Let’s assume for a moment that you’ve seen Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining. A hauntingly, intense horror with stunning cinematography and a career defining performance by Jack Nicholson. But is this 1980 classic actually Kubrick’s admittance to directing the fake moon landing? Or is it born from his obsession with the holocaust? Or perhaps it’s secretly a tale of the genocide of the Native Americans? Or, alternatively, it could be absolutely none of the above – as director Rodney Ascher investigates in Room 237 (2012).
Made entirely subjectively, Room 237 explores the countless conspiracy theories surrounding The Shining, as five different analysts explain their own ideas about the film, looking into a host of hidden meanings they believe Kubrick to have implemented. Their narration is played over the top of footage from the movie, as we explore each of their theories; ranging from fascinating, to the absolutely absurd, examining a film that even to this day – over thirty years since its release – inspires fervent speculation.
Ascher has intelligently presented his film with a working balance between the sublime and the ridiculous, as some of the theories provoke laughter from the audience, whilst others are more convincing, and thought-provoking. We need the latter for Room 237 to work, to avoid it becoming a parody of sorts. Kubrick is notoriously a meticulous film maker and there are a series of continuity “errors” that do genuinely seem to be there for a reason. However, any persuasive arguments are counteracted by the more far-fetched notions, as our narrators find symbolism and metaphors in the most innocuous places. Have they not considered that perhaps the typewriter changed colour during the film because the previous one fell off a shelf and broke, rather than being a symbol of the holocaust?
Despite being both engaging and informative – key components in producing a successful documentary – the narration device does pose certain issues, mostly because we never once see those actually talking, and as a result it becomes increasingly difficult to associate each separate theory with its owner, as voice recognition is not always straight-forward. Also, the analysts – despite their intrinsic enthusiasm and knowledge of the film – are lacking somewhat in first-hand experience. It would have been helpful to have heard the thoughts of a few people who had actually worked on the film, such as producers or cast members for example.
Nevertheless, Room 237 is a must-see for cinema lovers, as it’s a fascinating examination of film, whether you find it absorbing or illogical, or both. At the very least, this is a film that will certainly rekindle your interest and make you want to revisit The Shining, bringing a whole new perspective to an already established, classic movie.