Review: 'Room 237'

By: Heather Seebach

As a student, I always found literature and film essays easy because I have a knack for making everything sound like symbolism. Though it almost always fooled my professors, sometimes even I believed my own bullshit. After all, it is fun to make wild connections that sound really profound. That is the basis of Room 237, a documentary about the various theories concerning the subtexts of Stanley Kubrick's horror classic, The Shining

In nine parts, this doc provides the perspectives of five different interviewees, none of whom are actually seen. Instead, director Rodney Ascher portrays his subjects and their theories entirely through film clips (most of which are from Kubrick movies). There is no new footage here, only new audio. This technique is incredibly bizarre at first, but ultimately pretty unique. The film often feels more like a study of the obsessed interviewees than The Shining itself, so not showing them protects them from exploitation or humiliation. And for Kubrick fans like myself, it is interesting to see the trends across his career through film clips.

Some of the arguments presented are obvious and sensible, such as the roles of sex and mirrors in the film. But one person argues that the movie is actually about the genocide of Native Americans while another says it's the Holocaust. One other man supports the notion that The Shining was Kubrick's way of secretly exposing his involvement in faking the Apollo 11 footage. And those are just some of the more believable theories! Others involve fairy tales and Greek mythology.

Fans of the classic film looking for fun Easter eggs may find a few juicy tidbits here, but more often than not, they will be rolling their eyes at some of the interviewees' straw-grasping. I found myself sometimes holding my breath as the person built up their theory only for it to culminate in total nonsense (an example, if you saw the doc: paper tray boner). Sometimes I could imagine Kubrick laughing at all this from beyond the grave.

As a huge Kubrick fan, I have no doubt the man was a genius and that most (if not all) the "mistakes" in The Shining were probably not coincidence. It's hard to overlook (no pun intended) such glaring continuity errors considering what a notorious perfectionist the director was.

 I also believe the notion that it's no mere horror movie, but a morality tale about human history, too. And I like to believe that Stanley really did utilize subliminal messaging in this film. Some of the evidence presented in Room 237 is really compelling, while others are counter-productive to their purpose. 

Still, I often found myself being sucked into the theories, crazy as it made me feel. As ridiculous as the faked moon landing theory sounded to me, I was fascinated by the evidence - Danny's Apollo 11 sweater; the average distance from the Earth to the moon being 237,000 miles, etc. I even made my own connection not mentioned in the doc: the Eagle was both the name of the lunar module and the symbol on the Apollo 11 patch - eagles are fucking everywhere in The Shining. Uh oh!

It is hard to deny the role of decor, objects, and colors in The Shining. And the discussion on architectural contradictions in the film is fascinating! Fans of conspiracy theories will definitely enjoy this movie. As for fans of Kubrick and his film, whether you believe every theory presented or not is irrelevant. For us, it is just fun to look at the movie in a way you probably never thought of before. This kind of endless, open-minded debate is no doubt exactly what Kubrick wanted from his audience. After all, there is no right and wrong in art - it's all about personal interpretation.

Room 237 is currently available to watch on Cable VOD, SundanceNOW and other digital outlets (iTunes, Amazon Streaming, PS3 Playstation Unlimited, XBOX Zune, Google PLAY and YouTube). 

You can watch it on Amazon Instant right here: 

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