Keir Harper

Room 237: The Shining and the Apollo Moon Landings; Or Why to Avoid Symbolism

Next week Room 237 is released in cinemas. It is a documentary that surveys the numerous interpretations of Kubrick’s 1980 film The Shining. There is a deep mystery at the centre of every Kubrick film and there are several in The Shining. It’s about the artist or Native American history, the Holocaust and other ghosts of the past.  Surely the wackiest interpretation asks us believe that the film is Kubrick’s confession of how he faked the Apollo 11 Moon Landings.

Some Kubrickologists are so taken by the production design of 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) that they believe he helped the American government fake the footage of the Apollo 11 Moon Landings in 1969. This batty view is expressed most fully in Jay Weinder’s 30-minute video essay.

His argument is extensive, and often baffling. Jack Torrance is Kubrick - an obsessive artist with unkempt beard and hair. The Overlook Hotel becomes America, the place in which the story of Kubrick’s Apollo mission secret is re-enacted. It is enclosed by wind and snow, like American during the Cold War. The hotel manager supposedly bares an uncanny likeness to John F. Kennedy. And so it goes on.

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Ten Favourite Films

  • Heat (1995, Michael Mann)

It’s Robert De Niro versus Al Pacino in the ultimate act-off in this spooky LA crime thriller. It’s a film with two antagonising heroes and no villains. The cops and crims are poetic: ‘You don’t live with me, you live among the remains of dead people…’ or ‘You don’t know what this is? The grim reaper is visiting with you…’ stand out. Christopher Nolan cited Heat as an influence upon his Batman trilogy, particularly for The Dark Knight. How to photograph a cityscape, how to film a bank heist, how to tie together multiple storylines in 170 minutes. A perfect film of its type.

  • Children of Men (2006, Alfonso Cuarón)

Every science-fiction film has one central implausibility at its heart. In the dystopia of Children of Men, there is total infertility amongst humanity - no children, no schools, no families. The world that surrounds such an far-fetched idea must be believable and authentic. For me, Clive Owen’s migration through the wastelands of England in 2027 ranks as one of the most rich, authentic imaginings of the future in any film. It could be a documentary in places. Watch it once for the story and performances for the first film. Watch again and focus only the background of every shot for a second.

  • Terminator 2: Judgement Day (1992, James Cameron)

Sometimes there is a single brief shot that ruins the rest of a film. Yes - I have 10 minutes worth of decent stand-up comedy material about the Terminator’s thumbs-up at the end. Of course, the film has its share of implausibilities too. But it’s a great film as it’s a perfectly executed, idea-driven - cyborgs, time travel, Cold War anxiety - action thriller. The substance lies in Sarah Connor’s seldom-mentioned narration that is spoken over head-lit, rolling motorway. I’m unsure whether it will ever date.

  • Badlands (1973, Terrence Malick)

I continually read screenplay criticism that argues narration in a film shows a weakness in the narrative. Terrence Malick’s screenplay avoids the clunky clichés of plot-furtherance with Holly’s (Sissy Spasek) dreamy schoolgirl voice, as she goes on the run from with local badboy Kit (Martin Sheen). Her narration is beautiful and insightful, almost literary: ‘And what’s the man I’ll marry gonna look like? What’s he doing right this minute? Is he thinking about me now, by some coincidence, even though he doesn’t know me? Does it show on his face?’. There are so many strange little details too in the film. For example, three dead animals are either shown or mentioned in the opening ten minutes. Nevertheless, an American fairytale.

  • Catch Me If You Can (2002, Steven Spielberg)

Leonardo DiCaprio often chooses a role in which he plays an actor. Hear me out. Think of The Departed where he plays an undercover cop; Gangs of New York where he hides his identity in order to seek revenge; in the The Aviator as Howard Hughes, who continually has to disguise the symptoms of his debilitating OCD; as Cob in Inception, where his dream-life espionage is based on his ability to perform and deceive. His portrayal of Frank Abignale Jr. is his greatest to date because he gives a dozen performances in the one role: bubblegum-lisped teen, pilot, lawyer, teacher, spy, lothario, criminal etc. I can see I am avoiding explaining why this is perhaps my favourite film by riffing on the career of Leo DiCaprio. All I should say is that the film functions as a kind of emotional autobiography for me. I watch it every year on Christmas Eve.

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