Review: Room 237
The Secrets of Room 237
20.10.2012 - I love horror films and Stanley
Kubrick's 1980 Stephen King adaptation The Shining is in
my all-time top 10. So Rodney Ascher's Room 237, a
leftfield documentary which explores the film's powerful appeal as
well as its layers of meaning, was always going to attract me.
Though Ascher's film will primarily attract the legions of fans
of The Shining, there's plenty for cinema buffs in
general, with some interesting analysis of film language and the
relationship between what the audience reads in a text and what the
author puts there. The film opens with a disclaimer: Kubrick and
his estate have nothing to do with any of this. I'd love to know
what he would have made of it all.
Room 237 looks at nine theories about hidden meanings
in the film that almost amount to conspiracy theories. Fanboy-types
have variously argued that The Shining is filled with
allusions to the genocide of American Indians; that it's an
allegory of the Holocaust; and that the film was Kubrick's obscure
means of informing us that he helped fake the Apollo moon landings.
Some of the theories, as you can imagine, are more compelling than
others. One of the interviewees says you can see Kubrick's face in
the clouds in a particular shot. Ascher helpfully provides the shot
in question with no Kubrick in sight, as the voice over says, "It's
hard to see, I may have to Photoshop it."
Ascher never appears in the film, even as an interviewer, and we
never see the subjects. Clips from the The Shining, along
with other Kubrick films, archival footage and some clever CGI
combine to create a highly subjective, highly visual
Although I'm a fan of The Shining, I had been mostly
oblivious to the many theories about its subtexts. Room
237 made me aware of things I hadn't noticed before: for
example, the typewriter Jack Torrance (Jack Nicholson) uses changes
colour in different scenes. That's very likely to be a deliberate
choice by Kubrick, although whether or not it's really a symbol of
the Holocaust, as one interviewee argues, is anyone's guess.
Another points out the Escher-like architecture that allows
Torrance's son to pedal his Big Wheel in circles but still arrive
on different floors.
Whether or not there are really hidden meanings imbedded in
The Shining, Ascher's film functions quite well as a
powerful tribute to a unique horror classic. Conspiracy or not,
Kubrick used his mastery of cinema to create an unforgettable
nightmare, knocking off us kilter with myriad oddities that
contribute to the foreboding sense of doom that pervade the film.
We'll never know, but watching the film, two things were very
clear: it's no surprise that Kubrick's singular genius inspires
such obsessive interest; and some people have watched this film too
many times. Just as Jack Torrance has always been at the Overlook
Hotel, Kubrick's film has entrapped some of its biggest fans.