Room 237 is a curious trip through the various theories which have developed in relation to Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining. Rodney Ascher’s debut in the field of documentary was originally intended as a short film but he was overwhelmed by the breadth of crackpot theories which centre on the horror classic. The participants have tried to understand this work by film’s ultimate perfectionist by trusting that if it is on-screen then Kubrick intended it to be seen and read closely.
The film itself mixes scenes from a number of other works by Kubrick, such as 2001: A Space Odyssey and Eyes Wide Shut, with close studies of particular scenes from The Shining. What becomes immediately apparent is that Kubrick really was a master of his craft. The audio is limited to the participants opining on the meaning of various items present in the mise-en-scéne.
It becomes immediately evident from Room 237 that there are a large number of people who have devoted considerable chunks of their lives to watching and re-watching The Shining. Dots have been joined which may amount to Kubrick faking the moon-landing, a commentary on the Holocaust and/or the genocide of Native Americans. Individually, each theory is fascinating. However, lumped together they are quite difficult to take seriously. The director puts his participants at the risk of mockery which is, perhaps, a little cruel considering the passion which each has for the subject.
Then again, The Shining has always been shrouded in controversy. The stories of Shelley Duvall’s hair loss, Stephen King’s displeasure and Kubrick’s obsessive re-takes are a core part of the film’s charm as a psychological horror. Room 237 plays on this aura and teases it into an absorbing documentary. It encourages viewers to re-engage with Kubrick’s filmography and to challenge their initial feelings on his work. Room 237 is released in the IFI and selected cinemas from 26 October 2012.