ROOM 237

ROOM 237

I will never forget the first time I encountered a certain movie called THE SHINING. A mere TV spot featuring Jack Nicholson’s maniacal "Here’s Jonny" face coupled with little Danny peddling frantically around the hexagonal carpeted Overlook Hotel effortlessly invoked a feeling of fear and wonder in this 8 year old. When I finally got to see the full feature, perhaps initially thwarted by a teenager’s lust for blood and gore, I found it a little mediocre if I am being honest. It took a couple of further viewings, and a distinctly increased maturity, for the power of Kubrick’s take on the Stephen King novel of the same name to really strike chord with me.

Regardless of THE SHINING being firmly carved into classic horror folklore, it took the prospect of a new documentary called ROOM 237, which I loosely understood to be an in depth study of Kubrick’s masterpiece, for me to reacquaint myself with the movie.

Naturally when re-watching THE SHINING for the first time this decade, I scrutinised the film like never before. Even so, given the claims that Stanley Kubrick himself had somewhat of a disdain for "Bonus Material", I couldn’t help but wonder whether ROOM 237 itself was simply going to be an elaborate ‘extra’ made by fans of the movie to make up for the absence of commentary tracks on digital releases of his work.

The film is narrated by five individuals who, apart from their voices, remain conspicuously off camera for the entire programme. I have to admit I hadn’t previously heard of the eclectic verbal quintet consisting of Jay Weidner, Geoffrey Cocks Juli Kearns, Bill Blakemore and John Fell Ryan beforehand. But considering their collective C.V.s lay claim to being a ABC TV News correspondent, an author, a recording artist, a film historian and even an ‘authority on the hermetic and alchemical traditions’, any notions that ROOM 237 was simply a rudimentary comparison between novel and movie (although it does touch on the glaring differences at one point) were way off the mark.

In the very opening minutes of the documentary we are informed of the individual commentators’ personal perceptions of what they believe Kubrick’s version of THE SHINING to be REALLY about. These ranged from the genocide of Native American Indians to the devastation of war mainly focusing on Hitler, the Nazis and the ensuing Holocaust. (Don’t worry Al hasn’t gone on a ‘cut and paste’ frenzy we are still actually talking about perceptions of THE SHINING here!).

But it’s not just profound subtexts and insightful metaphors that were spoken about. We were soon enlightened to a few judgements of subliminal imagery that were believed to be peppering the movie. Sometimes these were achieved by cunning cross dissolve techniques. At other times they were crudely placed set props such as ‘in-trays’ that would appeal to our subconscious as phallic erections!

At times, some of the evidence is presented in an overwhelmingly convincing manner. The number ‘42’ for example, which relates to the Holocaust of the Jews, features prominently throughout the movie. Why else would Kubrick change the one room Danny was not allowed to enter from 217 (in King’s book) to 237 if it wasn’t for the fact that 2 x 3 x 7 = 42? Why else did Danny sport a sweater with those two digits on the sleeve? Why else would Wendy swing the baseball bat 42 times at Jack etc?

Needless to say, it wasn’t long before we blatantly took a small step into conspiracy theory territory. Passionately delivered dialogue from Jack to Wendy which spoke of loyalty to his employers and the meaning of a contract are interpreted as what Stanley Kubrick must have said to his own wife in a believed marital argument. The reason for a domestic barney at the Kubrick residence? Simple really: Mr Kubrick was the covert director given the task of conjuring the ‘faked moon landing’ film footage that was broadcast worldwide. Why else was Danny wearing an Apollo 11 jumper?!

Now at this point I would like to interject that a guilty pleasure of mine a few years back was to listen (if not believe) the musings of conspiracy theorists ESPECIALLY when motion pictures were the subject of their paranoid suppositions. It was intriguing to a degree, to watch isolated frames of Disney cartoons depicting inappropriate sexual imagery for example. But I think the reason my interest waned somewhat was the fact that these hypotheses were not exactly open to question. Disney, Columbia Pictures and the various guises of the music industry WERE tools of the impending New World Order (wasn’t that supposed to kick in back in 2012?) meaning if you didn’t agree with these theories you were part of the problem. This is confirmed somewhat by Jay Weidner’s homepage which states: "The only people who call conspiracies ' theories' are the conspirators.". The webpage also refers to these statements as "Weidner’s third Law of the Universe" Make of that what you will.

Personally, I find it a little too uncomfortably close to religious fanaticism by folk ironically believing they are the most open minded and enlightened people on the planet because they are ‘connecting the dots’. By all means let’s start a debate. But what I find perplexing is the notion that anyone who does not endorse a given theory is automatically categorized as being somehow involved with it.

This biasness was inherent with ROOM 237 at times. Statements like "What Kubrick WAS saying is" such and such when the man himself is not around to defend himself or at least offer an alternate standpoint sat a little uneasily with me.

Things went from the irritating to the ridiculous when Juli Kearns spoke of the ‘obviousness’ of a Skiing advert on the wall patently resembling a Minotaur. Maybe it’s my cynicism clouding the issue here, but when a scene of a movie has to be paused for the corner of the screen to then be zoomed in on before an attempt to convince the viewer that a seemingly innocuous poster depicts something it is clearly not, it is anything but obvious!

There was still time for some all-out weirdness when the results of THE SHINING playing normally is overlaid with THE SHINING playing in reverse were revealed. It was a bit of fun nonsense which did however manage throw up some strange images. My favourite had to be when Jacks infamous vacant stare as he stands on the edge of madness bizarrely coincides with a shot of the murdered twins making our main man look like some sort of blood drenched clown!

ROOM 237 certainly was not what I expected. Although I have perhaps raised a few negative and subjective observations, I have to stress I still found the film to be an engaging 100 or so minutes.

So despite my earlier pessimism about the views and theories expressed within ROOM 237, I would recommend people take a look at it and make their own minds up, even if it’s to ponder the strained relationship between the two respective geniuses of Kubrick and King.

At the very least, regardless of whether Kubrick did actually intend any of the undertones as suggested in the film, my intense re-familiarizing with a classic Horror movie finally helped me realise just why it features on so many Horror aficionados all-time top 10 lists.

Right, I’m off to watch LORNA THE EXORCIST frame by frame over the next 3 days without sleep to finally confirm that Jess Franco was cunningly promoting the concept of ‘safe sex’ in his 1970’s masterpiece....

Review by Marc Lissenburg

Released by Metrodome Distribution
Region 2 PAL
Rated 18
Extras :
see main review