Room 237
Dissecting The Shining

Watching Room 237 is like listening to the late night radio talk shows where listeners call in with outlandish conspiracy theories that at first sound ridiculous, only to progressively make more sense the longer you listen.  The movie that is called a documentary, but isn’t really, dissects legendary director Stanley Kubrick’s 1980 horror movie The Shining from the perspective of five or six unseen narrators who have seemingly spent their entire lives poring over the movie looking for hidden meaning.  The result is a fascinating analysis of a movie that definitely appears to be more than it seems.

If you are looking for an explanation of The Shining’s plot, you have come to the wrong place.  That’s what I expected going in, but Room 237’s search for hidden meanings in the film goes much deeper.   One theorist contends that the movie is really a metaphor for the massacre of the Native American people as the country strove to move west.  Another suggests that it is ultimately about the Minotaur at the center of the labyrinth.  A third even suggests that The Shining was Kubrick’s subliminal attempt to admit that he helped stage the Moon landing.

Danny in Room 237All of these theories sound crazy at first (“I looked at the skier and I realized that it wasn’t a skier at all; it was a Minotaur”), but as the movie digs deeper and theorists further explain their thought processes, you really start to buy into it all; just watch when Danny stands up wearing that Apollo 11 sweater!

The movie’s director and editor Rodney Ascher does well not to ever put these theorists on camera.  We only hear their voices and as we do, it is hard to imagine anything other than them sitting alone in a dark room illuminated only by the image of The Shining playing against the wall.  Their voices almost sound as if they left their theories as messages on the director’s answering machine.

While we hear these theories being cleverly woven together, on screen we see the actual movie The Shining, mixed with a few other film clips—mostly Kubrick films—that help to get the point across.  These images are constantly slowed down or frozen with certain parts of the screen being highlighted to match up with what we are hearing on the soundtrack.  Occasionally, diagrams and maps are used.  This is most effective when one of the theorists uses the film’s many tracking shots—mostly of Danny riding his big wheel through the halls—to map the Overlook Hotel.  What we learn is that the hotel is no less labyrinthine than the hedge maze that stands on its grounds.  The hotel is a maze of passages and possibly a stand-in for the human brain.  No wonder guys like Jack would go insane.

One of the most fascinating sequences in Room 237 comes when one of theorists points out that The Shining actually has a similar effect when played backwards as it does when it’s played forward. To support his statement, the movie overlays the film playing in reverse on top of the film moving forward.  What we see is staggering as so many of the images seem to perfectly align and give the theorists plenty more ammo with which to work.  My guess is that this is just a weird coincidence and that any number of movies would have a similar effect if they were treated the same, but it is fascinating nonetheless.

Whether you buy into the theories or not, this entire movie is fascinating.  I’ve never been one to dig too deep into my movies, but there are obviously some people who do and take it very seriously. It’s remarkable to learn just how much thought and time some people will put into one single movie and I could listen to their theories for hours.

I would recommend watching The Shining first, then watching this film.  After which, I’m sure you’ll be compelled to go back and watch The Shining again.  I know I was.

Room 237 is not rated.  The Shining is an R-rated movie and much of the graphic content from that movie is seen in this film, even if it may lack the same shocking effect with the narration running over it.

Courtesy of a local publicist, Jeff received a review copy of Room 237.