Benjamin is a former volunteer DJ at his local hospital radio station. He has been reviewing films online since 2004.
What's the Big Deal?
Room 237 is a documentary movie produced in 2012 and marked the feature film debut of director Rodney Ascher. The film examines Stanley Kubrick's 1980 film The Shining, which was an adaptation of the Stephen King novel of the same name, and looks at a number of possible interpretations of the film. The film is named after a prominent location in the movie and is comprised almost entirely of clips from The Shining as well as other Kubrick films to help illustrate certain points. Besides the initial interviews with those featured, the filmmakers do not promote any particular viewpoint and explicitly state that the opinions and ideas featured are those of the people in the film and not anyone connected to The Shining. After finding success on the film festival circuit, the film was released in 2013 and earned around $367'000 worldwide despite a generally positive response from critics.
What's It About?
For the uninitiated, The Shining depicts a would-be writer moving with his family to an isolated hotel in Colorado during the winter in order to work as an on-site supervisor while the hotel is closed, thus giving him time to complete his work. While Jack Torrance becomes increasingly insular, his wife Wendy and their young son Danny - who exhibits latent psychic powers - struggle to adjust in the sprawling complex on their own. As the months go by, all of them begin to suffer cabin fever and start experiencing multiple paranormal events including hallucinations and delusions of a disturbing nature.
Since The Shining was released back in 1980, it has been hailed as one of the best horror films of all time but many have questioned the film's message and Kubrick's notorious attention to detail. Room 237 looks at a number of ideas and theories proposed by five different individuals - writer Bill Blakemore, historian Geoffrey Cocks, aspiring filmmaker Juli Kearns, musician John Fell Ryan and conspiracy theorist Jay Weidner - who all present their case as to their understanding of the film. Could it be that Kubrick contained a number of hidden messages within The Shining or are we looking a bit too deeply?
John Fell Ryan
Release Date (UK)
26th October, 2012
What's to Like?
As much as I enjoyed Kubrick's disturbing psycho thriller when I first saw it, I can't claim to have been as captivated as these five individuals. But clearly, the movie struck a deep and long-lasting chord with them as Room 237 gives us the chance to enjoy them sharing their obvious love and appreciation for the film with us. This film is as much about a love for cinema as much as it is about The Shining which is examined in minute detail. And I mean, every frame of footage feels as though it has been analysed and thought about as though it were some sort of holy text. Granted, Kubrick was a master filmmaker and it's hard to believe that he wouldn't have complete control over every shot so I can appreciate this kind of thinking. I just wish I could understand where this thinking has taken our narrators.
Room 237, labelled by UK film critic Mark Kermode as 'How I learned to stop worrying and love film studies', proposes the The Shining is about everything from the Holocaust to sexual repression to a conspiracy involving Kubrick producing fake footage of the Apollo 11 moon landings in 1969. At first, these stories and ideas seem laughable in places but each narrator offers their own perspective and a chance to prove their point, often alluding to obvious continuity errors and narrative clues to illustrate their case. Frankly, the idea of taking any film and examining every facet of it seems to me to be as insane as Jack Torrance himself and as the film goes on, we realise that these people are, in their own way, also trapped at the Overlook Hotel in a nightmarish world of their own creation.
- Room 237 has been dismissed by both Leon Vitali (a former assistant to Kubrick who called this film 'gibberish') and Stephen King, the author of the original novel. While King is famously not a fan of Kubrick's film, he claimed to have made it halfway through this film before giving it, saying that the filmmakers were reaching for things that just weren't there.
- Director Ascher has said that he does not believe any of the theories proposed in Room 237 himself. In an interview, he said that The Shining was not nearly as visionary as claimed by those featured in his documentary. "I just see it as sort of a story about juggling the responsibilities of your career and family and as cautionary tale of what may happen if you make the wrong choice," he said.
- One of the points discussed when addressing the supposed faked moon landing footage is the change of the titular room number, from 217 in the book to 237 in The Shining. This, it is claimed, represents the mean distance of the Earth to the moon - 237'000 miles - but this is incorrect. The actual distance is 238'856 miles.
What's Not to Like?
Unfortunately, like most conspiracy theories, the more time you spend with it, the more convoluted and unbelievable it becomes. Nobody in their right mind would entertain the idea that Kubrick was somehow coerced into shooting fake space footage for the Apollo 11 moon landing and then either apologise or confess to such actions in his film. To my mind, these theories are based on a single shot or image which stayed with this particular viewer who then proceeded to generate more ideas and claims from it. The weakest argument by far was the one about The Shining being about the Minotaur, the ancient Greek mythological creature - sure, the hotel has a giant labyrinth (or hedge maze if you wanna get technical about this) next to it but the poster of a skier behind the twins that supposedly looked like a Minotaur? Sorry but I simply didn't see it. Relying on such personal interpretation or continuity errors to make your point doesn't exactly make for a strong case.
Where Room 237 goes wrong is the failure to back up what you think it is about, ironically. Anyone expecting a sensible analysis of a genuinely great film will perhaps be disappointed to find it instead serving as a parable against looking for answers in all the wrong places. None of the people featured seem to make a strong enough case for their viewpoint although the theory regarding the genocide of native Americans seems the most plausible. Worst still, Weidner - whose frantic voice and occasional laughter come across just as off-putting as Jack Nicholson's performance - is fundamentally unlikable company who spins such a ridiculous string of nonsense that he's impossible to take seriously. Perhaps Ascher was stifling his own laughter behind the camera as he allowed this tin-foil hat-wearing nut-job to unveil his paranoid delusions upon us.
Should I Watch It?
Room 237 is both an entertaining documentary about one of the best horror films of all time and also an unsettling amount of time spent in the company of some seriously die-hard fans. I wanted to learn more about the film itself rather than some loose ideas regarding Nazi Germany and bull-headed monsters. Nevertheless, the documentary is a cautionary tale about the dangers of obsession and how it can completely change the way you think about things. Specifically, how to just watch and enjoy a simple movie...
Great For: obsessive fans of The Shining, admirers of Kubrick's work, psychiatrists looking for new patients
Not So Great For: film historians, anyone yet to watch The Shining, more level-headed audiences
What Else Should I Watch?
One of the good things about Room 237 is that it reminds us of some of Kubrick's other films and what an extraordinary filmmaker he was. From all-time classics like 2001: A Space Odyssey and Spartacus to more cult offerings like Full Metal Jacket and Eyes Wide Shut, Kubrick's reputation as a master of his craft followed him throughout his career. With all the talk of space footage, it's not surprising that 2001 features as much as it does in Room 237 but even given the quantum leap forward the film was in terms of its effects, it's hard to believe that footage from a film from 1968 is somehow more believable than actual footage from space.
There are countless documentaries about movies, often taking the form of a behind-the-scenes look or documenting the movie's production itself. Some of the more notable ones include Best Worst Movie which looked at the release and subsequent reinvention of notorious flop Troll 2, Hal which earned rave reviews for its look at famed director Hal Ashby and Hearts Of Darkness: A Filmmaker's Apocalypse which spliced together archive behind the scenes footage of Francis Ford Coppola's Apocalypse Now with interviews with the cast and crew, examining what difficulties were overcame during production.
© 2021 Benjamin Cox