Sunday, September 29, 2013
Room 237(2012): Movie Thoughts
When looking back at film school, among my favorite realms of study, was the one about the art of the hidden theme. Having been taken through films I once understood in one manner, only to come out with a completely new appreciation for it by way of a little nudging via educator, there is a growing number of film lovers who now see themselves playing the game of "spot the hidden symbols". (Occasionally to points of absurdity) And among the first directors that these admirers of the cinema latch onto for subterfuge of meaning, will always be the one and only Stanley Kubrick, who's works continue to invite new boughs of interpretation and criticism. His works continue to inspire and confound, only made so much more inviting by way of the man himself, his perfectionist nature, and almost manic resistance to mainstream culture, particularly of the U.S.
So upon living within this era of post modern film criticism, one might fault the makers of Room 237 to be something bordering on exploitative, as the piece centers on audio confessionals from a group of superfans, with some eye-opening, some not so much assessments on Kubrick's 1980 adaptation of the Stephen King novel. The famed horror tale of a family on the brink of bloody calamity whilst caretaking an isolated mountain hotel, while deceptively simple in plot, carried more than enough mystery, and utter creepiness for numerous movies. Very much like the director's made-up shrubbery labyrinth that makes for center stage of the film's finale, there is so much in the entire piece that never adds up, leading to a disorienting, sometimes nightmare-like aura. So it is no wonder that Kubrick's interpretation of the story has led to such a response, and reappraisal over the decades. In fact, since the advent of the internet, The Shining remains one of the most thematically pilfered, and theorized films of all time. But what Rodney Aschner brings to the debate, is something that is not as often addressed, is perhaps far too little too late.
237's bulk largely consists of mostly cleverly edited and manipulated footage from not only Kubrick's work, but also of other well regarded pieces combined with the voices of the film's core theorists. Each sharing their memories of the film as well as their often amusing interpretations of its symbols and themes. From the half-sensible, to the outright bizarre, the intercutting between each guest, and the footage often creates a sense that we are in the lair of the truly post-modern. That fine line that many a film fan flirts with when they find a work that inevitably gets stuck deep in their craw, unable to leave lest investigation is enacted by any means. And while there is a decent amount to chew on here as we see multiple famous moments at various speeds, and points of high definition manipulation as each theory is mentioned and elaborated upon in hopes of making adequate case. Theories abound include one popular one regarding the film as an allegory for the systematic acquisition of America, and the genocide of the native peoples. It also goes headlong into some strange ones, such as it all being a thinly veiled admission that Kubrick assisted in the fabrication of the Apollo 11 moon landing.
But the commentary that was perhaps the one that spoke the most to this viewer, was more a summation of the film being about how the past impinges upon the present. These moments are dispersed throughout, and are among the most stirring, and truest feeling of them all, and mostly because it truly feels like a thematic that had already been a long shared one by Kubrick in his previous works, only not quite done so subterranean before. As if the genre itself were being toyed with in the name of calling out very real horrors perpetrated by the very people responsible for the world that led to our current one. It's a startling series of revelations and ideas that are both prominent in the visuals, and carefully interwoven into the narrative of Jack, Wendy, and Danny up at the Overlook. And even if it isn't a definitive theory, it certainly is an emotionally satisfying one for one who has long admired the film despite it's often disorienting nature. Whether the film is utilizing the language of subliminal advertising, commenting on the horrors of the holocaust, or just quizzical due to the film's narrative, and physical paradoxes, there are so many threads left lying about some finding far too enticing to ignore.
The public loves a good series of open ended questions, but are also occasionally attracted to hypersimplified answers, especially when considering a popular movie. And while it would be fun to map out what we assume to be the gospel truth of an enigmatic work, especially one made by one of the most mysterious creative minds of a generation, very often the questions are the most attractive element. Much less about the meanings behind one of Kubrick's most accessible, yet divisive films, and more about a growing consciousness of mind regarding the intent of cinema, and what it can do to such a consciousness when the established rules are thrown out. It is a love of pop gone borderline clinical at times, and at others, a telling earful from those unwilling to allow mystery to thrive, even if that was part of a work's special alchemy. While not a thoroughly compelling look at a horror favorite, 237 is that rare celebration of discourse that many fans enjoy after experiencing an effective piece of art. Often fun, frustrating, and occasionally TMI, the rabbit hole is a discovery that simply cannot be denied.