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“Room 237” by Rodney Ascher

“Room 237” by Rodney Ascher

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This documentary essay, Rodney Ascher’s first feature-length film, discovered at the Sundance Festival in the « New Frontier » section and screened as an international première at the Directors’ Fortnight is a fascinating study of Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining (1980).

Room 237  – from the name of the famous room that contains the terrifying secrets in Kubrick’s masterpiece – is nothing like the bonus features and « making of » extras found on DVDs. The Shining is deconstructed, analysed frame by frame, by several academics and film critics along with conspiracy theorists and numerologists who offer extremely intensive interpretations of the film, from the highly intelligent to the totally delirious.

Even if you think you know the film by heart, you discover that this labyrinthine film may contain a myriad of messages and more or less hidden – or obvious - meanings, inscribed within particular shots, set details or camera movements.

The Shining, beyond its story about a haunted hotel, a loose adaptation of the novel by Stephen King (the writer understandably felt humiliated by Kubrick’s adaptation, far superior to its literary source), is clearly a film about all the violence and horror of the 20th century (seen through the eyes of a terrified child who is none other than the little Jewish boy from Brooklyn born in 1928), the ever-present past (ghosts from the genocide of native Indians, the Holocaust and Nazism).

But one can also have a little fun and find out many other less serious things … such as the Moon landing (a nod to another Kubrick film, 2001: A Space Odyssey).

Room 237 attempts to explain the numerous jump-cuts and – sometimes hilarious – continuity errors that occur throughout a film in which, however, the all-powerful director seems to have left nothing to chance.

A film brain cluttered with mistakes, isn’t that the perfect allegory for the human machine for Kubrick, always fascinated by the dysfunction and derailments of both man and machine?

The form of this documentary, largely comprised of numerous extracts from The Shining and other Kubrick films (as well as extracts from Lamberto Bava’s Demons – an 80s Italian horror movie set in a cinema, of course) is as exciting as its subject.

When the film ends, one immediately wants to see it again, convinced that Kubrick’s film – indeed, his entire body of work - have still not delivered all their secrets, and Room 237 turns out to be as fascinating as The Shining itself.

Olivier Père
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