Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Obtuse Paranoia and Room 237

You look at a cloud, rolling slowly in the clear sky. If your head might be as clear as the dome above, you can begin to look at the white mass and see that its shape is first, say, of a boat, but just as suddenly you see that the boat was not a boat, but really a submarine, or a couple of aquatic bodies wrestling: mythical creatures that can then as easily drag you into obscure, anthropological reverie on ancient cultures and dichotomies. And then, if you happen to be happily accompanied, you ask the person next to you whether she sees the fantastic creatures too, but are astounded at her reply: she sees a banana.

Something akin to the scenario described above comes to mind when watching ROOM 237, a documentary on, well, the act of looking at clouds and guessing their shape. Except the cloud here is Kubrick's THE SHINING, and ROOM 237 is not just about what shapes Kubrick's film can take, but of the people behind these shapes/theories.

The film presents interviews with various people who have fallen under the spell of Kubrick's film and in one way or another have obsessed over its existence. One thing every person interviewed seems to share with each other is that each treats the film as a world created, a world with its own will, reason, logic, and therefore they must figure out its phenomenology, its very origin. Figuring out the meaning of the film, its code, is in a sense to figure out its origin in Kubrick's mind.

The makers of ROOM 237, in order to show this obsession, make an interesting move. The film is made up of clips from THE SHINING and other Kubrick films (plus a few clips from other non-Kubrick films such as the fantastic DEMONS), over which different characters posit their theories through voice over. The effect goes to the heart of the matter, for the voices seem to appropriate the images from Kubrick's films to themselves. There are many strange moments when the characters depicted in front of us (be it Tom Cruise from EYES WIDE SHUT, etc.) become some sort of impersonation of the narrating voice. We never see the real faces behind the voices, and are therefore treated to different perceptions of a world, where the very subject of study (THE SHINING) broken into different versions, each with its own movement, logic and reality.

There is, for example, a conspiracy theory expert who will see the film as Kubrick's way of confessing to this audience that he was the director who in cohort with the United States Government stages the moon landing. Another person graphed all spaces from THE SHINING and the movements of characters through those spaces to show us that the film is full of impossible doors and windows leading to impossible spaces. Another character will see motifs in the set design of the film and from the motifs posit that the film preoccupied principally with the Second World War holocaust. And yet, another person will see the same motifs and posit that the film really is about an alternate American history, not found in textbooks, which emphasizes the bloodshed and ethnic cleansing behind the founding of this nation.

Some of the theories are definitely enthralling, be it for the absurdity of their claims or for the sheer attention to detail, to the gathering of facts in order to render their thoughts clear and valid. Some others are just entertaining because of the sheer stretch and it went into coming up with them. No matter what their claim, they all present us with original images (THE SHINING) and through their narration twist their context, piling text upon text in order to arrive at a different meaning. There is even a performance artist who decided that a whole new array of connections and meanings could be seen if one played two sets of the film THE SHINING from beginning to end and end to beginning, superimposed. It is quite something to behold a movie's beginning and end simultaneously, allowing the images to enter into one another, bypassing our memory of the film itself.

And no matter how different each theory is from one another, the thought process each entail can tell us much not only about THE SHINING but about the nature of film itself, in this case. This process, a sort of subjective re-contextualization, was known to the Surrealists as the paranoiac critical method. The method, created by Dalí and embraced by the likes of Breton and early Buñuel, was a sort of sublimation of the subjectivity and logic flights of fancy. It is a supra-rational method, a hardening of the unconscious flow. At its center there was a crisis, as Breton called it, the "crisis of the object", which meant no actual object of perception was in itself perceived not as an object anymore but as context manifested, and context was always supplied the the perceiving subject. In other words, any object analyzed could lead, with enough detours, to an analysis of totalities. What the Surrealists were interested in was not so much the original object or the resulting and final totality but the tangents, the detours, the hardening flow.

And not to get carried away but to be back to the matter at hand. Why would a film like THE SHINING invite this type of obsessive analysis by so many who want to find a meaning in this 'world'? After all, I think if someone were to draw up from any film around the same era as THE SHINING, all spaces in every scene and trace the characters' movements within those spaces, that someone would find that the spatial relationships between characters and their surroundings could easily be most likely problematic. Spacial and temporal disjoints when present in a film (and we know these disjunctures are present all the time) are for the most part 'fixed' in our mind in order to keep up with the flow of the 'story'. We don't perceive the disjuncture, but rather the uninterrupted flow.
And yet, something about watching THE SHINING compelled a woman to do diagram all spacial depictions in the film. What is it about this movie that can compel someone to do that? The fact is, in THE SHINING every audience member feels something is amiss. Amid all the details and the seemingly realistic flow of movement and time simultaneous, one feels the things depicted are just a bit off, and they can feel even outright impossible. Kubrick's film, in so many words, is a film about that 'crisis of the object' Breton describes. The crisis of object, space, and time, is the very stuff out of which horor is made of.

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