Room 237 (2012)
Director: Rodney Ascher
Starring: Bill Blakemore, Geoffrey Cocks, Juli Kearns, John Fell Ryan, Jay Weidner
Rodney Ascher's Room 237 (2012) is billed as a documentary about theories surrounding Stanley Kubrick's 1980 film The Shining. In reality it is more of a documentary about how subjective of an art form film can be. The film focuses a lot on how we bring our own biases into the films we see and experience something completely different than someone else watching the same film.
The Shining is probably the perfect subject for such a documentary. It isn't as obviously layered with subtext as something like Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey. We've all heard the stories of how meticulous Kubrick was on the set of The Shining, sometimes demanding hundreds of takes of the same shot. With so much attention put into the details of the movie, it is hard to believe he wasn't trying to say something with it.
For the most part, the theories presented in the film are pretty ludicrous but that helps to show how subjective the art form can be. Each of the people interviewed in Room 237 presents a different view of what they saw when they watched The Shining. Some make more sense than others, but they all provide just enough evidence for the viewer to understand why they have this theory. Even when the theories are completely insane, the film makes you want to believe they are true, if only for a moment.
The most outlandish of the theories presented in the film is that The Shining is Stanley Kubrick's coded confession that he was responsible for filming the faked moon landing. A lot of this theory relies on how The Shining walks the line between truth and fiction. There are some more blatant clues presented in the film as well but I don't want to give everything away and take the enjoyment of seeing the film away from you.
The film also presents two somewhat similar theories that the film is about either the genocide of the American Indians or about The Holocaust. These theories make a lot more sense than the moon landing theory but both still require a bit of a stretch to fit in with the film. Another theorist points out that there is a lot of Minotaur and maze imagery in the film but really doesn't explain any over arching meaning behind this imagery showing up. Unless of course The Shining is actually about the genocide of Minotaurs.
To me, the only theory that really completely works is the theory that Kubrick intentionally added continuity errors to the film and purposely made the Overlook set have an impossible layout. There are several of these continuity errors through-out the film and considering how meticulous Kubrick was, it makes sense that many of these were done intentionally. Also, as we explore the Overlook Hotel during the movie, there are several places where the layout doesn't make any sense. For example, a window looks outside even though it is in a place where there should be a hallway on the other side of the wall.
This theory doesn't necessarily present us with any deeper meaning in the film but it does explain why the film gives the audience a feeling of complete unease before strange things start to happen. It is almost as if your mind is picking up on these inconsistencies even though you may now be aware of them. From the beginning of the film, The Shining has always made me feel on edge and uncomfortable. I wouldn't doubt that Kubrick intentionally set things up in this way to add to that feeling of unease.
Any Kubrick fan or any fan of The Shining would probably enjoy seeing the theories presented in this film. However, anyone interested in film theory in general would be fascinated by the way this film presents us with so many different theories about The Shining. I certainly enjoyed it and it put me in the mood to watch The Shining again to see if I could see anything these people saw in the film.