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Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Room 237: Making the Text Plastic

Stanley Kubrick faked the Apollo Moon landing – but was unable to live with the secrecy imposed upon him by the US government, so he revealed the truth of his involvement through clues embedded in the movie The Shining.  The Shining is a message about the Nazis’ holocaust of the Jews during World War II; - it’s obvious from all the occurrences of the number 42 as well as the repeated instances of 7 and its multiples.  The Shining is about the US extermination of American Indians, it’s a Freudian analysis of fairy tales.  It’s a horror movie, it’s a social critique, it’s a coded message.

What is going on here?

The documentary film Room 237 (2012) explores a variety of perceived interpretations, fringe interpretations of Stanley Kubrick’s 1980 film adaptation of Stephen King’s novel (1977).  Room 237 is a magnificently clever film that makes its source material into a plastic, malleable text, twisting and stretching it into fantastic and fanciful new shapes.  It makes interpretation into a wonderful game, a novelty. Each of the alternate interpretations of The Shining on view in Room 237 is stranger than the last.  That’s not surprising really; The Shining is already a complicated film that resists definitive interpretation.

Room 237 fascinates me as a preacher.  Much of my work is interpretation. And not only do I work on interpreting the Bible for myself – so that I can present it intelligibly to my congregation, but I also look at the way that others interpret this shared text – the Bible.  I want to understand the ‘rules’ that constrain our interpretive work.  What keeps us from turning the Bible into Room 237?

Honestly, it’s very easy to turn the Bible into a plastic, malleable text, to twist it and stretch it into fantastic and fanciful new shapes.  I’ve written about some of those here in this blog before – interpretations that find spaceships crash landing on the earth with superior space people – Adam and Eve to populate the Earth. Or interpretations that decode the scriptures to reveal that Jesus was thwarted by the Romans in his attempt to reclaim the throne of David and so sent his wife and two sons into hiding in France . And there are numerous other perceived interpretations, fringe interpretations that could be listed here, some that are merely odd but also others that have had horrific and tragic consequences. 

We appreciate Stanley Kubrick’s films because they are complex and because they resist simple, easy answers.  The same is true of the Bible.  It stimulates our thinking and our imaginations with its complexities and puzzles.  But how firm or how loose are the rules governing interpretation?  How free are we as the audience of The Shining or readers of the scriptures to disregard authorial / directorial intent when forming our interpretation?  How are we to find the meaning in these texts when there is such a multiplicity of meanings being proposed? Which one is correct?  Are they all correct?  Are they all wrong?  How do we know?

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