Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome back guest writer Will Standish, the man behind October’s most excellent list of Halloween specials.
Room 237 (2012):
If there’s one thing I’ve learned from hanging out with movie fans, it’s that we tend to get a little obsessive. Film buffs can spend hours watching and re-watching movies and poring over small details and minutiae with a determined intensity that is usually only reserved for political conspiracy theorists and moralistic 80s politicians looking for subliminal messages in metal songs. And while films like Inception and Looper still have some fans scratching their heads, few films inspire the level of devotion, attentiveness, and, occasionally, sheer insanity that Stanley Kubrick’s 1980 horror classic The Shining has inspired in viewers for the past 30 years. Room 237, the newly released documentary directed by Rodney Ascher is the ultimate testament and love letter to these devoted fans.
Room 237 collects a wide array of fan theories about The Shining through interviews with the historians, reporters, professors, and authors who have examined the film over the years. These theories range from the believable, such as ABC correspondent Bill Blakemore’s theory that the film is really about the genocide of the American Indian, to the fearlessly esoteric, such as the claim that the film is Kubrick’s acknowledgement that he staged the Apollo 11 moon landing. The film utilizes footage from the original movie, maps, graphs, and animations to point to evidence used by the theorists. Blakemore points to the arrangement of Calumet baking powder cans and the use of Native American imagery throughout the film to point to his claim, whereas another plays a cut of the film playing backwards over another playing forwards to point to some truly creepy imagery.
So which theory is correct? Ultimately, it doesn’t matter. At its core, this movie isn’t trying to claim that one theory is more valid than another. Hell, the film isn’t even really about The Shining. Room 237 is about how we interact with and interpret films. Each theory is treated with the same level of respect, and at the center of each theory is a person whose life was effected by the film and who was drawn in to its layered and rich cinematography and narrative. The movie is less interested in unraveling the mysteries of the Overlook Hotel than in celebrating the ways in which we find meaning in works of art. Even if you can’t stand Kubrick or his adaptation of Stephen King’s novel, you can still find this film interesting and engaging.
The documentary itself is unlike any other documentary I’ve ever seen. While other documentaries would probably show the interviewees filmed against a fitting background, Room 237 never shows us the people being interviewed, opting instead to illustrate their points through a pastiche of film and TV clips from everything ranging from The Shining and other films in the Kubrick canon to clips of Scooby Doo. This is can be both inventive and frustrating, as we never have a face to put with the theories, and thus they seem to exist intangibly. This serves to hurt some of the theories more than it helps them. This documentary is also one of the most unnerving documentaries I’ve ever seen, as the visual tricks and the excellent synth soundtrack add to the creepy atmosphere created by Kubrick’s cinematography.
When I left the theater after seeing Room 237, I felt like many of the interviewees did after watching the The Shining for the first time: excited, a little confused, and eager to watch the film again. Room 237 is a must watch for anyone who loves films and anyone who’s ever been kept up at night trying to wrap their head around one.
Now if only someone would make a documentary about whatever the hell was up with that dog costume guy…
Look for it on VOD or in select theaters!