Director: Rodney Ascher
Stars: Bill Blakemore, Geoffrey Cocks, Juli Kearns
Plot: Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining is analysed by fans of the film, who espouse both the popular theories and their own takes as to the meanings behind this cinematic masterpiece.
If ever there was a film that had so many layers, meanings and theories behind it, then it is The Shining. On the one hand, you could view it as being a straightforward horror movie, where a man goes completely mad through isolation and tries to kill his wife and son. Then there is the belief that the house itself represents much more than just being alone in the mountains, cut off from civilisation; it is essentially alive with the dead, with an element of time-travel. An incredible amount has been written about what The Shining is actually about, that many of the more (and lesser) popular perceptions of Stanley Kubrick’s 1980 film are presented here for us to consider.
Room 237 is a collection of fan interviews, each with their own methods of analysing the intricacies of The Shining. These vary from stopping the film at various points and zooming in on cans of food which bear a picture of a Native American as part of a wider and arguably the most popular view that the film is about the cultural cleansing of America during the period 1790 to 1920. Certain scenes of dialogue are rewound as we are reminded that the Overlook Hotel was “built on an Indian burial ground”; this and many other hints and more obvious signs of the significance of Red Indians such as pictures on the wall, are depicted. The Holocaust is apparently represented within the movie, as piles of suitcases are seen early on, while the Torrances are moving in and the staff retreat for the winter – Kubrick apparently took great interest in the fate of the Jews during World War II and their forced displacement and mass execution, much like the Native Americans.
Throughout the documentary, there is a large segment devoted to a theory that Stanley Kubrick helped to stage the Apollo 11 moon landing in 1969. Various moments in the film, such as the jumper that Danny is shown wearing when a ball mysteriously rolls towards him in the corridor, to the key fob to room 237 itself are both explored as being Kubrick hinting that he helped to set the whole thing up, but couldn’t tell anyone except his wife, his conversation with whom is apparently included in the film’s dialogue. Aside from the more obvious themes and ideas scattered around the hotel, there are also more of the obsessive details that would be extremely difficult for the average film audience to spot. There’s a suggestion that Jack’s interviewer Stuart Ullman is somehow sexually aroused when they meet, minor characters are timed by the director to walk past the screen at exact moments in perfect choreography and Kubrick himself can be seen in a cloud formation, during the famous opening driving scenes.
Room 237 sounds like an absolute dream, not just for fans of The Shining, but for film students and movie geeks in general. Being able to see a ready-made documentary about a film that has fascinated for many years gives us a great opportunity to stop and think about the weird and macabre events that we associate with the Overlook Hotel. The room number itself represents one of the most puzzling of cinematic enigmas that is open to interpretation and just the mention of it to your average film-goer tends to spark a very intriguing debate – choosing this as the title is therefore a masterstroke in marketing. The increasingly common documentary style of doing away with the traditional talking heads and replacing them with voiceovers serves the film well. Because there are so many clips, not just of The Shining, but also many of Kubrick’s other films throughout which there are many repeating references, it is relief that we are able to focus on what is actually being talked about, instead of going back and forth from footage to a random person and back again. Many of the theories put forward are consequently given plenty of coverage and, even though we might disagree with them wholeheartedly, there is the chance to at least hear what each fan has to say.
The ideas addressed in the film range from the absolutely fascinating to the downright ridiculous. The most interesting and gripping theories involve the allegories and very subtle background hints about the Native American genocide and Kubrick’s directorial style which incorporates the deliberate placing of objects in your field of view that you probably wouldn’t notice on a first showing, but when it is pointed out to you, it really makes you think about how clever Kubrick really was. Riding along behind Danny’s tricycle via the famous Steadicam is one of the most iconic and unsettling scenes (of which there are three) in the entire film. One of the segments takes us on a virtual journey, mapping each ride around the spooky hallways, so that we can actually see the impossible geography involved in the route he takes; this is Kubrick once again being the master of mind manipulation. Aside from the more thought-provoking aspects, there are a few frustrating and hokum claims about Kubrick’s involvement in faking the Apollo 11 moon landing, which might be true (let’s not rule it out entirely), but the way that it is justified is poorly constructed and presented as fact by a fan, just because ‘he knows’. There are also one or two hypotheses that you can see the director’s face in the clouds, a character stands in front of a paper tray which allegedly represents a euphemism and playing the film forwards and reverse simultaneously and overlaying the two proves something amazing, apparently.
Room 237 is slightly annoying and pedantic at times and feels like some of the people involved have way too much time on their hands. However, the subject matter is nonetheless spellbinding to anyone who has seen The Shining. While Kubrick’s film might not be everyone’s cup of tea, this is still a very welcome look at the director’s work in general and a terrific study in filmmaking.