Digging deep into 'The Shining'

There is nothing especially frightening about Room 350 at the Standard Hotel on the Sunset Strip. It overlooks the pool, with colorful mod décor pleasantly bathed in bright window light. Inside, documentary filmmaker Rodney Ascher is prepared to discuss the startling obsessions of his "Room 237."

The film is a vivid, layered exploration of the symbolism and conspiracies certain fanatics insist can be found within Stanley Kubrick's 1980 horror film, "The Shining," the story of a writer (played by Jack Nicholson) who grows murderously insane as the caretaker of the snowbound Overlook Hotel. In "Room 237," film clips elegantly pieced together are accompanied by the voices of superfans connecting "The Shining" to the Holocaust, the massacre of Native Americans, and Kubrick's secret role in the supposed faking of the Apollo moon landings, among other theories.

It is, as a paranoid Joe Pesci once railed in "JFK," a "mystery wrapped in a riddle inside an enigma." A collaboration with producer Tim Kirk, the film opened this weekend at Laemmle's Playhouse 7 in Pasadena. Bearded and dressed in a dark suit and tie, Ascher did his best to translate in an interview with Marquee.

Marquee: Kubrick is a filmmaker whose work invites close examination, but the fans in "Room 237" dig deeper than even he must have intended.

Ascher: We still haven't hit bottom. Most everyone who we interviewed in the film are continuing to study Kubrick and put up new things that they find. There's clear symbolic elements in almost every one of his movies. He's also a filmmaker who had such control over every element of the production. That gives us more reason to assume intentionality over all the little details.

Did you find any new clues at the Kubrick exhibition now at LACMA?

For me it was very exciting to see some of the relics from the original [films]. In the case of "A Clockwork Orange," it was very interesting to imagine yourself in the Korova Milk bar looking at the furniture. Reading the [Kubrick] letters helped you get into his personality, which was always sketched a little loosely because he wasn't the most public guy in the world.

Also at LACMA are the little dresses worn by the twins haunting the Overlook Hotel in "The Shining."

Those dresses are so weird because they're supposed to be American girls in the year 1970, and that's not the period that they conjure up. And that has been a springboard for all sorts of ideas that are above and beyond what we were able to get into "Room 237."

How did this project start for you?

[Producer Tim Kirk] posted this deep metaphorical analysis of "The Shining" on my Facebook wall one day. We spent the next year researching everything we could about metaphors and allegories people have found in "The Shining." Only in the last couple of years have people generated the lion's share of this stuff.

In his later career, Kubrick films were often greeted with disappointment on release, but eventually became worshipped works of cinema. But why such obsession for "The Shining"?

One possible answer is that "The Shining" has more symbolic elements hidden in it than any other. But there's also great parallels between "The Shining" and what we're trying to do. They're both stories of people trapped in a maze. There's something to the fact that horror movies often make the best metaphors.

Should we expect this level of obsession for "Eyes Wide Shut" in 20 years?

Oh, they're already on it. If you want to lose a day or two, start digging around what people are writing about "Eyes Wide Shut" these days. It very quickly gets into studies of secret societies, and people tie in Kubrick's biography into it too, which gets very interesting and at times kind of eerie.

Who is the audience for "Room 237"?

Making this thing, we really didn't consider the sensibilities of any other human being besides me and Tim. We find this stuff really interesting so we're just going to do it. The idea that this would have crossover appeal was nothing I considered or assumed.

Any theories on how Kubrick himself might have reacted to your documentary?

I know he was very interested in hearing people explain their ideas about "2001: A Space Odyssey," and that he would categorically refuse to explain the symbolism in any of his movies. If nothing else, all this stuff goes to show that "The Shining" — although it's 30-some years old at this point — is still important and relevant and interesting to people today. How many movies that came out in 1980 are people talking about? 


Follow Steve Appleford on Twitter: @TCNArts.

Copyright © 2019, Glendale News-Press
EDITION: California | U.S. & World