Film Review: ROOM 237

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Jonathan Stryker (Facebook)

May 6, 2013, 12:0 AM

ROOM 237

It's hard to believe that THE SHINING had its network television premiere thirty years ago tonight on ABC-TV. 

THE SHINING, released on May 23, 1980

THE SHINING, broadcasted on May 6, 1983

In that pre-home video era, if we didn't have access to cable television, most of us were only able to see horror films on local or network television channels, and those films were often watered down with heavy cuts both for gore and for time (many plot points simply disappeared in favor of commercials). 

There has been a lot of speculation in the years since THE SHINING was released as to what it is really all about.  ROOM 237 is the name of the in-depth documentary by Rodney Ascher.  In the film, five narrators give their points-of-view on Stanley Kubrick's initially disappointing yet subsequently revered 1980 film version of Stephen King's novel of the same name, and what it means to them. 

ROOM 237

As a die-hard fan of this film for the past thirty years, I must say that even though I have seen it easily more than fifty times I never noticed the props, visual references or subtexts that these five narrators diligently point out, nor was I even aware of the obvious continuity errors, such as the carpet that changes direction in the hallway or the chair against the wall disappearing during Jack Torrance's (Jack Nicholson) emotional outburst after his wife Wendy (Shelley Duvall) interrupts his writing.  An argument can be made that ROOM 237 isn't so much about THE SHINING's supposed hidden meanings than it is an explanation of five different people's of the film.  Among the subtexts: the strange layout of the Overlook Hotel; the significance of the number 42; the architectural impossibility of the window in Mr. Ullman's office; the silly sexual reference in Mr. Ullman's first handshake with Jack; the Minotaur motif; the references to the killing of Native Americans and even the Holocaust. 

ROOM 237

The director makes the choice of not showing the faces of the narrators, and this technique works to the film's advantage since so much of it is about pointing out what the narrators see.  Cross-cutting between the narrators and the points they want to make would have either reduced the film's running time or would have left most of the best points out altogether.  I can only hope that the forthcoming DVD will offer up some nice extras in the way of deleted scenes. 

Interestingly, ROOM 237 uses the framing device of Lamberto Bava's DEMONS (1985) and DEMONS 2: THE NIGHTMARE CONTINUES (1986) (both of which are due out on Blu-ray from Synapse Films in the coming months) as footage of an audience viewing THE SHINING in a theater and on television, respectively, to make certain points.  Ideally, THE SHINING should be viewed in a movie theater, although realistically that is unfortunately not an option for most of us.  The home video revolution saved many a film from inevitable obscurity and this is where the majority of us Shining enthusiasts had the opportunity to see it and thrill to it to our heart's content. 

For screening information, take a look at the film's official website.  If the film is not playing near you, you can also see it On-Demand for roughly $7.00. 



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