Rodney Ascher on Room 237 and the Haunting of The Shining
A must-see for not just fans of The Shining but anyone who has been obsessed by a movie, Rodney Ascher’s Room 237, opening today, is a documentary about a group of online fans, scholars and theorists who have dedicated their lives — or at least their leisure hours — to unpacking bizarre, alternative interpretations about Stanley Kubrick’s horror classic. Above, recorded last year at the Cannes Film Festival, I discuss with Ascher the origins of his film, why you never see the faces of his interview subjects, and Fair Use.
Ascher is interviewed in the latest issue of Filmmaker by Nicolas Rombes, and in this excerpt they get into very creepy territory:
FILMMAKER: It was a kind of their own mix tape. Keeping with John Fell Ryan, there was one statement in particular that seemed to me to cut right to the heart of the matter when it comes not only to film analysis, but to interpretation in general. He said, “It’s like quantum physics: the act of observing affects the thing observed.”
It’s kind of counterintuitive to the way we talk about films. It’s a fairly radical statement, when you think about it, at the quantum physics level, that it’s really not the observer who’s changed, but what the observer looks at actually changes. It falls into a certain state that it wasn’t before it was looked at. I was thinking, in a way, Room 237 is not so much about The Shining as the act of observing The Shining. And in fact, that observation transforms The Shining too.
ASCHER: I don’t know if I could put it much better than you did, but certainly when he said [that] it was a really important connection and idea that I wanted to get into the film. And it was something that I experienced [too]. Jay Weidner turned me on to a friend of his who was doing his own studies into The Shining. I was looking at some of the videos that guy had made. This guy had noticed at a couple of moments in the film, what sounds like an off-screen voice is saying the word “Shone.” And he hypothesized that it was in fact Kubrick’s voice trying to almost subliminally emphasize a little moment in the film as being one in which if you look very carefully you can tell that there’s sort of some psychic event happening. I looked at the film and I listened very carefully and I said, “Yup, I guess I do kinda hear it. I don’t know if this idea is going to get in the film, but that’s interesting.” But then I revisited Juli [Kearns]’s website. She’s the woman who talks about the Minotaur and does all those amazing maps of the [Overlook Hotel] office. And in one of her newer blog entries, she heard that voice, too. And I didn’t get the impression that she was going out there reading everything everybody else had written; this was just something that she had noticed. I looked at the dates and it was a couple of months after that first guy had found it. It made the hairs on the back of my neck stand up thinking that maybe this first guy had looked at the movie with such intensity that he had caused this anomaly to manifest itself. And now it’s there an