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Rob Ager is an internet-based independent film critic, film-maker, self-help theorist, and political activist who has amassed a large audience on the video file-sharing website YouTube. His work is also commented on by mainstream media sources.
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Ager was born in 1973 in Liverpool, UK, where he has remained except for a few years living in Canada. As a child he became interested in film study and psychology. After working as a graphic designer and animator in computer games, Ager entered social work for over fifteen years. His experience with troubled adults and children led him to develop his own self-help theory, "Collative Learning Systems", which he says is a distillation of ideas including “Gestalt therapy, NLP, marketing psychology, military psychology, psyops, KHTP, the enneagram and Buddhism”. In his late 20s, Ager moved into independent film-making. In this capacity, he set up a website, CollativeLearning.com, featuring his writing on his ideas on films and other subjects, with videos also on YouTube. Ager has produced videos analyzing the work of directors including Martin Scorsese, Alfred Hitchcock, the Coen brothers, Steven Spielberg, Quentin Tarantino, Ridley Scott, David Lynch, and others, but concentrates most heavily on the work of his favorite director since childhood, Stanley Kubrick.
Ager produced a video essay, "Meaning of the Monolith Revealed", which claims that the monolith in Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey is a representation of the cinema screen itself. The academic Dan Leberg has complained about the influence that Ager's interpretation has had in his own film study classes. Ager also says that HAL 9000 was meant to represent IBM and that the film does secretly reference IBM, despite Arthur C. Clarke's and Kubrick's denials, and points to a number of appearances of the company's logo at key moments in the film as evidence. The number of coincidences that are presented in his video about the correlations between the Stanley Kubrick movie version of HAL 9000 and IBM computers lend to reason that a direct representation is being insinuated by both Stanley Kubrick and Arthur C. Clarke.
Ager's analysis videos of Stanley Kubrick's The Shining have received hundreds of thousands of YouTube hits. The film is based on Stephen King's novel about an alcoholic writer, Jack Torrance, who takes his wife and his psychic son Danny with him when he takes a live-in job as a winter caretaker at a huge, haunted hotel. There, the possessed Jack becomes psychotic and tries to kill his family. Ager's claim that the film's differences from Stephen King's novel encode hidden messages has been put by The New York Times in the tradition of other aficionados who have made similar claims, several of which were showcased in the documentary film Room 237. Ager claims that spatial impossibilities, deliberate continuity errors and unpublished material from the Stanley Kubrick Archives also encode hidden clues. In his video "Kubrick's Gold Story" Ager claims that The Shining is actually a polemic about economics, in which Kubrick expresses his outrage at the U.S. government's de-pegging of the dollar from the gold standard.
Regarding Ager's video essay about the mysterious ending of John Carpenter's remake of The Thing, Wook Kim of Time Entertainment commented, "His analysis of the scene is absolutely impressive (and frightening) for its level of obsessive detail."
Forrest Wickman of Slate Magazine was inspired by Ager's short video on animal rights themes in The Texas Chainsaw Massacre responding with his own analysis, titled "The Ultimate Pro-Vegetarian Film Is the Last Movie You'd Expect". He commented that Ager's work "... often based on the most minute details, can frequently feel a bit batty. But here I think he stands on solid ground. In fact, at times the theme seems so forehead-slappingly obvious that I was initially surprised that it's not more widely discussed. The details that suggest it, after all, are not so minute."
Entertainment Weekly's Jeff Jensen interviewed Ager and several Hollywood directors for an article on the enduring influence of Stanley Kubrick. He summarized his perceived difference between Ager's work and other, conspiracy-orientated, online film critics
Immersion Critics need not be conspiracy theorists (scary or jokey) compromised by confirmation bias, who see the Illuminati written all over Eyes Wide Shut, which, like The Shining, has yielded a surplus of specious academia. They can be people like Rob Ager. Part film scholar, part Robert Langdon, Ager has produced a number of written and video deconstructions about a number of films, including Psycho, Alien, and Pulp Fiction, all housed at his website, Collative Learning.
Of his methods Ager explained to Jensen,
I find it amusing that there are camps of people who believe Kubrick was exposing vast conspiracies, while other groups claim he was a willing agent in a vast conspiracy to mind-control the public. The starting point should always be unbiased information gathering followed by unbiased pattern recognition and then the acid test of seeking counter-information.
Wired.com was mixed in its reaction to Ager's first videos in 2007, saying, "Ager's analyses are a screwy mixture of intelligent film theory and zany conspiracy theories" by a "very intelligent and fascinating nutball." It added that Ager had "oscillated wildly between extremely insightful commentary on the symbolism and psychology that made The Shining so effective and Ager's own wishful-thinking political wankery… an odd, fascinating mix… it's nutty, but despite Ager's weirdo conspiracy theories, he does make a convincing case that Kubrick may at least have shared his theories."
Ager's work falls on just the right side of conspiracy-culture to be of interest to skeptics and conspiracists alike… he is careful to avoid any "tin foil hat" readings of the text, which can be a major downfall of "critical" videos of this kind. What Ager does posit is that Kubrick was working with a language of imagery that spoke directly to the subconscious and could be in contrast to the spoken words. This is more than a little believable when you take into account Kubrick's incredible talent and the huge amounts of time and effort that he spent on the various different aspects of his craft.
Joe Nolan of Disinfo.com praises Ager's video essay on the HAL-as-IBM theory, calling him "by far my favorite out-there interpreter of Kubrick's oeuvre." The video was also featured at Cracked.com and in Slate Magazine.
