Review: 'Room 237'


Once upon a time, visionary director Stanley Kubrick turned Stephen King’s The Shininginto a horror movie starring Jack Nicholson. As the movie’s Wikipedia entry states, Kubrick was limping after the failure of Barry Lyndon and looking to make something that was “commercially viable as well as artistically fulfilling.” It wasn’t very viable or fulfilling at the time (a modest profit at the box office, middling early reviews) but history has been very kind to the 1980 film. It’s become particularly ingrained in pop culture; I suspect most people under the age of 30 believe Jack Nicholson came up with (or at least popularized) “Here’s Johnny!”

And that’s about it. The end … right? Not according to Room 237.

Room 237 posits that The Shining is one of the densest pieces of cinema ever created. It’s practically an insult to take in the film as it seems, as the story of a father and husband who goes mad and tries to kill his family. Stanley Kubrick was too smart to tell such a simple story, they say. It has to be something more, something deep and serious and important.

A poster of a downhill skier on the wall is actually a minotaur, implying that Jack Torrance represents the mythical beast and the hedge maze is a labyrinth.

A lingering shot of a key in a lock is meant to point your eye towards the words “ROOM No” on the chain. Rearrange those capitalized letters and you’ve (kinda) got MOON, which mixes and mingles with Danny’s spaceship sweatshirt and 2001: A Space Odyssey to imply a great deal of things about Kubrick’s adventures in mock space exploration.

It’s also probably a commentary on the Holocaust and/or the destruction of the Native American way of life.

There are a startling amount of theories on what The Shining is, and Room 237 certainly lets them all breathe. With five commentators, nine segments and 102 minutes, there’s more than enough room to examine how hairpieces, floor plans and tricycle routes all factor into Kubrick’s ultimate message. Or messages.

This is a lot more enjoyable than it sounds, especially because even the most intriguing ideas eventually go off the deep end. More than a few times, I laughed outloud as several strong bits of evidence were followed by a very outlandish and irrational proclamation. And while director Rodney Ascher must believe that something besides commercialism fueled this movie, he tellingly did not edit out casual interruptions during conversations with his theorists. Is he humanizing the speakers, or just letting some of the air out of their increasingly extravagant rants?

But those sorts of questions are for post-film chats. Fans of cinema and/or craziness will find it best to let the suppositions flow like wine. As the opening credits come to a close, one theorist notes, Stanley Kubrick’s face is visible in the clouds. “That’s a tough one to see,” he admits, but trust him, it’s there.

It’s not, of course, but it’s kinda fun to look. And while not every movie should be deconstructed and analyzed for all eternity, Room 237 makes a potentially tedious mess of ramblings into something wholly entertaining.