy is seeing with the dude getting blown by a giant bear toward the end is an externalization of Jack's psyche. Thing about that is, it makes an assumption that it's a man inside that bear costume, and not a woman. Is there any reason to leap straight to that conclusion? I'm not sure there is.

      Maybe Jack's gay, or bi, or straight as a ruler. Who knows? I don't think it impacts the movie significantly one way, the other, or the other, either. So for me, the Playgirl is merely a trivial detail.

      Anyways, I'm glad "Room 237" has at least one other champion! I loved it.

      Delete
    2. Good point re: Dick, that IS probably his house. Which is even better! What an interior decorator!

      Yeah, I think both it and the Playgirl are the definition of trivial details, to be sure. (I'd never considered the furry-oral-sex scene to be an externalization of Wendy's anxiety re: her husband's sexuality. That cracks me up, actually. It'd really be hilarious if that was how Kubrick intended for us to read that scene. Whew!!)

      Delete
  2. This gets me super excited about watching this movie. I have it on hold at the library! Also... I liked to your blog on my goodreads group.. hope you don't mind! https://www.goodreads.com/topic/show/1551314-room-237

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Goodness, no...! I definitely don't mind. Thanks!

      I hope you enjoy the movie!

      Delete
  3. I started watching this documentary on Netflix the other day, and I agree with you that the editing of the documentary is both unique and absolutely fantastic.

    As far as the theories, I was watching it all with the same fascination and skepticism I usually reserve for these kinds of conspiracy theories until it reached the moon landing issue. I think it's because it's crazy on two levels - you don't just think Kubrik went through the effort to plant a bunch of subtle cues into the background of a film, but you also think they faked the moon landing. (Or that we did land yet felt the need to fake footage. Whatever.) It turned me off enough that I had a hard time listening to the next scene that followed it, and I ended up having to stop watching. I think the editing will in fact bring me back to watch the rest, but at the time I had just had a little too much of Weidner to go forward.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I hear ya. I suspect a lot of people will be put off by that section of the movie, and I can't say I blame them. Weidner's on a one-way trip to Locoburg.

      Personally, I prefer the idea that Kubrick put all that stuff in expressly to fuck with people who insisted he was involved with faking the moon landing. He seems like the kind of guy who would get satisfaction out of that. If so, I approve!

      Delete
  4. This film is so much fun. Watching it again tonight.

    Sometimes I have to stop and rewind to make sure I heard something correctly. The visuals are so fantastic, tho, and the spell it casts.

    I only comment, tho, because I opened up this review to read again while watching, and that picture of crazy-Jack and Danny captioned "fucking creepy" is indeed fucking goddamn creepy. Ugh. Totally unsettled now!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Oh, man, I'd forgotten about that one. But yes, it really is beyond-level creepy.

      I'm so glad I've got at least one fellow "Room 237" fan to commiserate with. It's so, so good, and so, so misunderstood. But I think that's kind of dope, in its way -- it seems to be on a pattern of delayed appreciation not entirely unlike the way most Kubrick movies took a while to catch on with people.

      I like that.

      Delete
    2. It's easy to get caught up in (and annoyed with) the lunatic theories and why they're so, so wrong or misguided. More than once I found myself saying "But wait, that's crazy!" and then having to remind myself that the film is not interested in convincing me any of them are valid, only using them to illustrate its other points, i.e. how we "read" things.

      I think of some of my alterna-explanations of Trek episodes and how much fun I had / have with that approach, and I should be the last person to get annoyed by someone telling me The Shining is about any of the theories mentioned here. But that's the whole thing - it's not the practice of alterna-reads I find irritating; It comes down to proving one's case, and while I find some of the theories to be interesting, I don't see the evidentiary support required for me to believe The Shining is about any of them.

      But! Of course - all well outside the point vis-a-vis Room 237, which I agree, seems to be following that Kubrickian pattern of delayed appreciation.

      I also normally get annoyed at re-purposed footage. Whatever subset of those "internet documentaries" are, that shows footage from films (particularly Network or They Live) while spinning a paranoid theory of New World Order global control, etc. I sometimes think it's amateur hour. So when I initially saw stuff from non-Kubrick films (or even other Kubrick films) I rolled my eyes. But that didn't last past the first few minutes: very much not the case with Room 237. It makes art out of all the above, and it's fun to watch, to boot.

      That end credits song is so fantastic, too.

      Delete
  5. People who thinks Kubrick did the Apollo landings know *nothing* about Kubrick nor about Apollo nor about 1960's fx

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I suspect you are correct about that. However, sir, I'm afraid I really MUST ask you to put out your cigar; we don't allow smoking in this theatre.

      ;)

      Delete
  6. In the interest of transparency, I would like to confess to having tidied up some of the grammar in this post tonight. I believe this may be proof that Nibiru exists.

    ReplyDelete