Room 237 is a documentary that offers various theories and interpretations of the horror movie The Shining (1980). Directed by Stanley Kubrick (based on the novel by Stephen King), The Shining is considered one of the best horror films in cinema history. It’s a complex, open-ended and ambiguous film, and thus perfectly lends itself to be dissected and discussed. Rodney Ascher, director of the documentary, decided not to show the “experts” interviewed in the film, but just let them talk over the images of The Shining and other Stanley Kubrick films.
The interviewees discuss their personal experience with the movie: The first time the saw it, the impact it had on them and how they decided to study it, to try to understand what it’s really about. Kubrick’s film is mysterious and surreal, a puzzle that fans try to reconstruct and understand. But can you really understand what was going on in Kubrick’s head when he decided to direct one of his most strange and complicated films? Was Kubrick himself fully aware of all the possible implications and interpretations, that these people are trying to find and explain. One of the respondents at one point says that “if Kubrick meant it or not, is not important.” This is true, but the problem is that not all theories the experts expose are well constructed, proven or realistic.
Example: An expert claims that Shining is full of subliminal imagery, deliberately encoded by Kubrick. However, the evidence the interviewee shows us is bordering ridiculous, and honestly, as far as I’m concerned, non-existent.
Other theories are rather interesting and help you appreciate the film even more (or on more levels). To give you an example: An expert says that with The Shining, Kubrick was revealing how he shot the fake moon landing. Not that the moon landing never took place, but rather that the images that were shown on television actually were shot by him on a sound stage (when he secretly worked with the government). In this sense, 2001: A Space Odyssey is to be considered a sort of “rehearsal”. Contrary to the first expert I mentioned, this one is able to present his thesis convincingly enough, or at least insinuate a doubt in the viewer head about its validity.
There are several other theories, and certainly the horror genre lends itself better than any other for a social commentary, but let’s not forget that even without all that: The Shining is a great film in its own right.
All in all, the documentary is interesting. The thing about it I like most is the absence of judgment on the part of the director, who let each interviewee speak without commenting or making fun of anyone. It is left to the viewer to decide which theories they want to believe. I found some theories more convincing than others, but at least all of them are interesting one way or another, even if some don’t make much sense to me.
Unfortunately, I didn’t particularly enjoy the execution of the documentary using exclusively images from movies without showing the respondents. I’m not saying that they should have always shown them, but as in the extras on the DVD of The Shining they could have switched between clips of the films and the interviewees. Speaking of The Shining DVD (and Blu-ray): I recommend the two-disc special edition, with great special features and an excellent documentary about the film by Vivian Kubrick (the director’s daughter).
In conclusion: I never thought I’d say this, but I almost found the documentary boring, and The Shining is one of my all time favorite horror films. The theories on the film are interesting and all, but I’d rather listen to people who have actually contributed to the realization of The Shining and make my own theories about the film. Besides the theories of the documentary are available for free on the web.
Rating on First Viewing
(on our Acer beamer)
6.5 out of 10