Details: 102mins, United States, English
Synopsis: A subjective documentary exploring numerous theories about Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining and its hidden meanings. Featuring five interviewees who have studied Kubrick, conspiracy and the film at length.
Fact and fiction blend seamlessly in Kubrick fan doco.
Room 237 deconstructs in minute detail and with sly self-parody, a work that has divided film buffs, scholars and philosophers ever since its release.
I still wonder why Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining frightened me so profoundly. My parents, who suffered along with me during the six months of insomnia I suffered after seeing it, say I was too young to see my first horror movie in 1980. I was 13, and since I could only get a seat in the second row from the screen, the enormous images towered over me. I’ve always been disturbed by ‘family horror’, where loved ones turn on each other, though I don’t know whether that fear came before or after seeing The Shining (but if it was indeed the former, the film certainly didn’t help matters any...).
Rodney Ascher’s wonderfully wacky and vividly compelling clip-a-thon documentary goes a long way to explain why Kubrick’s work has such an impact. Ascher’s film uses the musings of a journalist, a playwright, a professor, a musician and a conspiracy theorist to reveal the clues and riddles hidden within Kubrick’s majestically labyrinthine puzzle. It seems that I wasn’t actually frightened by an axe-wielding caretaker, but rather I was spooked by the subconscious metaphors about the genocide of the American Indian, the Holocaust, and/or Kubrick’s thinly-veiled admission of his role in the faked Apollo 11 moon landing, and so on...
The title of the film references the haunted room at The Overlook Hotel where Jack Torrance (Jack Nicholson) pashes a zombie that he mistook for a naked hottie. Room 237 deconstructs in minute detail and with sly self-parody, a work that has divided film buffs, scholars and philosophers ever since its release. (It originally received mixed reviews but did well at the box-office.) Eschewing traditional on-camera talking heads, Ascher utilises clips from many films to give his work a language that speaks directly to the film’s fans.
As nutty as some of the theories are, Ascher presents them in respectful and entirely enthralling ways. Geoffrey Cocks, an academic and Kubrick expert, highlights the typewriter as the in-point for his theory that the film is a detailed commentary on Hitler’s extermination of the Jews. Blogger John Fell Ryan describes a special screening in which the film was played simultaneously backwards and forwards, and some of the resultant imagery is quite extraordinary. Journalist Bill Blakemore posits that the film is an essay on the white man’s systematic culling of Native Americans, and recalls the tagline on the European (and Australian) poster – “The tide of terror that swept across America is here” – as being a reference to the mass exploitation and near eradication of their existence.
Most compelling is author Jay Wiedner’s high-concept ruminations on Kubrick’s role in the US government’s alleged fake footage of the 1969 moon landing. One can’t help but giggle at the notion, though Ascher and Wiedner nevertheless construct a terrific argument.
Room 237 is the latest in a new wave of documentaries that reflect the aesthetics of YouTube ‘filmmakers’. The precise editing of well-researched footage, the use of slick graphics (crucial to playwright Juli Kearns argument that The Overlook is architecturally impossible) and the general sense of awe and wonder associated with discovering the hidden depths of a pop culture figurehead make it the best of its sort to date.
Though for some it may not conclusively prove that the theories are worthwhile conjecture, Room 237 does achieve two things: it honours the mind and talent of Stanley Kubrick, and reveals that I’m still as freaked-out by The Shining as I was as a boy. If I never see those freaky twins again, it’ll be too soon.
Watch Films Online
Films on SBS TV
SBS Film Guide to...
Celebrate Australian filmmaking with this home-grown season. Starts May 25.
A month of movies with an edge. Saturday nights in April.