Room 237, 2012.
Directed by Rodney Ascher.
A documentary examining the enduring legacy of Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining and the weird and wonderful theories related to the film’s subtexts that have arisen since its release.
Famously, Stanley Kubrick’s psychological horror classic The Shining did not enjoy a terrific reception upon its release back in 1980. Since that time however, it has grown in stature to become one of the great director’s best known works – largely through Jack Nicholson’s oft-parodied performance and his terrifying “here’s Johnny!” axe swinging scene.
This classily produced and at times enlightening doc from Rodney Ascher seeks to add to some of the mythology and film theory surrounding the film. Dubbed ‘an enquiry in nine parts’, the film uses commentary from five enthusiasts, academics and writers who, crucially, we never see. The visuals instead come from Ascher’s imaginative splicing of segments from The Shining, cartoons, news reels and other films – most notably Lamberto Bava’s cinema set 1985 horror Demons, and Kubrick’s own Eyes Wide Shut.
The editing of all these various scenes and images is done with incredible care and there are some very well constructed elements in what is a compelling first feature from Ascher. The theories themselves are a distinctly mixed bag. Some – most notably a film club that played the film backwards alongside the regular film and had fun with how cool it all looked are merely film school geekery. Others, such as the writer who could see Kubrick’s face in the clouds in exterior shots, are just plain weird.
However, some have some genuine plausibility, such as the ‘faked moon footage’ hypothesis which believes Kubrick was the mastermind hired by NASA in order to make the film believable. The theorist here explains how through metaphor and allusion Kubrick uses The Shining as his admission of taking part in the conspiracy. There is also a fascinating argument that the film is all about the subjugation of native Americans by European settlers, as alluded to in the script by talk of ancient Indian burial grounds and visual clues such as logos on products in the Overlook Hotel.
Despite the imagination on show in both the production and the talking points however, many viewers will find themselves asking just what this piece actually is. More than anything it resembles the classiest DVD extra ever; a high performance add on to an already canonized horror movie. If the real point was to show that The Shining is more than ‘just’ a horror movie it adds to the story, but no more than that. And of course, fans of Kubrick and of the work have long been aware of this.
An impressive visual editing piece that showcases some of the strange theories that surround the film, this piece is likely to inspire much debate amongst lovers of the film. A truly thoughtful documentary in the sense that it makes you want to re-watch the original film immediately and see what you have just been hearing about, Room 237 is like the film that inspired it; a mystery and a highly watchable puzzle. It shows vividly how ripe for discussion and theorizing The Shining is, and has been for 32 years. But is it a movie? To that I would have to say… no.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★
Robert W Monk is a freelance journalist and film writer.