Click to Skip Ad
Closing in...
'Justified' Rides Into the Sunset As One of TV's Best Shows, If Not One of Its Most Watched 'Justified' Rides Into the Sunset As One of TV's Best Shows, If Not One of Its Most Watched A Writer From The Onion Totally Destroys Patton Oswalt in This Epic Twitter Rant A Writer From The Onion Totally Destroys Patton Oswalt in This Epic Twitter Rant The Death-by-Skype Horror Movie 'Unfriended' Is an Unlikely Critical Hit The Death-by-Skype Horror Movie 'Unfriended' Is an Unlikely Critical Hit 'Justified's Finale Did Just Enough to Be Perfect 'Justified's Finale Did Just Enough to Be Perfect The 'Game of Thrones' Leak: Don't Blame Critics (At Least Not Yet) The 'Game of Thrones' Leak: Don't Blame Critics (At Least Not Yet) David Chase Has Explained the Ending of 'The Sopranos' Again. Maybe He Should Stop Explaining David Chase Has Explained the Ending of 'The Sopranos' Again. Maybe He Should Stop Explaining The A.V. Club Picks the 100 Best Movies of the Decade; 'The Master' Tops the List The A.V. Club Picks the 100 Best Movies of the Decade; 'The Master' Tops the List Daily Reads: Why CSI: Cyber Is a Bad Show Worth Watching, the New 'Twin Peaks' Mystery, and More Daily Reads: Why CSI: Cyber Is a Bad Show Worth Watching, the New 'Twin Peaks' Mystery, and More Daily Reads: 10 Reasons Why 'Justified' Rocked, The Case for Kristen Stewart, and more Daily Reads: 10 Reasons Why 'Justified' Rocked, The Case for Kristen Stewart, and more 'Simpsons' Showrunner Al Jean Says No Further Seasons Will Be Released on DVD 'Simpsons' Showrunner Al Jean Says No Further Seasons Will Be Released on DVD Daily Reads: Just Show Us the Damn Trailer, 'The Avengers' vs. 'Man of Steel,' and More Daily Reads: Just Show Us the Damn Trailer, 'The Avengers' vs. 'Man of Steel,' and More 'While We're Young': Noah Baumbach's Xer-Millennial Comedy Ponders the Difference Between Sharing People's Lives and Stealing Them 'While We're Young': Noah Baumbach's Xer-Millennial Comedy Ponders the Difference Between Sharing People's Lives and Stealing Them Daily Reads: 5 Key 'Game of Thrones' Premiere Scenes, Why 'Wonder Woman' Losing Its Director Was Good News, and More Daily Reads: 5 Key 'Game of Thrones' Premiere Scenes, Why 'Wonder Woman' Losing Its Director Was Good News, and More What Paul Walker's Digital "Fast & Furious" Double Reveals About the Troubling Future of Film Acting What Paul Walker's Digital "Fast & Furious" Double Reveals About the Troubling Future of Film Acting Why Andrew Jarecki's 'The Jinx' Could Be Very, Very Bad for Documentaries Why Andrew Jarecki's 'The Jinx' Could Be Very, Very Bad for Documentaries The Children's Book from 'The Babadook' Will Terrify You in the Real World The Children's Book from 'The Babadook' Will Terrify You in the Real World The Hollywood Reporter Ranks New York's Top Film Critics, From 'Cream Puffs' to 'F*ckers' The Hollywood Reporter Ranks New York's Top Film Critics, From 'Cream Puffs' to 'F*ckers' Criticwire Survey: Best Horror Movies Since 2000 Criticwire Survey: Best Horror Movies Since 2000 Daily Reads: Why No One Remembers "Avatar," the Best Blu-rays and DVDs of 2014, and more Daily Reads: Why No One Remembers "Avatar," the Best Blu-rays and DVDs of 2014, and more The Scrambled Sexuality of 'Frozen's "Let It Go" The Scrambled Sexuality of 'Frozen's "Let It Go"

Some Theories About Rodney Ascher's 'Room 237'

Criticwire By Ari Gunnar Thorsteinsson | Criticwire August 9, 2012 at 5:41PM

Is this documentary about Stanley Kubrick's "The Shining" a work of criticism, or a critique of criticism?
0
"Room 237."
"Room 237."

It was clear that Rodney Ascher's documentary "Room 237" had found a receptive audience at the Locarno Film Festival right from the knowing laughter at the sight of the production company's logo, which was made to resemble the red and blue Warner Brothers shield from the 1970s. It takes a certain sort of person to memorize the era-specific logo of a single studio, and apparently that sort of person really wants to see a documentary about Stanley Kubrick’s "The Shining." 

Ascher’s film consists of interviews with five people who all find different meanings and interpretations in the text of "The Shining." One reads it as a treatise on genocide; another sees a cautionary tale about Jack Torrence's (Jack Nicholson) destruction at the hands of psychosexual demons. Most outlandishly of all, a third believes it serves as Stanley Kubrick’s admission of his involvement in faking the Apollo 11 moon landing. In presenting all these differing theories, has Ascher made a piece of film criticism, or a work that seeks to belittle the overly analytic mindset that produces it?

Watching the film is a lot like reading an expertly crafted piece of criticism, except in this case, it’s an expertly crafted piece of filmmaking as well. The editing is precise and the music, both in the use of existing cues and original score, gives the film a constant sense of forward momentum. At a certain point, your own opinions become irrelevant; "Room 237" is so perfectly constructed you can't help but get swept up. Still, a slight but nagging sense of ironic distance repeatedly creeps into the film. As Ascher repeatedly dwells on the sheer amount of minuscule details, it feels like he's pointing out the ridiculousness of these "Shining" scholars.

Each one brings their own experiences to the film, but while they sometimes admit their personal biases, they refuse to acknowledge their views as interpretation -- in their minds, their subjective take on "The Shining" is its ultimate objective truth, a grand conspiracy only they are privy to. In a surprising creative choice, Ascher never shows the faces of the interviewees, or provides any real context about their backgrounds. The total anonymity of the speakers often makes it hard to tell exactly who is talking, forcing the viewer to assess each theory solely on the visual information offered by Ascher. Occasionally, one will mention something from their past, but those instances are quite rare. Each subject, no matter how absurd their beliefs, is given equal weight and attention, an interesting approach in the age of anonymous Internet commenters and bloggers.

Despite the prominence of "The Shining," "Room 237"’s ultimate subject matter isn’t Kubrick’s film, but rather obsession. Although the five interviewees have different views of what "The Shining" is really all about, they share one commonality: they all believe that Kubrick hid the film’s true meaning deep within its text, and they will stop at nothing to validate their argument.

It could be said that "Room 237" gently mocks its subjects' obsessions -- admittedly, some their theories are a bit silly, and maybe even a little bizarre -- but you never get the sense that Asher is deliberately dismissive in the way he contextualizes his interviewees' critiques. "Room 237" is in love with film and film discussion, criticism and analysis. 

Ari Gunnar Thorsteinsson is part of Indiewire's Critics Academy at the Locarno Film Festival. He lives in Stockholm, Sweden where he's in a Master's program in cinema studies. He's the co-host of The Movie Homework Podcast, which can be found in iTunes. Click here to read all of the Academy's work.

This article is related to: Critics Academy, Locarno International Film Festival


E-Mail Updates



Check out Indiewire on LockerDome on LockerDome