Thursday, February 21, 2013
The Shining is one of those rare horror films that is loved even by those who don't like the genre. Here was the story of an alcoholic writer (Jack Nicholson) who takes a job as the winter caretaker at a Colorado resort where he and his wife Wendy (Shelley Duvall) and son Danny (Danny Lloyd) will be snowed in all winter while he tends the boiler. The haunted history of the century-old hotel causes the dad to go insane while the son uses his psychic abilities to call for help. Simple, right? Some say, not so fast.
Rodney Asher's documentary Room 237 (named for the haunted hotel suite in the film where three ax murders were committed) explores in exhaustive – and sometimes laughable – details about the lengths that five people have gone through to break the film down looking for clues, signs, symbols and subtexts of every size and shape. Some of their theories reside within the film, some have relevance to history. Others are just plain wacko.
The five subjects are never seen on screen. We hear their voices and they all share a commonality, they have seen something in The Shining that the rest of us seem to miss. One of the interviewees points to a wrecked truck, seen on screen for a few seconds, and suggests that it was Kubrick thumbing his nose at writer Stephen King, who famously hated the film. "I've wrecked your book," he suggests, "and here it is for everyone to see." Another asks why Jack Nicholson's character is seen at the beginning reading a Playgirl magazine – does he have homoerotic feelings? Another interviewee traces the patterns of Danny's Big Wheel rides through the hotel hallways – the path of one of his treks is in the shape of a key. There is also the symbolism of the large Calumet cans seen in the pantry at the film's opening. One of the interviewees says that they are meant to suggest Native American ghosts in the hotel. The real Calumet, Colorado, you see, is a legendary ghost town.
Some of the information is interesting. One of the devotees suggests that the hexagonal carpet pattern has something to say about Danny's state of mind. Remember the scene where he is playing on the carpet and a ball rolls into his space from out of nowhere? We see the shot from overhead and the ball comes into the frame along the carpet pattern that seems to lead right to Danny. In the next shot we see him straight-on and the hexagonal pattern is closed. Was this a continuity error, or was Kubrick trying to suggest something? What is he also trying to suggest with a sticker on Danny's bathroom door that disappears from shot to shot.
Other suggestions are just plain stupid. The silliest offers the idea that Kubrick himself filmed the fake moon landing after the releasing 2001: A Space Odyssey in 1968 because the film proved that his special effects team could do it convincingly. It is thought that The Shining offers clues to a confession by Kubrick. Notice the rocket on Danny's sweater.
In truth, if this were another filmmaker, the theories could be thrown out with the trash, but Kubrick was such an eccentric, a man whose work was a tapestry of maddening detail that we are forced to look at these outlandish theories and wonder if he had them in mind from the start. Did he mean for a skier in a poster to represent a Minotaur? From another filmmaker probably not, but from Kubrick, who knows? What makes Room 237 work is its obsessive detail. The interviewees have obviously spent many days and nights searching each and every tiny frame looking for some connection that suggests something more than just an entertaining horror movie. For film buffs, this film may seem invaluable. The effect of the film is that it offers so much unseen detail that we may never have notice while watching the film, that it makes us want to revisit the film and search for clues on our own. The film is so full and so intricately detailed that there still seems to be a lot of room left to explore. There are plenty of rooms that can be explored . . . forever and ever and ever and ever.