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‘Room 237’ Movie Review

Reviewing movies can be a subjective process. Either you like what you saw or you don’t. You’d think that analyzing movies would be similar. If Jack Torrance (Jack Nicholson) throws a tennis ball against a wall at the hotel, he must be bored and experiencing writer’s block, right? Perhaps, but what if that wall is covered in a Navajo tapestry. Could that mean Jack is actually meant to represent the “white” man’s slaughter of American Indians as they settled this country? That’s the type of questions this movie posts to viewers. The only problem, I’m not sure it succeeds on every level.

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My anticipation for this film was high. “The Shining” is definitely in my top ten films I could watch again and again. The fascinating thing is you typically catch something new on each viewing. The director of “Room 237”, Rodney Ascher has a similar outlook and lets five “Shining” enthusiasts spew exactly what they’ve picked up on since the film’s release in 1980.

**Warning spoilers ahead**

Here’s where I start to have a bit of an issue with this documentary and I will openly admit maybe my previous knowledge of “The Shining” impaired my enjoyment more than I expected. The theories are not that new and some a bit flimsy.

I’ll start with the aforementioned allegory for the genocide of American Indians. Theorist Bill Blakemore suggests that the use of the “Calumet” cans of foods inside the pantry and Danny Torrance’s subsequent mind-reading during one early scene are shown to illustrate this. Later, the hotel’s manager talks about it being built over an Indian burial ground. Makes sense. Blakemore also mentions the line when Jack first takes a sip of alcohol from his ghostly barkeep calling it the “white man’s burden” aka guilt over the massacre of thousands.  However, what bothered me is that Blakemore fails to talk about several other symbols that back up this theory. The previously mentioned throwing of the tennis ball at the tapestry or how Wendy’s apparel and hair are similar to that of an American Indian woman throughout much of the film. Really, this theory does hold some water, but it may have only been one of Kubrick’s intentions for the movie.

Other theories range from Kubrick using “The Shining” as a metaphor for the holocaust (heavily numerical-based) to Kubrick secretly telling the audience he helped to fake the Apollo moon-landing. The latter, while intriguing seems incredibly far-fetched. That comes from conspiracy theorist Jay Weidner. He contends Kubrick hid clues about the moon-landing in many of his films and not just “The Shining.”

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One of the biggest things I did not like about the film was the basic format. The theorists are introduced by text on screen, but we never see them. The voices then pop up again without any on-screen text as the film jumps around from theory to theory. I feel like Ascher could have benefited from a little more structure here.

Ascher also uses a lot of stock footage (often repeated several times) and clips from old movies. Many are not even referenced and the audience is left wondering why are we seeing a clip from “Eyes Wide Shut” altered to include a super-imposed poster of “The Shining?” If we are analyzing “The Shining”, show the “The Shining!”

And that leads me to my major gripe and disappointment of this documentary. While the theories are at times interesting and potentially intended, few have anything to do with the actual storyline of the movie. There is so much going on in this film, so many continuity errors and chances for inner meaning. Is the hotel actually haunted? Or is it all in Jack’s head? Or is it all in Wendy’s? Does the film jump around in time? That’s something I’ve theorized in the past which you can check out here.  One of the theorists in Ascher’s documentary Juli Kearns touches upon some of the inconsistencies, but is not heard from nearly as much as the others.

I applaud Ascher’s undertaking and devotion to “The Shining”, but after all the hype I expected his execution would have been better. Perhaps someone else will be inspired to make a more thorough documentary. After all this film always leaves “Room” for interpretations. Maybe even “237” of them.

posted by Seth Szilagyi in The Shining and have No Comments

‘The Shining’ at Coolidge Corner

It’s a film all about time and space. With that opening line, you’d think I would be talking about “2001: A Space Odyssey” or “The Fountain” or even “Back to the Future.” But in fact, I’m writing about another Stanley Kubrick classic, “The Shining.”

I’ve seen this movie at least a dozen times and each screening gives me a new perspective on it. This time out, I had the pleasure of  viewing it at the Coolidge Corner Theatre in Brookline. Taking in any vintage movie at this iconic theater just outside Boston is always an experience that’s tough to beat. They take care in showing films audiences can appreciate and often give people a unique way to see those movies. I mean where else are you going to sit in a gothic designed theater watching a 31-year-old film with a sold-out and cheering crowd? It’s a cinephile’s playground and I applaud the Coolidge for everything they bring to the community.

But back to business at the Overlook Hotel. At first blush, “The Shining” is simply an adaptation of Stephen King’s best-selling novel about a recovering alcoholic that takes a job as the winter caretaker of a potentially haunted hotel in the mountains of Colorado. It’s a well-orchestrated horror film that has several scares and creative camera shots. Certainly enough ammo to make it a cult classic. But look below the surface and you may find there’s much more here than King’s book about a man’s familial struggle.

The film is filled with inconsistencies. Many could be chalked up to careless movie making. And for the first few viewings, I believed that to be true. However, this is Stanley Kubrick. One of the most meticulous directors of all-time. The apparent “mistakes” are so many, that I find it hard to believe that such a heralded filmmaker could succumb to these obvious errors. Instead, I now believe they are all there on purpose.


