Wednesday, June 3, 2015

The Colors of Room 237

Stanley Kubrick's THE SHINING (1980) has popped up in connection with many films I have been occupied with during the last few months. There has been so much written about colors in Kubrick's oeuvre and in the Overlook Hotel especially that I limit myself to one scene that I can't get out of my mind: exploring room 237.

Subjective films like NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN (Coen, 2007), BIRDMAN (Iñarritu, 2014) or THE SHINING which are told from the unreliable perspective of one or several characters often undermine our expectations by fooling us with point-of-view (POV) shots. When people "shine" in Kubrick's film, they share visions and it is not always clear who sees what and why. There are some clues however which most people register only subconsciously. As we see in the following screenshots, even those may be ambivalent or even misleading on purpose.

Danny has just told his mother Wendy that he was abused in room 237. When Wendy tells her husband Jack (Nicholson) about it he asks her which room she is referring to. At that moment, Kubrick cuts to Dick Halloran (Scatman Crothers) hundreds of miles away in his bedroom watching the news.

What caught my eye was the  combination of Halloran's violet pajama and the greenish-teal bed-clothes which is at odds with the rest of the room. As we zoom in on Halloran having a fit - or in the film's language a "shining" - the other colors are eliminated:
After an cutaway to Danny telling us that he and Halloran share a vision, Kubrick cuts to a steadicam shot inside room 237 that looks like a depersonalized POV shot. Apart from symmetrical lamp shade setups the dominant element is a carpet that mirrors the colors in the above screenshot.
The pattern and especially the colors of this carpet seem to be unique to this room and this one scene (location colors happen to change in this film disturbingly often). Subconsciously we believe that we share a vision by Halloran (and probably to some degree Danny who visited the room offscreen earlier) which is reinforced by the POV quality of the single take steadicam movement through the room towards the bathroom door.
But to our surprise when the camera is near the door a hand comes into view. It opens the door for the viewer/camera to enter the room...
... and only then do we see that it is in fact Jack whose POV we shared. Also note the mirrors in the bathroom that are always present when Jack has one of his (creepy) visions. This time however Jack is not looking at himself in a mirror and seeing somebody else. There is no mirror in the center above the bathtub where the object of his desire sits.

This seemingly random SHINING observation also serves as an entrée to a planned series of posts about the original TOY STORY (1995).

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