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Film Review: What does 'The Shining' really mean?

April 07, 2013|By Andy Klein
  • Rodney Ascher's "Room 237" presents five fans, who, speaking in voiceover, explain their readings of the film, accompanied by a montage of clips primarily from "The Shining," but also from all of Kubrick's other films and a number of non-Kubrick titles.
Rodney Ascher's "Room 237" presents… (Photo by Joseph…)

Though the work of filmmaker Stanley Kubrick has been criticized on many grounds, it's doubtful that a lack of subtlety is among them. From "The Killing" (1956) through "Dr. Strangelove" (1964), his work was brilliant, but from "2001: A Space Odyssey" (1968) on, it was not only brilliant but also complex and ambiguous in ways that almost demand analysis.

Rodney Ascher's "Room 237" focuses in on one Kubrick film, "The Shining" (1980), which in recent years has surpassed "2001" as the center of Kubrick analysis.

It should be noted that upon its release, "The Shining" was not particularly beloved. Its biggest selling point was neither Kubrick nor Jack Nicholson, but rather new literary star Stephen King, upon whose 1977 novel the film was based. I saw the film opening day in Westwood, and the end was booed by a good percentage of the audience. Much of the negative reaction was based on expectations of the director and the novelist — or even of the horror genre in general.

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"Room 237" presents five fans, who, speaking in voiceover, explain their readings of the film, accompanied by a montage of clips primarily from "The Shining," but also from all of Kubrick's other films and a number of non-Kubrick titles. They each have a different pet theory, none of which precludes the others, except perhaps when you get to issues of "intentionality" (a concept that isn't mentioned until the very end of the film). That is: Artists are not necessarily aware of all that lurks in their work; there are patterns that assert themselves on the screen (or easel or whatever) without conscious intent. In interviews, many filmmakers respond to analytical observations with a comment along the lines of, "Wow. I never noticed that before. But, sure, that's valid."

It's possible to find ample evidence, as one of the participants claims, of the importance of the number 42. The examples are pretty amazing, in ways that almost certainly had to be deliberate. But another of our guides sees references to the Holocaust throughout; his argument is unconvincing and probably has more to do with his psyche than Kubrick's. Of course, everybody's reaction reflects something about themselves: The viewer is, in a sense, the final collaborator in the creative process.

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