Room 237 is unlike any documentary I’ve ever seen, but then again, The Shining is unlike any Horror film I’ve ever seen. If you put 10 fans of Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining against a wall and asked them for their thoughts on the film, I’m sure you’d get 10 fascinatingly different answers and Rodney Ascher’s Room 237 offers several attempts to solve the many riddles of the film.In my very first college film class, one of the first proper rules I learned about film is this: nothing that you see on-screen is there by accident. Everything should have a purpose. It’s this mentality that has since lead me to over-analyze countless films the same way I approached poetry and prose as an English major in school. Ever since that first class, it’s very difficult to watch something and not find myself reading between the lines for some deeper meaning. The Shining is certainly no exception, of course.
A lot of the stories behind the making of Kubrick’s loose adaptation of Stephen King's classic novel are legendary; endless amounts of takes for simple shots, drastic changes to the original story, etc. But the Interviewees in Room 237 see beyond the notion that Kubrick was simply a perfectionist . . . in fact, the theories that are presented go much, much deeper.
Room 237 is unlike most documentaries in that it’s merely a collection of clips of, not only The Shining, but most of Kubrick’s other works, as well as All The President’s Men and even Lamberto Bava’s Demons movies. These clips are expertly intertwined to show rather than tell -- something I'm sure Kubrick would approve of.
Like the film it examines, Room 237 starts out pretty even keeled with four obsessives offering their individual theories on the film ranging from it being a metaphor for the genocide of the Native Americans, the Holocaust, to Kubrick’s sly way of admitting that he directed the lunar landing in 1969 (if you believe it was faked, of course!). On one hand, you may find yourself saying “these people have entirely too much time on their hands”, but on the other, each of these theories is presented with visual evidence from The Shining to the point where you will ultimately find yourself saying, “Yeah, I can totally see that.”
As the film progresses and you find yourself deeper and deeper in riddles and hidden meanings, there’s a tendency – not unlike with The Shining itself – which gives way to a feeling of being lost in almost dream-like state. Where the theories are initially presented in a straight-forward format, they eventually overlap, creating one hell of a shroud of mystery. Much like Kubrick’s film, just when you think you have it figured out, you’re left grasping for an answer that is just out of reach.
The bottom line is if you’re a film nerd who enjoys obsessing over a film you may hold near and dear or if you’re a fan of The Shining, you’ll love Room 237! However, if you’re looking for any behind the scenes anecdotes or trivia, there is little to be seen here, save for archival on-set footage (which I believe is mostly taken from Making The Shining, a film by Kubrick’s daughter Vivian).
Also, bonus points for its clever trailer, which is a wonderful play on the original theatrical trailer for Kubrick’s film!
Room 237 is currently enjoying a limited theatrical run in select cities, but it is also available on-demand through Xfinity. Check it out!