Monday, June 10, 2013
30 Days of Nightmares #10: ROOM 237 (2013)
The Story: This definition of paranoia is "not believing in coincidences." This is what happens when paranoid people watch Stanley Kubrick's adaptation of THE SHINING.
Expectations: A few years ago, I met Joe Turkel at a horror movie convention. Turkel's most famous roles were Eldon Tyrell in BLADE RUNNER and Lloyd the Bartender in THE SHINING. Joe is a cool guy, gracious and seemingly ageless. We talked for a while about Kubrick (he is the only actor to have worked with the notoriously challenging director three times, beginning with THE KILLING in 1956), and then he signed a photo for me, from THE SHINING. As he signed, he told me about the filming of the scene pictured. He said that he was aware of exactly four people in the room with him when the scene was shot. Then he told me to count the number of people in the photo. There were five. Now, maybe the guy was just pulling my leg... He has to say something entertaining to fan-boys who come up to his table at a convention, right? But I prefer to think that maybe there were real ghosts at the Overlook Hotel, contributing to the overall aura of weirdness in THE SHINING. If this film hasn't earned the right to that kind of mystique, what film has? (Certainly not THREE MEN AND A BABY.)
Reaction: This isn't a documentary about the making of THE SHINING. It's a documentary about people who see connections in everything. The human brain is wired to look for patterns. When the wiring is off, some people see patterns everywhere. I'm not judging. I accept that "just because you're paranoid doesn't mean that they aren't after you." But, in this case, one of the interviewees believes that the government is going to audit him next year because he found proof -- in THE SHINING -- that NASA faked the moon landing. After revealing this belief, the guy laughed nervously in a way that made my skin crawl. Something about his nervous laughter is scarier than anything that's actually in THE SHINING. It reminds me of the overwhelming power of belief. Belief in ghosts made Jack Torrance want to hack up his wife and son with an axe, and belief in Stanley Kubrick's secret agenda seems to have made at least one viewer sacrifice his job and strain his relationship with his wife and son, in favor of spending countless hours studying the background details in THE SHINING. Cue nervous laughter.
Paranoia can be entertaining. I'm fascinated by the idea that one person views Kubrick's narrative as an allegory for Native American genocide, while another person views it as a hidden message about the Holocaust. There's a hilarious bit about Kubrick's secret message to Stephen King, and a pretty cool sequence where one viewer plays the entire movie backward and forward at the same time in order to illustrate the parabolic nature of the narrative. This sort of reminded me of the "Dark Side of Oz" mash-up, which is entertaining enough when you're really stoned.
In the end, I was most impressed by the filmmaker's ability to build an entertaining film entirely out of movie clips used under the fair use doctrine -- which I know from experience is a real challenge. Did ROOM 237 change the way I think of THE SHINING? Not really.... but it did make me want to see THE SHINING on the big screen, so that I can look for my own damn ghosts in the background.
Most Nightmare-Worthy Moment: (Cue nervous laughter.)