Room 237– film review
Highland Park Classics Productions
Directed by Rodney Ascher
Reviewed by Anthony C. Francis
The tagline to the new documentary Room 237 states that, “Some movies stay with you forever…and ever…and ever.” This is certainly true for five fans of Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining, whose theories on hidden meanings and messages within the 1980 horror masterpiece this doc explores. The title itself is a reference to Kubrick’s masterpiece and to what lurks behind the images.
Director Rodney Ascher has crafted an extremely unique look at the five subject’s fanatical obsession with Kubrick’s film. All five subjects, a journalist, a playwright, an author, a musician, and a college professor, seem normal enough and, I suppose, they are. However, when it comes down to what they separately take away from viewing Kubrick’s film, I was shaking my head and yelling “Oh come on!” at the screen. The theories range from the film being a thinly veiled apology for the genocide of the American Indian to being about Kubrick’s obsession with the Holocaust. In my opinion, the most outlandish of them all is the man who believes that the whole film is Stanley Kubrick giving us clues to the fact that he did, in fact, plan and direct the Apollo Moon landing!
The one female “theorist” explains what she took from the film, and it is completely ridiculous. She spends most of her time speaking on inconsistencies with the layout of the hotel and how so and so couldn’t walk through this door and be here when the window shows this and that. Then she speaks deeply, for her, on a shot inside the hotel manager’s office where there is a poster on the wall of what she believes to represent a Minotaur. She says that we can “clearly see” the shape of the Minotaur. What we clearly see is the shape of a skier going down a slope. No more, no less. Her crazy ramblings were the ones I occasionally tuned out.
The man who says that the film could have something to do with Kubrick’s fascination with the Holocaust is the most, for lack of a better way to say it, acceptable theory. He finds many hidden references, in his own eyes mind you, such as a German typewriter and the number 42, which actually has connections to that dark period of history. If we had to get behind one of the theories, his would be the one to follow. It is ridiculous but we can see the pieces he put together without rolling our eyes in disbelief, as we do at most of the other four theories.
The man who “knows” that the film is about the genocide of the American Indian fares way worse. He bases his theory on a couple of shots of Calumet baking powder, which has an Indian in a head dress as it’s symbol, some Indian art on the walls of the hotel, and on a few lines and actions by certain characters. He is the first to speak in the film and, I admit, I worried that this would be a long haul to the end.
Director Ascher does a great job at putting it all together and giving the film a smooth flow as he peppers the screen with scenes from The Shining and many more films, horror and otherwise. In a few cases, as the narration is describing one of the “hidden meanings”, Ascher slows the film down to show us frame by frame what the theorist is speaking of. This is best used in the scene where one of our subjects is describing the hidden sexual imagery when Nicholson is greeted by the hotel manager. The director still steps the scene as the narrator describes the image of a phallus between Jack and the manager. It is an utterly preposterous moment and one of the times I yelled aloud as if the guy telling the story was sitting next to me.
The score of the film is fantastic and, although this is a documentary, it is one of the better original scores to be put to a film in years. It was written by William Huston and Jonathon Snipes, who are basically first timers. It is a wonderfully ambient score that brings to mind the film works of Tangerine Dream, Goblin, and Popul Vuh. The composers have stated that, in fact, both Tangerine Dream and Goblin were influences on their writing of the score. Their work, which gives the film a nice flow, works as an almost mental massage while we try to wrap our heads around what these people are saying.
These five fans have seen The Shining many, many times, and for one reason or another, have each found their own hidden meanings and theoretical puzzles in the film. I have seen the film many times, as well. What I see is a film that is a perfect storm of horror and artistry. Room 237 allows us to think more on the film and have fun with the “conspiracy theories” that are being unraveled before us. Trust me, these people won’t change your mind on your interpretation of the film, but you will have a good time listening to them.
All of the theories are truly outlandish. The five subjects, who are heard but never seen, weave a labyrinth of silly speculation that they believe, some actually say they know, to be truth. Their interpretations are based on a few shots here and there but not on the film entire. Most can be explained away with…oh what is that word? Oh yeah, logic.
This is not to say that I was not enjoying this film. As a film watcher I was massively entertained. As one who tries to use my brain before I speak I was mortified!
You might get occasionally angry and roll your eyes to the point of getting dizzy, but Room 237 is a very good and entertaining documentary that fans of good documentaries, horror films, Stanley Kubrick, and his film version of The Shining should enjoy.
3 ½ stars out of 5