Some folks sure have a lot of time on their hands. That doesn’t make this documentary about the “hidden” meanings in Stanley Kubrick’s “The Shining” any less fascinating, but it certainly speaks volumes on just how far some will go to spot examples of metaphor in his work. Listen, I’m a Kubrickian. I’ve studied Stanley’s work, and I’ve seen all of his films multiple times(except for “Barry Lyndon”, just once so far). “2001: A Space Odyssey” is on my 5 favorite films ever list, and I’ve seen it on the big screen—as well attending revivals of things like “Killer’s Kiss” and “The Killing”. Stanley was exacting, obsessive and yes—a genius. Also, as much as I admire 1999’s “Eyes Wide Shut”, I will always consider it somewhat incomplete. Stanley suddenly passed away at 70—just four months before it was slated to open. And we all know he would’ve been tinkering with it right up until prints were delivered to theaters—because that was how Kubrick rolled. And we loved him for it. He even cut an epilogue scene from “The Shining” a week after it opened back in 1980. That being said, some of the theories offered up in “Room 237” are extremely interesting—and may even hold up to more in-depth investigation. Other theories are fun, but decidedly reaching. The remainder are simply bat-shit crazy. And so it goes.
“Room 237” is narrated individually by a cabal of “The Shining” fans who hope to convince the masses that the film is so much more than a plain old haunted hotel story. The theory about “The Shining” being a commentary on the genocide of Native Americans is the one that holds the most water with me. Part of what’s presented seems logical, pointed, and possibly intentional. Then, stuff like Kubrick loading “The Shining” with signifiers about him assisting NASA with faking the Apollo 11 moon landing has a goofy charm—mainly because that theory has been floating around for decades. The thinking goes that Kubrick released the powerfully realistic “2001: A Space Odyssey” in 1968, and the Apollo program—long a provider of fodder for conspiracy theorists—first landed on the moon in July of 1969. So, you may chuckle at the irony(others will say there’s no irony whatsoever)of little Danny from “The Shining” actually wearing an Apollo 11 sweater. And then there is the crackpot stuff. An innocent paper poster, that obviously shows a skier, is actually a minotaur(something to do with Kubrick using the hedge maze in the film…in other words, the mythological creature’s labyrinth)?! Also, the Holocaust innuendo seems just plain daffy—and it’s borderline offensive, too. And the mistaking of continuity issues(a missing chair against a wall, a different tie on an actor)is ludicrous. The contention that Kubrick personally arranged every can on a shelf is pretty nuts too. I can’t help but think that most of these people have never been to a film set. It’s an intense and hectic place. There is no time for this level of attention to minutiae—especially for the director. And Kubrick may be considered god-like to his legion of fans, but he’s only just a man. He’s not perfect. His films do contain mistakes.
Ample film footage is provided to “prove” the various theories correct. And I bet more than a few will be convinced. It makes for a very enjoyable watch—I don’t think director Rodney Ascher is attempting to convince as much as just trying to entertain with the outlandishness of it all. Plain and simple, the film works—but it’s not asking you to believe. I think many have missed that point. It also contains archival footage from every one of Stanley’s 13 features. Thoughtful homage? I think so…and I like it. And, btw, I suggest that everyone re-watch not only “The Shining” proper, but also Vivian Kubrick’s easily obtainable 35-minute making-of documentary on the film(it’s on most DVD releases). I just did, and it will further clarify for you that all of these theories can not possibly be based in reality. But you should enjoy “Room 237”, anyway. Just don’t take it too seriously. Grade: B+