[Interview] Talking Theories And Conspiracies With ‘Room 237′ Director Rodney Ascher

Room 237

Fans of Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining won’t want to miss the wild theory infused documentary Room 237. IFC Films releases it tomorrow, March 29th at IFC Center and Elinor Bunim Monroe Film Center in New York City followed by a national rollout. The film will simultaneously be available on Cable VOD, iTunes and other digital outlets (Sundance Now, Amazon Streaming, XBOX and more).

There’s a host of great and interesting stuff in the film if you’re a fan, and director Rodney Ascher does a great job of laying out the various theories of the people he interviewed for the project in a way that the audience is primed to actually consider them rather than reject them outright. I sat down with him a few weeks ago and we discussed his methodology and how far he found himself being invested in these various trains of thought.

After the box office failure of Barry Lyndon, Stanley Kubrick decided to embark on a project that might have more commercial appeal. The Shining, Stephen King’s biggest critical and commercial success yet, seemed like a perfect vehicle. After an arduous production, Kubrick’s film received a wide release in the summer of 1980; the reviews were mixed, but the box office, after a slow start, eventually picked up. End of story? Hardly. In the 30 years since the film’s release, a considerable cult of Shining devotees has emerged, fans who claim to have decoded the film’s secret messages addressing everything from the genocide of Native Americans to a range of government conspiracies. Rodney Ascher’s wry and provocative Room 237 fuses fact and fiction through interviews with cultists and scholars, creating a kaleidoscopic deconstruction of Kubrick’s still-controversial classic.

Head inside for the interview!

You never show the interview subjects, which helps avoid a scenario in which the audience judges them. “We interviewed them all remotely with digital audio recorders that we mailed out to them. And because we didn’t have head shots to cut back to, it made it that much more challenging to find moments from the film that matched it. I found that challenge rewarding. But the judgement thing certainly cropped up in our conversations, we didn’t want the audience to gravitate towards one person over the other. It makes the ideas fight out amongst each other even more than the personalities.

For someone who clearly loves the movie, how far into some of these theories did you find yourself getting invested? I found that I’d go along with some of them until they took a turn that got a little “too weird.” The moon landing stuff I guess lives or dies on whether you believe that to be fake in the first place. “Mostly. Mostly. [That interview subject] has gone out on a limb tying that to a specific historical event, but there’s also more wiggle room than whether or not that hoax got proven or debunked, Because you could also say that the confession is there but it’s false. People are saying he’s involved in that hoax, so there’s the idea that – as some kind of weird joke – Kubrick included a false confession. That’s still an incredibly significant thing to put into a horror movie that’s not specifically about that. Also, lots of people say that the Overlook hotel represents America. And certainly when ‘The Shining’ was made the moon landing held an incredibly important place and the allusions to that historical event are appropriate.

Did you see the frontwards/backwards projection in its entirety? “Yes! Unfortunately I hadn’t yet seen it when I made the film, I was just guided to the significant moments we called out. When I finally saw the entire projection it worked so much better and more dramatically than I ever could have expected. There are so many great moments, a dozen… maybe more. Thematically it’s about people who are haunted by the past but can see the future… [so that method of playing it lends itself to a lot]. And in the dead center of it is that moment where Hallorann gets that message from Danny which becomes all the more profound because you see the entire movie disappear into a feedback loop in his head. It’s suggesting that Hallorann knows everything that’s going to happen and everything that has happened, but nevertheless makes the decision to go forward. It’s really eerie and powerful. “

It blows my mind that it’s “Playgirl Magazine” that Jack is reading as he waits for his interview. “It blew my mind the first time I saw it too. I’d compare it to the first time I realized that in ‘Full Metal Jacket’ there’s a sniper hole in the shape of Texas. Which of course ties into Charles Whitman at UT and the assassination of JFK in Dallas. These connections and little clues seem to pop out of all of his movies.

  • JADAMA

    So far this is my favorite trailer for Room 237. I can’t wait to go back to the Overlook Hotel. This is more interesting than the WB prequel being coined.

  • HMH

    I watched this today and I enjoyed it. Some of the out-there theories I’m not so sure about. It’s interesting the interpretations that people come up with.