The Shining is one of Stanley Kubrick’s most contentious films. While some people loved it, others were utterly disappointed. Room 237, directed by Rodney Ascher takes a deeper look into The Shining, and reveals some intriguing theories a group of fanatics have devised. The film analyzes the minutia of The Shining, leaving no stone unturned, and no theory, no matter how bizarre, unexplored. These interviewees attention to detail would make other cinephiles shrink away in shame, and they eagerly share their theories on the ‘true’ meaning of the film. A film person’s documentary, Room 237 is a strange and occasionally entertaining look at The Shining which combines speculation and monumental attention to detail.
These theories are the work of true fanatics. While none of the five people interviewed are film critics, they are Kubrick fans, and each has their unique take on the film. Not only have they watched The Shining over and over again, some have even taken the time to go through it frame by frame in the search for hidden messages. Many seem far too convinced of Kubrick’s apparent genius. The man was indeed an incredible filmmaker with an eye for beautiful imagery, but the notion that he put hidden messages in every aspect of his work is a little farfetched. The film is very different from the book, so it’s clear that Kubrick put his own spin on things, but did he intend for the whole film to be about the genocide of the American Indians for instance? Or better yet, the Holocaust? These theories may sound implausible, but two of Ascher’s interviewees are utterly convinced that this was his intention.
These people are not content to let The Shining rest as a mediocre horror film. Instead, they are determined to reveal what they believe is just beneath the surface. Bill Blakemore delves into why he believes the film is about the genocide of the American Indians. He points to the various paintings of Indians around the hotel, as well as cans of Calmut baking powder as proof. His explanations are painfully detailed. The repeated viewings of these five have yielded the discovery of a number of inconsistencies that are uncharacteristic for Kubrick. Chairs and various objects go missing between shots, and the pattern of the carpet even reverses at one point. All believe that it must have a deeper meaning.
While the film is entertaining, this is directly linked to how interesting the theories are. The more farfetched the theories, the more Room 237 lost me. Occasionally these ideas simply sound like the ramblings of conspiracy theorists. One such example is interviewee Jay Weidner’s belief that The Shining was actually Kurbrick’s confession regarding his involvement in the ‘faked’ moon landing. Weidner’s belief is that Kubrick filmed the ‘fake’ moon landing using many of the same techniques he includes in his films. He claims Kubrick left secret messages in The Shining that essentially claim responsibility for his involvement in this government cover-up. Talk about a confirmation bias!
Although some of the conclusions are dizzying in their leaps of logic, whether they are right or wrong, they will help you see The Shining in an entirely new light. Room 237 is as much about The Shining as it is about the obsession of finding hidden meaning in unlikely places. I can only wonder what Kubrick would think of some of these ridiculous yet strangely plausible interpretations of his work.