Ager's "Spatial Impossibilities in The Shining" was praised by the cinema correspondent of the Irish Times, but has also been attacked as being delusional by John August, American screenwriter of Charlie's Angels and Big Fish, who dismissed Ager's approach and conclusions as "the genius fallacy":
We start with a god-like figure such as Stanley Kubrick, well-known for his exacting attention to detail. Ager's thesis seems to be: Since Kubrick was a perfectionist, anything that seems like an error in Kubrick’s work must not be an error, but must instead be a deliberate choice. Yes, that sounds like fundamentalism.
August argues that the whole point of using a film set is to allow the director to have dramatic license without the constrictions of a location shot. Ager responded with a point-by-point rebuttal on his website[self-published source?], saying: "John creates a “genius fallacy” diagnosis, which bears no more relevance than my calling his assertions a “co-incidence fallacy”." In Oct 2012 Jan Harlan, executive producer of The Shining, was asked by Xan Brooks of the Guardian newspaper about the use of spatial disorientation in the film's set designs. His response lends credibility to Ager's earlier thesis.
He (Kubrick) wanted more ambiguity. If he was going to make a film about ghosts, he wanted it to be ghostly from the very first to the very last. The set was very deliberately built to be offbeat and off the track, so that the huge ballroom would never actually fit inside. The audience is deliberately made to not know where they're going. People say The Shining doesn't make sense. Well spotted! It's a ghost movie. It's not supposed to make sense.
In 2012 Ager's video essay analyzing the deleted scenes of Quentin Tarantino's Reservoir Dogs was embedded on the website of the film's distributor Miramax to promote the special edition DVD and Tarantino XX: 8-Film Collection.
In 2013 Ager was interviewed by video for the French media magazine BITS.
Ager was a Liverpool representative of the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP), which opposes Britain's membership of the European Union. Ager claims that this led to a smear attack on him by pro-EU journalists. In Dec 2013 the website Click Liverpool, which had previously published a series of lurid allegations against Ager regarding his role in UKIP, removed their article at Ager's request and published corrections and an undertaking that they would not repeat their previous allegations.
- CollativeLearning.com – FAQ
- "Fanboys in the Ivory Tower: An Attempted Reconciliation of Science Fiction Film Academia and Fan Culture" By Dan Leberg – Gnovis Journal Volume XI Issue II Spring 2011 – August 8th, 2011
- Is HAL Really IBM? by Aisha Harris – Slate.com
- "6 Pop Culture Mysteries That Were Solved by Fans – #6. Kubrick Fan Settles 2001: A Space Odyssey/IBM Debate" by Jacopo della Quercia, Cracked.com, 13 February 2012
- Cracking the Code in ‘Heeere’s Johnny!’ – By Robert Ito – The New York Times
- "Watch this insane breakdown of Stanley Kubrick’s hidden narrative in The Shining" – Meredith Woerner – Io9.com
- Quercia, Jacopo Della. "5 Great Movies With Mind-Blowing Symbolism You Didn't Notice". Article. Cracked.com. Retrieved 6 September 2013.
- Thee, Marcel. "Room 237 Delves Into 'The Shining' Theories". Article. Jakartta Globe. Retrieved 6 September 2013.
- Faraci, Devin. "The Impossible Layout of THE SHINING's Overlook Hotel – Kubrick Wanted To Mess With Your Head". Article. Badass Digest. Retrieved 6 September 2013.
- Rawson-Jones, Ben. "The Shining's Maze of Meaning: 'Room 237' and the extended cut". Article. Digital Spy. Retrieved 6 September 2013.
- "The Continuity erros of 2001 A space Odyssey". Filmmakeriq.com. Retrieved 6 September 2013.
- Vary, Adam B. "5 Conspiracy Theories About "The Shining" That Aren't In "Room 237"". Article. Buzzfeed. Retrieved 6 September 2013.
- Kim, Wook (13 August 2012). "Hollywood Mystery, Solved: 29 Movie Head-Scratchers Explained". Article (Time Entertainment). Retrieved 6 September 2013.
- Wickman, Forrest. "The Ultimate Pro-Vegetarian Film Is the Last Movie You'd Expect". Article. Slate Magazine. Retrieved 6 September 2013.
- Jensen, Jeff. "To 'Room 237' and Beyond: Exploring Stanley Kubrick's 'Shining' influence with Christopher Nolan, Edgar Wright, more". Article / interview. Entertainment Weekly. Retrieved 6 September 2013.
- “Kubrick’s Shining Analysed on YouTube” by John Brownlee Wired.com May 8, 2007
- Kubrick, Clockwork Orange and the Illuminati
- “Kubrick’s Cover Story: The Double Narratives and Hidden Meanings of ‘2001’ “ by Niall O'Conghaile – Dangerous Minds
- "2001: Is HAL IBM?" by Joe Nolan, Disinfo.com, June 3, 2013
- Quercia, Jacopo Della. "Kubrick Fan Settles 2001: A Space Odyssey/IBM Debate". Article. Cracked.com. Retrieved 6 September 2013.
- Harris, Aisha. "Is HAL Really IBM?". Article. Slate Magazine. Retrieved 6 September 2013.
- "Spatial Awareness in The Shining" Donald Clarke – Irish Times – August 1, 2011
- "Cinematic geography and the problem of genius" – screenwriter John August's critique of Rob Ager
- Rob Ager's Response to screenwriter John August[self-published source]
- "Shining a light in Room 237" Xan Brooks – The Guardian – October 18, 2012
- "Reservoir Dogs analysis at Miramax website". Article. Miramax. Retrieved 6 September 2013.
- "Video interview for BITS magazine". BITS magazine. Retrieved 3 January 2014.
- “UKIP suspends Scouse candidate over sado smut movies” by Jane Fae Ozimek – The Register
- “Rob Ager Responds to Media Smear Attack by Simon Boyle of Mercury Press and Guy Patrick of The Sun” by Rob Ager