REVIEW: Room 237

26 01 2015

Room 237Aside from showing how far the “fair use” exemption of American copyright can be extended, Rodney Ascher’s unique documentary “Room 237” is a film that demonstrates how the cult of auteurism has run amuck to its point of logical absurdity.  The cinephiles and film analysts he spotlights stretch the theory that a director is responsible for every detail in every frame almost to farcical extremes.

The images of Ascher’s documentary, or potentially a feature-length video essay, come entirely from Stanley Kubrick’s cult classic horror film “The Shining” (as well as a few of his other films to play the part of B-roll).  The words are all provided by five people convinced they know the secret meaning underlying every minute of that film.  Depending on which one of them you ask, “The Shining” is really about sexuality, the Holocaust, the genocide of Native Americans, the entirety of the human family, history’s collective amnesia, or even an apology for faking the moon landing.

Each interviewee has to adopt a certain attitude to how playful or serious Kubrick was in his crafting of the film, selectively pulling from film criticism to make their arguments irrefutable.  All seem to agree, however, that Kubrick is infallible, completely incapable of making a continuity error, mistake or oversight.  Nothing could be chalked up to coincidence, for Kubrick oversaw every speck in every frame.  A so-called “impossible window” could not possibly a snafu given that there were two different sets for the film.

Room 237

The pundits who go on the record in “Room 237” supply an unabashed exaltation of the exacting Kubrick that it leaves no agency to the actors, who are important collaborators on a film in their own way.  Such a view reduces Jack Nicholson and company to cogs in the mechanical work of an authoritarian director.  In essence, they turn the art’s unpredictably alchemy into a precise science.

While “Room 237” does provide various intriguing interpretations of “The Shining,” both bizarrely plausible and laughably implausible, Kubrick’s work is not really at the center of Ascher’s inquisition. Like David Fincher’s “Zodiac,” the real subject of “Room 237” becomes the interrogators and the questioners rather than the thing in question.  He exposes not only the boundless possibilities for examining and deciphering film but also its potential nitpicking and pedantic downsides.  By providing a glimpse at the poles of the spectrum, Ascher invites everyone who loves film to consider how to find an agreeable middle ground between the two.  A- / 3halfstars

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