Room 237 (2 x 3 x 7 = 42)

I finally saw Rodney Ascher’s 2012 documentary Room 237, about The Shining. It’s worth a watch: four or so well-read Kubrick fanatics going on in detail about the deeper meanings of The Shining. It makes for enlightening TV, but frustrating, on account of Ascher’s big decision to leave out any talking heads and merely use them as narrative voices. All the video is either lifted from The Shining  (screenplay by Stanley Kubrick and Diane Johnson) or other Kubrick films, or stock footage, with a little original stuff shot in a cinema. It has the effect of making the fanatics the narrators instead of the subject, gracing their opinions with the air of “truth.”

Riding a Big Wheel through the subconscious.

Riding a Big Wheel through the subconscious.

It’s a film that invites you to go along for the ride and listen to the sometimes persuasive, sometimes specious opinions, which is all for the best, I suppose. Like having a friend who’s just read a book about the Masons, sometimes the best way to engage the material is to let him talk till he’s done.

The point it goes to prove for any ol’ filmmaker is how little it takes to establish a theme. One detail repeated once, cross-referenced with another, and you’re already weaving a subliminal story in the viewer’s mind.

Only near the end does one of the disembodied voices remind us that themes may possibly emerge for reasons other than the author’s intent. It’s the first time anyone acknowledges that Kubrick, famously obsessive as he was, was a mortal too. His films were stuffed with dreams and sex and the human penchant for murder, sure, and lots details such as the number 42 that were more than coincidence, but to believe in  them so reverently when Kubrick’s own assistant called them “balderdash”  betrays the laziness of both artistic hero worship and conspiracy theorizing itself. Did Kubrick consciously plan every single implication in The Shining? Of course he did. Just ask the Masons and Trilateral Commission members  from the Federal Reserve, who bought nuclear technology from the aliens.


  1. I agree that it’s a fun documentary. I was surprised by how sane a few of the readings actually sounded–at least parts of them. There are still a couple of flat-out hallucinations passing as “analysis” in the film, but there you go.

    Regarding “authorial intention”–who cares? Many students I’ve taught over the years, in spite of my attempts to persuade them otherwise, still think analysis must be limited to what they think the author intended. Foucault pronounced the “author” dead so long ago I can’t believe that canard still has the weight it does.

    Of course that doesn’t give responsible analysis free license to just making shit up like some of the folks in this movie are doing. But even that isn’t a crime, it just has nothing to do with Stanley Kubrick’s THE SHINING.

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