In 1994, between making Heavenly Creatures
and The Frighteners, Peter Jackson
produced, directed and starred in a documentary called Forgotten Silver that detailed the life and contributions of forgotten New Zealand film history pioneer Colin McKenzie. Originally aired on New Zealand television, this “rediscovery” of McKenzie was hailed by some film scholars of that country as a major triumph, until they learned that the whole thing was an elaborate hoax — brilliantly contrived by the future director of The Lord of the Rings, already demonstrating his wizardry with a camera and special effects.
Midway through Room 237, a 2012 documentary about hidden meanings behind and beneath Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining, I felt as if I was watching another mockumentary, wildly entertaining and clever like Forgotten Silver but so utterly preposterous I wasn’t about to be fooled. No one could take these farfetched interpretations seriously.
Boy, was I wrong. Brilliantly written, edited and directed by Rodney Ascher, Room 237 is an absolute must-see for any Kubrick fan and highly recommended for anyone interested in interpretative film theory. Though the movie features a number of truly gonzo “insights” into The Shining by fans who seriously need to get a life, Room 237 itself is a joyous celebration of Kubrick’s art and undeniable importance as an artist and filmmaker.
Without ever resorting to talking heads, the bane of so many documentaries, Ascher explores the wildly divergent interpretations of The Shining by a number of the film’s fans, each of them speaking off-camera to the accompaniment of appropriate scenes from the movie. In fact, during the course of Room 237, Ascher shows clips from just about every single one of Kubrick’s films as well as a wide range of other offerings, everything from Schindler’s List and All the President’s Men to Lamberto Bava’s Demons 2 and An American Werewolf in London. Altogether, in addition to the Kubrick canon, Ascher utilizes clips from more than 30 other films, none of them injudicious or even arbitrary. That one reason alone is why Room 237 is so enjoyable. Despite his somewhat limited subject, the director illustrates the wide appeal and range of movies in general.
Each of the theorists’ wildly divergent interpretations is conveyed in voice-over, accompanied by appropriate scenes from The Shining and other films. One theorist sees Kubrick’s horror film as an indictment of the genocide of Native Americans; another explains it as the filmmaker’s condemnation of The Holocaust and its horrors. The first opinion is due to the placement of Calumet Baking Powder cans in the hotel kitchen, while the other stems from Jack’s typewriter, which is of German origin. Silly as either might seem, the commentators are quite serious, supporting their theses with other examples.
The same goes for the other interpretations, which include a really bizarre reading focusing on sexual obsession, a hidden apology from Kubrick for staging the faked Apollo moon landings, and a mythological subtext focusing on the Minotaur and the labyrinth. Near the end of Room 237 is perhaps the most contrived viewpoint yet, revealed by superimposing the film running forward and backward over itself at the same time, resulting in some truly provocative images.
Wacky, wonderful and fascinating, Room 237 is one of a kind. So is Peter Jackson’s Forgotten Silver.