Since the birth of cinema all those years ago, there are few films that have captured people’s imagination quite like The Shining. There are some who think Stanley Kubrick butchered Stephen King’s original text (including, famously, King himself), whilst there are many who believe it is one of the deepest, most meticulously put together films of all time.
Room 237 is a series of theories on the The Shining’s themes and messages from some who very much believe the latter.
Now, you’re enjoyment of Room 237 is going to hinge on a couple of important factors. The first is whether or not you’ve seen The Shining. For those who somehow haven’t seen it yet, then there’s probably not going to be much here to like. The second factor is how you feel about modern film criticism. If someone analysing films’ smallest and seemingly inconsequential details irks you then, again, this probably isn’t wise viewing.
Here we have five film theorists picking The Shining apart in excruciating detail, their interpretations carrying varying levels of plausibility. There are suggestions that the film is really about the genocide of the native Americans, whilst another theory is that this was Kubrick’s Holocaust film. Whilst these seem reasonable given the evidence presented, other theories carry less weight. That The Shining was Kubrick’s admission that he helped fake the Apollo 11 moon landings, whilst still interesting, is stretching things ever so slightly.
Kubrick is famous for the attention to detail he lavished upon his pictures and there’s a very good chance that some of what’s being offered here was indeed the filmmaker’s intentions. However, assertions that an office paper tray has been purposely placed to create a phallus when Overlook manager Ullman stands next to it is laughable at best. According to one of the theorists, whether Kubrick intended these messages is besides the point; what matters is that they’re there. How anyone can judge what Kubrick has unconsciously put into his films is bizarre and a even a little arrogant.
In terms of how the documentary has been created, Room 237 is a little amateurish. We are never see anything of the five theorists; they are simply faceless voices, which does diminish their claims somewhat. As you’d expect, we see a series of scenes from The Shining to help explain the various claims, but we also get a number of scenes from other Kubrick films, as well as several other unrelated films, that actually make everything a little confusing. A random scene from Spartacus or A Clockwork Orange adds nothing to what’s being shown.
Whilst much of what’s being said can be disputed or flat out denied, what cannot be refuted is the lasting impact of The Shining. Above anything else, what Room 237 makes blindingly obvious is that this is a film that enraptured film critics and fans around the world and continues to do so. Maybe a paper tray does resemble a huge penis (it doesn’t) or perhaps Kubrick’s face can be seen in the clouds during the title sequence (it can’t), but what’s not up for debate is the passion some have for The Shining and that its impact doesn’t look like diminishing any time soon.