Stanley Kubrick’s 1980 horror The Shining has always raised as many questions as it has hairs on the back of the neck. Critics couldn’t understand why Kubrick was attempting to adapt a pulp horror story, whilst many Stephen King fans were upset at its less-than-faithful rendering of his original narrative. What was Kubrick thinking? The prevailing opinion upon its release was somewhat downbeat on both sides of the cultural divide. It was an ambivalence that didn’t last long however. But what was Kubrick actually thinking?
The Shining has now long been considered a classic inside and outside of the genre – if indeed it is a generic horror. A tale that seems to tap into an almost unconscious fear with its often inexplicable imagery and visual puzzles, there are moments in the film that do seem to suggest something beyond King’s tale of ghostly possession. It is these suggestions that occupy new documentary movie Room 237, which is being shown at this month’s Abu Dhabi Film Festival.
Room 237 has questions – and many, many ‘answers’. A bold project, the documentary dips into the growing online community devoted to posting theories regarding Kubrick’s work: specifically, in this case, The Shining. Room 237 explores Kubrick’s film inside and out, with its five obsessive narrators whose claims range from the fanciful to some incredibly poignant and unnerving reassessments of Kubrick’s adaptation of the best-selling book (starring Jack Nicholson as the possessed caretaker of a haunted hotel).
King famously hates the film; whether it was the reworking of the plot and the characters or the fact that Kubrick rejected King’s first draft of the script, it’s fair to say that the novelist has more than distanced himself from the movie – later producing, as he did, his own limp-as-lettuce TV version of the story. Without spoiling one of the more convincing of Kubrick’s alleged ‘Easter eggs’ this animosity could be just as much from the director, when we view what is believed to be an aggressive message directly from Kubrick to King in an otherwise innocuous moment from the film.
‘If the theories had been about any other film I may have been reluctant to make this movie,’ director Rodney Ascher tells Time Out. ‘But The Shining never seems to grow old, no matter how many times I watch it.
As with all Kubrick films, it’s a film that seems to demand further thought.’
Ascher’s Room 237 is driven by circumspection and the obsession that drives it. Kubrick fans will know of his attention to detail and the painstaking research that went into every prop and angle of every single shot and second (sometimes milliseconds) and so the question can be rightly posed when addressing his work: did Kubrick simply have a play with a bestselling ghost story? Or was there something darker at work?
The claims made in the documentary cover an enormous terrain, from the allegedly impossible dimensions of the Overlook Hotel to a theory that the film itself is a personal confession from Kubrick for his part in helping to fake the footage of the lunar landings. Was the film an exposé of America’s blood-stained past or a vehicle that deals with the impossibility of fully comprehending the Holocaust? Ascher lets his theorists plot out their claims, free of interjection in a film as much concerned with the devotion of the viewer as it is with the intentions of The Shining’s creator. Whatever the truth – and only the late Kubrick genuinely knew this – Room 237 makes for an absorbing experience, uncovering as it does intriguing (or merely imagined) meanings and possibilities of what is now a commonly concurred, classic slice of cinema. The Shining it seems, continues to dazzle.
Room 237 is showing at the ADFF, 7pm Oct 18 and 1.30pm Oct 20, at Vox, Marina Mall. www.adff.ae.