If you’re the sort of person who loves conspiracy theories, hidden meanings, codes, ciphers, clues, and other mysteries that bear unraveling, then Room 237 is right up your alley. Director Rodney Ascher has put together a fascinating movie that will most likely change the way you watch Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining forever, or will at least make you search out some of the things that are discussed in this documentary.
Ascher, the director of the hilarious (and creepy) short from The S From Hell about the Screen Gems logo that was shown at Sundance 2010, is behind this clever documentary that mostly uses footage from Stanley Kubrick’s films (including The Shining, of course) to tell the stories of several different interview subjects: who each have a different view of the secret meanings of The Shining.
Bill Blakemore, Geoffrey Cocks, Juli Kearns, John Fell Ryan, and Jay Weidner all believe that Kubrick’s 1980 film (based on Stephen King’s 1977 novel of the same name) is not just about a writer to takes his wife and young son to become the off-season caretakers at a remote hotel before he succumbs to the spirits that haunt the place. To each one of them, the film represents something different, ranging from Kubrick’s take on the Holocaust, to the plight of Native Americans who had everything taken away as the United States claimed the continent.
Blakemore, a longtime journalist, claims the Native American imagery throughout the film (rugs, portraits on the walls, even cans of Calumet baking powder with artwork of an Indian on the side) combined with the absence of any actual Native Americans in the film point to the fact that we have driven them entirely from their land and taken it over.
Cocks claims that the film is about the Holocaust, because Kubrick had always wanted to make a film about that event, but couldn’t figure out how to approach it. In his mind, Kubrick used this unique story to channel the Holocaust, particularly in the scenes where Danny has visions of past violence in the hotel, and the scene where the elevators spill forth gallons of blood.
Kearns believe that the film is meant to link to the Greek myth about the Minotaur at the middle of the labyrinth, which is why Kubrick included a large hedge maze which was not in the novel. She also claims that a poster in the game room advertising skiing at Monarch is meant to resemble a Minotaur, and is a clue due to the fact that the manager at the hotel explains to Jack why there is no skiing in the area. So why have a poster for skiing?
Other theories speculate that the movie is meant to explain that we never landed on the moon (the carpet pattern that Danny plays with his cars on is eerily similar to the design of Apollo 11 launch pad 39A), and these interview subjects can show you everything in the film from blatant erections, to piles of luggage meant to represent the suitcases Jews were forced to abandon in concentration camps, and the seemingly bizarre architecture of the Overlook Hotel.
While most of this sounds like an enormous load of horse manure (and it could be for all we know, given that Kubrick himself can’t exactly comment on these theories), Room 237 is an extremely fascinating film to watch whether you believe it or not. You will see things in The Shining that you never noticed before, and thanks to Carlos Ramos’ design and animation, you’ll be able to go inside the Overlook as never before.
By the time you get John Fell Ryan showing The Shining forwards and backwards at the same time while superimposed on itself, you’ll definitely find it interesting even if you are a skeptic, which I remain after seeing this film. Still, it is a highly enjoyable movie, and students of cinema should consider watching this just for the symbolism and imagery alone. I imagine double features of this movie follow by The Shining itself will become popular late-night showings at colleges around the nation. In fact, I’m going to fire up the movie right now and see if they can make a believer out of me.
The Upside: This movie will force you to see The Shining differently, whether you like it or not. It will also give you a deeper appreciation of Kubrick’s films, including (oddly enough), Eyes Wide Shut.
The Downside: It’s hard to buy all of these theories on face value, and since they can’t all be correct, you come away skeptical of everything.
On the Side: Rodney Ascher funded this film through Kickstarter, which is entirely awesome. He went over his goal of raising $5,000, and now his film has just premiered at Sundance. Pretty slick!