Despite being over 30 years old, there remains a small pocket of fanatics habitually delving into the darkest recesses of the Overlook Hotel in search of the ‘hidden’ meaning behind Stanley Kubrick’s 1980 classic The Shining. Rodney Ascher’s Room 237 (2012) acts as a soapbox for 5 of these individuals to convey their own theories behind Kubrick’s ambiguous horror film. Kubrick’s films have always provoked debate from the audiences who view them – from 2001: A Space Odyssey’s (1968) transcendental depiction of the ascent of man to A Clockwork Orange’s (1971) dystopian investigation into our inherent relationship with violence.
Kubrick’s work has never been straightforward, with his renowned intellect and attention to detail leading many to believe that his films never consist of any arbitrary shots or images – each frame meticulously fashioned with the utmost purpose and intent. It’s this elevated esteem for Kubrick’s scrupulous direction which has lead many to look for hidden conspiracy theories within his films, with The Shining provoking the most elaborate of responses.
Needless to say, the ideas put forward vary from the feasible to the outright bizarre, culminating in a curiously intriguing, yet weirdly humorous enquiry into Kubrick’s work. Allowing each contributor more than enough rope to present their theories in full before hanging themselves on their own wildly improbable readings, the audience is subjected to everything from ‘fake moon landing’ speculations to the slightly more plausible, yet still tenuous belief that the film is a metaphor for ‘the white man’s genocide’.
Combining an intelligent and imaginative use of achieve footage (including a collection of Kubrick’s work), rambling voice-overs and animation, Room 237 is an intriguing labyrinth of abstract hypothesis interwoven with intermittent success. The balance between conceivable and preposterous ideas is weighted far too heavily towards those that entertain rather than educate, with the ramblings of conspiracy theorist – whilst initially entertaining – diluting the more believable and fascinating opinions into mere filler, turning the documentary into a somewhat tedious and meandering experience.
Your enjoyment of Room 237 may largely depend on what you wish to take from the film. Fans of Kubrick and The Shining will no doubt be fascinated with this alternative rumination on the great auteur’s work, whilst becoming equally dismayed at the film’s pandering to these foolish interpretations. Likewise those looking to sit back and be amused by the crazed ramblings of these obsessive-compulsive fans will struggle with the film’s cine-literate approach.