Room 237 is a rare documentary without a single talking head, for director Rodney Ascher instead tackles the bizarre range of theories about Stanley Kubrick’s masterful The Shining by combining footage of the film itself with clips from Kubrick’s other works (most notably Eyes Wide Shut and 2001: A Space Odyssey), various films not made by Kubrick, animated maps and drawings, and some clever CGI manipulations of existing scenes (chiefly a scene in which Tom Cruise visits a theatre in Eyes Wide Shut, which here has its posters changed to those made for The Shining).
The fun of this truly strange film is in listening to the various theoreticians – whose faces are never shown – enthusiastically explaining their theories, unwaveringly confident in their validity while keen in several cases to dismiss even the words of the film’s director to the contrary. Some of the barmier yarns spun include the belief that The Shining contains allusions to America’s genocide of Native American Indians, that Jack Torrence’s typewriter helps position the film as an allegory of the Holocaust, and perhaps most hilariously, that the film was Kubrick’s sub-textual means of informing us that he helped fake the Apollo moon landings.
Though the majority of these crackpot interpretations will be quickly dismissed amid uproarious laughter by most viewers, they do by and large, in their eagerness to tell us more about Kubrick’s horror masterpiece, end up educating us a little about the art of film, and provide an arena for us to meditate on the limitations and grand potential of the medium. Was Kubrick just terrible at keeping track of continuity, or was there greater meaning behind the misplaced chairs? Blocking and shot choice, meanwhile, can allow directors to insert innuendo-laden imagery into scenes, if, that is, you choose to believe that it was the director’s intent, consciously or not. While it goes without saying that these fans by and large overstate the case, perhaps the most salient question they ask, largely inadvertently, is how much a director really “owns” the meaning of a film outside of their authorial intent.
In some cases, Ascher does appear so committed to conveying the subjects’ zany opinions that he ignores the arguably more interesting wider mysteries – such as the meaning of that final image of Torrence – but then such consideration seems simply too ordinary when compared to the oddball musings these industrious fans have formulated. Some of the minor observations, however – such as Kubrick changing the colour of Jack’s typewriter and the direction of the hotel’s carpet for no apparent reason – prove among the more convincing oddities, if only because they can certifiably be found in evidence.
A documentary as idiosyncratic as its tireless contributors, Room 237 is first and foremost an ode to film fandom in all of its gleeful obsessiveness.
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