Saturday 20 January 2018

Attack of the Kubrick nerds

Paul Whitington

room 237

(15A, limited release, 102 minutes)

Director: Rodney Ascher Stars: Bill Blakemore, Jay Weidner, Geoffrey Cocks


Stanley Kubrick has long been a lodestar for crackpots and pseudo-intellectuals, who pour endlessly over his movies in search of hidden meanings and signs. And though 2001: A Space Odyssey is an obvious favourite for obsessive theorists, Kubrick's 1980 horror film The Shining isn't far behind, as this wildly inconsequential documentary from Rodney Ascher proves.

I say documentary, but that word implies a certain rigour and engagement with reality, neither of which are evident in his crapulent but inadvertently entertaining film.

The Shining, which incidentally gets a cinematic rerelease here next week, was considered a surprising departure for the great director, and contemporary critics like Pauline Kael were bemused as to its purpose and meaning.

Not as bemused as they'd be after watching Room 237, however, in which a group of academics and amateur intellectuals pick over the film's key scenes and emerge with some surprising readings of Kubrick's intent.

Michigan history professor Geoffrey Cocks, for instance, is convinced that Kubrick used Stephen King's horror novel as an excuse to covertly tackle the horrors of the Holocaust.

He attaches particular significance to the recurrence of the number 42 in the film: it appears on a shirt worn by Danny, a film called Summer of '42 is shown playing on Wendy's television, and the unfortunate woman later takes 42 swings at Jack Nicholson with a baseball bat.

1942, Cocks laboriously explains, was the year the Nazis launched their Final Solution, proving that the genocide of six million Jews is The Shining's true subtext.

If that sounds fanciful, it's peerless scholarship compared with some of Room 237's other theories. Veteran ABC News correspondent Bill Blakemore spins his vast thesis from an inoffensive can of baking powder.

When Jack Torrance is locked in the pantry by Wendy, we see in the background a can of Calumet baking powder emblazoned with a logo of an Indian chief.

The blood spewing from the Overlook Hotel's lifts in that iconic scene is, says Blakemore, the blood of slaughtered Native Americans that will forever be a stain on America's conscience.

Daftest of all, though, are the musings of a character called Jay Weidner, who believes Kubrick used The Shining to confess in code the secret that he had helped fake the Apollo moon landings.

Kubrick, Weidner maintained, was haunted by his involvement in the faking of footage of the 1969 NASA mission: 237 is the number of the Overlook Hotel room where demons and evil reside, and the moon is 237,000 miles from Earth. Any questions?

All of these fools expound their crackpot theories with blithe confidence, and refer to Kubrick proprietorially as 'Stanley'.

They mull obsessively over the Overlook's layout, and the supposed significance of props.

The possibility that the use of certain props was merely accidental is never ever investigated, but practically every idiotic notion you can think of is, and one fool even finds enlightenment by simultaneously running the film from the start and end on the same screen.

Exhausting in its baroque stupidity, Room 237 is cobbled together with clips from the film and stock shots of other movies.

It might have been more interesting if we'd been able to see some of these geniuses talking, but sadly they remain disembodied idiots.

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