One person believes The Shining was Stanley Kubrick’s commentary on the Holocaust. Another points out clues that reveal the film is really about the genocide of Native Americans. Someone else claims the movie was the late filmmaker’s way of letting us know the Apollo 11 moon landing was faked, and he directed it. Yet another fan believes the film was carefully designed to be projected backwards, which would reveal even more hidden themes.
In Room 237, director Rodney Ascher never shows us the faces of the people analyzing The Shining. There are none of the usual talking heads you’d expect in this sort of deconstruction: Instead, he uses clips from the movie, as well as some of Kubrick’s other films, with just the occasional bit of animation or dramatic re-enactment to stress a particular point.
Ascher treats all these insane theories seriously, but that doesn’t mean you have to. Room 237 isn’t a work of cinematic criticism, although it does prove you can find meaning in anything if you stare at it long enough. The film’s true subject is obsession — a love of movies, specifically — and he has found the perfect subject in The Shining, a picture few people liked upon its release in 1980 but that has since lodged itself permanently into popular culture.
Is there anyone who hasn’t seen The Shining? Our familiarity with the movie — with Jack Nicholson’s iconic over-the-top performance; with the geometric patterns of the Overlook Hotel’s rug; with that axe bursting through a bathroom door, a terrified Shelley Duvall screaming inside — makes Room 237 intriguing even if you don’t buy any of the theories being floated. Ascher uses slow motion and freeze-frame to reveal details you probably haven’t noticed before, like a poster of a minotaur in the Overlook’s game room that pairs up nicely with the climactic chase through the maze. He traces Danny’s rides through the hallways of the hotel to show how Kubrick toyed with the building’s architecture, always keeping us off balance about what was lurking around that next corner.
One speaker in the movie asserts Kubrick was a “bored genius” when he made The Shining (he had a reported IQ of 200) and amused himself by inserting little Easter eggs throughout the movie (the magazine Nicholson is reading while waiting for a tour of the hotel? Playgirl). You don’t have to buy any of the nutty theories in Room 237 to appreciate what Ascher has accomplished: He makes us reconsider a widely seen film from a new and strange perspective that leads to even greater mystery and fascination. Why does that typewriter keep changing color, anyway?
With: Bill Blakemore, Geoffrey Cocks, Juli Kearns, John Fell Ryan, Jay Weidner, Buffy Visick.
Director: Rodney Ascher.
Producer: Tim Kirk.
An IFC Films release. Running time: 102 minutes. No offensive material. In Miami-Dade only: Bill Cosford Cinema.