Room 237 is a subjective and offbeat Documentary which sets out the task of discovering what Stanley Kubrick’s 1980 Horror masterpiece The Shining was really about. Over 30 years of debating has had fans of the film itching for answers to the strange discrepancies and often confusing yet clever quirks spotted throughout the film. These findings could uncover a whole new meaning to the movie, not to mention a whole new way of viewing it. The film offers around five different conclusions from ominous fanatics of the film, in order to make its eerie yet compelling claims.
This Documentary could honestly give the original Shining movie a run for its money, in terms of it being really entertaining yet really creepy. I’m not sure where Director Rodney Ascher found his odd bunch of Kubrick buffs but wherever he did they all have one thing in common (apart from their love of Kubrick): they have way too much time on their hands. Most of their stories span more than 30 years of analysing and probing of the film. They all view the film in very strange and different ways from one another and over time have built up a massive obsession with unlocking it’s secrets, so much so that they have all probably developed the ability to Shine themselves like the original film’s charming Infant Danny. Yes a committed bunch they are, but not without a hint of delusion.
It’s utterly compelling and unique viewing, one that requires maximum concentration from the viewer in order to see and make judgments on claims displayed and pointed out on-screen by the films blank narrators. Sometimes they add depth, or cause sometimes head scratching moments of intrigue whilst revealing their questionable findings, leading to their complex and often farfetched theories. Some points are arresting (The amount of times the number 42 appears in the film) whilst some absurd (Stuart Ullman sporting an Erection, anyone?). Yet with all of this, not once does it seem like hard viewing. Sure the first 15 minutes may be difficult to set you off but once you adjust to the film’s stalking patience and dense presentation it begins to fall right into place. Much of the credit should go to the engrossing original background score by William Huston and Jonathan Snipes, who evoke both The Shining and Kubrick’s earlier masterpiece 2001 a Space Odyssey by use of electronic sounds and layers. All sit quite unsettling, eerie and even sometimes a little scary over the films experimental visuals.
The film is shot almost completely with stock footage (accept for one scene) from many of Kubrick’s films, shots of him on set and cuts from other movies that shouldn’t really have a place in this film but do. This style has been used before as almost an alternative way to convey storytelling that would usually be physically missing from this type of Documentary (plus add a little cheeky humour). The 2002 film The Kid Stays in the Picture used the method to tell the story of notorious Hollywood Producer Robert Evans, scenes from the Likes of Serpico, Love Story and The Cotton Club play over his cocksure narration displaying his excessive lifestyle with playful imagery largely absent from the film before hand. I felt rather at home watching Dr Bill Harford Cruise (get it) around a darkened Cinema, Alex DeLarge staring into his own ultra violence and Keir Dullea mind wrestle with the sinister Hal 3000, these shots from Kubrick’s most famous back catalogue more than compliment and fit in with what is being discussed in the background by the patchy yet largely listenable fanatics.
However this film will not be for everyone, despite it being visually and musically satisfying Kubrick and Shining connoisseurs will probably be turned away by the few fanatics’ enigmatic claims. Most will pass them off as mere coincidence and no doubt laugh out loud at some of their absurdity, and self-proclaimed film historians/buffs will more than likely be offended that they do not share the same self-assurance & enthusiasm as our misguided theorists. Although there’s no doubting the films point of interest even if you don’t believe the claims, to just listen to them talking you through all what they believe they have uncovered is very endearing and so watchable.
One of the most interesting points of the film is how little about The Shining it actually contains, as there really isn’t much mention to the story of the film. Some exceptions being bits comparing the original film to the source novel it was adapted from (by Stephen King). King notoriously hated Kubrick’s so-so interpretation of his cult book, even stretching his limits to scribing the 1990’s (badly conceived) T.V remake. An even more pressing point is that most of the fanatics in the film are more drawn to Kubrick rather than The Shining, more often than not our dark narrators allude to the fact that they actually didn’t like The Shining film before spotting their outlandish findings that they picked up over time. The theories were apparently what piqued their interest for the film in the first place, which hadn’t been there when they viewed it without these finds. Some even noting it as Kubrick’s weakest picture to date. This raises the question of whether The Shining is one made for the intellectual or not, that the everyday family in crisis/ghost story is something cleverly placed there for the casual viewer. It could mean that none of this is really important to what the film actually is and what it’s trying to convey, that the real importance lies behind the films mask, the pictures on the walls, the overlooks confusing fixtures and all too often mistakes. These all point towards The Shining containing a much deeper and universal meaning, it really being a much more complex and historical piece, told through kaleidoscope metaphors and subliminal imagery that is set to make the audience think and see, as well as challenge their own point of view and perception.
For some this will be a curveball along the carpet, a messy compilation of woeful theories from misguided fanatics. To most I think it will be an interesting if not light-hearted trip into the dark side and dark minds of people who think they’ve found much bigger meaning to something nonexistent to others. For me it’s a stark and creepy celebration of the ultimate fandom most share. We would all love to find something more than meets the eye to our obsessions so we can become geniuses in our own right. Room 237 keeps The Shining alive & well and it will do forever…and ever…and ever.