ROOM 237

If one of the standard avenues of film criticism is opening new doors and suggesting new interpretations of a film's thematic and creative ideas, Room 237 takes that path into a highly conceptualized realm of fan obsession with Stanley Kubrick's 1980 Stephen King adaptation The Shining. Never one of Mr. Kubrick's most unanimous film, it has however become one of his most infuriating and haunting ones, especially for the five people from different walks of life that director Rodney Archer interviewed for Room 237 (named after the mysterious off-limits room at the film's hotel setting). All of them have developed particular theories about the film's deeper meaning and undercover subtexts - ranging from intriguing, reasonable interpretations to outlandish flights of fancy whose frightening intensity suggests either people with too much time on their hands or visionaries who have answered primeval mysteries.

     The wide scope of theories built around The Shining, from meditations on the Holocaust and Native American genocide to conspiracy theories about fake moon landings, only heighten how much authorial intent is only part of a work of art, and just how much it is created by its viewers as well; and Mr. Kubrick's meticulous, painstaking attention to detail pretty much invites an equal level of obsession from any committed viewer. The trick that kicks Room 237 into overdrive, though, is that there is practically not one frame of purpose-shot footage here. Everything is screen-grabs or excerpts from The Shining and other films by Mr. Kubrick and other directors, repurposed for the effects of illustrating the theories of the five interviewees, who are never seen on screen but merely heard on the soundtrack. An ingenious concept in theory, granted, but not so much in practice: the absence of "human" talking heads turns the film quickly into an abstract construct that grows tiresome, especially since the voices aren't always clearly distinguishable from each other. The repetition of footage to make points or illustrate theories becomes wearisome with time, suggesting a relatively smaller running time might have been helpful to tighten up the project.

     Above all, there is a sense that Mr. Ascher's concept, fascinating as it is and impressively put together as it is, needed a more serious, sober take to better make its points about interpretation, as Room 237's ingenious form draws far too much attention to itself and ends up overwhelming the very interesting questions it suggests.

Director, writer, editor: Rodney Ascher
Music: William Hutson, Jonathan Snipes
Producer, Tim Kirk (Highland Park Classics, The Room 237 Group) 
USA, 2012, 102 minutes

Screened: Curtas Vila do Conde 2012 advance screener, DVD, Lisbon, July 3rd 2012


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