Currently available on-demand via iTunes, Amazon Instant, etc., is a documentary entitled Room 237. The concept of Room 237 is unique since it simply presents the theories/interpretations of five subjects regarding Stanley Kubrick’s 1980 horror classic, The Shining. In order, the theories are:
- The Shining is about the Holocaust.
- The Shining is about the U.S. Government’s mistreatment of Native Americans.
- The Shining is a re-telling of the mythological tale Theseus and the Minotaur.
- The Shining is meant to be seen forwards and backwards simultaneously on a single projector.
- The Shining is about Stanley Kubrick’s involvement in the faking of the moon landing.
Before watching Room 237, I felt that I had to re-watch The Shining in preparation. I hadn’t seen the film since 10th grade; when I saw it, I was quite scared, but even more confused. My viewing on Thursday backed up that feeling, as there are elements of the story—as well as images in it—that are beautifully enigmatic. The setting of the Overlook Hotel also reinforces this feeling. The hotel is big, strange, and boasts a layout that makes little sense. The Shining is scary, but in a way that is divorced from typical horror-film techniques. The shocking images of leaking blood and naked, scarred women provide jolts, but they are less terrifying than the sense of dread oozing from every Big Wheel ride and marital argument. Even if Jack Nicholson overacts at times, he creates a sense of paranoia and unpredictability that really works for the film. This is the strength of The Shining. Not only does isolation affect the Torrances, but it affected me, as well. Even watching on my laptop, The Shining’s solitary yet expansive universe feeds into a mysterious atmosphere that very few films achieve. That is why, despite the film’s iffy last twenty minutes, The Shining deserves both its lofty reputation and the Room 237 treatment.
As for Room 237, it is undeniably fascinating. Director Rodney Ascher’s stance is neutral, as he never shows the faces of the interpreters and points to all of the evidence that they cite, both from The Shining and other media. The woman behind Theory 3 even presents her computer-drawn map of the Overlook Hotel as evidence for her claim. The explanations are gripping and present countless trivia facts about the film as well as about Kubrick, even if the theories are silly at times. Yet some of them make sense and account for the countless dissolves, odd posters, and mysterious windows. However, Room 237 isn’t only about The Shining. It is instead more of an ode to a new kind of movie fandom that only became possible with the advent of DVD and Blu-Ray. These new formats allow for easier access to films so that one can dissect a single film obsessively, to the degree that they catch details that even master filmmakers like Kubrick probably took for granted. The theories presented in Room 237 seem far-fetched, but if people want to interpret The Shining in such ways, that is perfectly fine and speaks highly to the ambition and power of Kubrick’s film. It also makes for a great documentary that is catnip for fans of The Shining and a concept that could be replicated using other cinematic classics.