Let’s start with the physical hotel itself. Looking at the exterior, many have complained there is no way what is shown as the interior could possibly exist. Especially the main room, prominently featured in the movie. From the inside, it has giant windows, but outside no such windows are visible. For whatever reason, this was definitely done on purpose. Kubrick has been quoted as saying he wanted the entire hotel to look different, like a mish-mash of hotels around the country. And what about the hedge maze? It’s nearly a character in the film, yet it’s absent from several exterior shots of the Overlook. Obviously, this could be explained away with an easy argument. A real hotel (the Timberline Lodge in Oregon) was used for those outdoor shots and that did not have a hedge maze. But would it have been so hard to shoot a maze miniature and composite it in to those sparse frames? I’m guessing not.


And the confusing hypocrisy does not end there. At the beginning of the movie, Jack meets with Mr. Ullman in the office area of the hotel. Mr. Ullman tells Jack the story of “Charles Grady” a former caretaker who kills his wife, two girls and himself. However, as Jack descends into madness, he meets up with Grady during a ballroom party at an unknown time or date. It’s seemingly the hotel showing off its “Shine”, but could Jack have actually crossed into a different time? At any rate, Grady dumps drinks on Jack and is forced to clean him up in the men’s room. During this conversation, Grady calls himself “Delbert Grady” not “Charles Grady.” Mistake? I don’t think so.


The timeline blurs further when you consider the “Rashomon” storytelling of the day Jack injured Danny’s arm while he was drunk. When the doctor visits their home at the beginning of the film, Wendy tells the doctor Jack did not have a drink since he hurt Danny five months ago. But later, Jack tells the bartender Lloyd, he has not had a drink in five months. A month after he’d been taking care of the hotel. Minutes later, Jack tells Lloyd he injured Danny three years ago, which would mean he’d been without alcohol for three years, not five months. Again, a horrible error, Jack making his situation seem worse than it was or time inconsistencies that show the hotel shifting through the decades?


Still not buying what I’m selling? How about this? At the very end, where we see Jack’s smiling face in the Fourth of July ballroom photo from 1921. We hear “Midnight, the Stars, and You.” The same song played during the ballroom scene earlier. But that song was not recorded until 1932, eleven years after that scene apparently takes place.


And can we discuss a deleted scene that ended up on the cutting room floor a week after the film was initially released? It took place at the hospital just after the shot of Jack’s frozen face next to the hedge maze. Wendy is in a bed talking with Mr. Ullman. He explains that her husband’s body could not be found and then gives Danny a yellow tennis ball, the same one that lured Danny into room 237. If his body was never found, where was it? Absorbed by the hotel? Sure, that’s the conventional view. Or did the hotel time shift again? Reverting back to a time when Jack was the good caretaker and not embodied as the wife/son killing man frozen in the snow.

So, my hypothesis is simple. The hotel is not only a place of evil, but a place that is constantly shifting throughout its history. Ghosts aren’t really ghosts, but beings popping up in a different time. And not reacting kindly to seeing others infiltrate their territory. Perhaps Jack gets stuck in the wrong year and his family is not really his family at all. After all, he’s always been the caretaker at The Overlook hotel, just like Grady (Delbert or Charles) has always been a butler. Maybe, that’s why Jack never really seems to remember when he hurt Danny, or concentrate on what he’s supposed to be doing. It’s certainly not to write a novel. But he does know one thing, he’s the caretaker.

This is just one theory. And certainly, there are cracks. But all the others have similar gaps in logic. Jack’s soul is absorbed by the hotel, much like Grady. This is the most popular and most sensible. But, was he always there? That just brings us back to time paradox and the notion of time-shifts.

One wild theory that goes along with the deleted scene I mentioned earlier. The possibility that Wendy was the insane one. She imagined all of Jack’s madness and she was the actual winter caretaker. Hence, his body never being found.

Or, Jack’s lack of alcohol, cabin fever and temper just cause him to lose it. You may notice, any time Jack talks to the ghosts, he’s looking in some sort of mirror. The real ghost lies within? A theme this past year’s “Black Swan” used very well.

And all this discussion, this excessive analysis is precisely why “The Shining” is such a great movie. Intentional or not, the contradictions, bizarre moments and head-scratchers give the audience something to argue about long after its director is gone. Was it all done with a grand blueprint in mind or just a filmmaker throwing out several questions without any real answer? Something that could leave moviegoers just as mad as Jack trapped in the mountains of Colorado with only space and time to keep them company.


posted by Seth Szilagyi in Local Cinema and have No Comments

I Wonder If This Will Keep Happening?

Is there a market for nostalgia? I’ve always thought so and it appears many are starting to go along with that thinking.

A few weeks back, I wrote about going to see “Back to the Future” at a one night showing in Rochester. Well now, they are actually re-releasing the 1985 movie for its 25th anniversary in theaters! Don’t rush to your local multiplex just yet though. It’s only happening in the UK. Interesting move, not sure if they’re trying to appeal to a younger generation or the older crowd, but it’s still pretty cool.

Check out the trailer for the re-release below:

On another nostalgic note, the Coolidge Corner Theater in Brookline is showing “Jaws” next Monday. And I have every intention of going, because just like “Back to the Future” I have never seen it at a movie theater. It’s an experience that’s tough to beat. So, I’ll be back next week with a report on that jaunt.

This also got me wondering what other movies would you like to see re-released in theaters? “Jaws” has definitely been on my checklist for a while. Others that I would deem theater worthy “The Shining”, “It’s a Wonderful Life”, any of the Indiana Jones movies and maybe the original “King Kong.”

I’m really hoping this trend continues, especially since most movies put out by the studios aren’t worthy of your iphone, let alone the big screen.

posted by Seth Szilagyi in 80's Fun,Indiana Jones and have No Comments