Room 237 is a feature-length video essay about theories and hidden messages buried inside Stanley Kubrick’s masterpiece The Shining. The ideas are presented without commentary from director Rodney Ascher. We hear the people behind the concepts lay out what they think but they’re never seen. What we do see while they blab are either examples from The Shining itself or clips from other films. This compilation of footage is quite impressive on both a technical and a practical level. The editing smooths out the disparate ideas by presenting what looks like solid evidence. It’s a sly bit of knowing propaganda. The footage consists of stock elements as well as clips from a varied selection of films like Apocalypto, Schindler’s List, Creepshow and Wolf. Clearing all the rights must have been as difficult as culling it all together.
All of this is used not to convince you, but to show you how some people interact with cinema. One person is obsessed with continuity errors (or are they?), another with numbers (2x3x7=42!), and one with the Native American symbolism. Some theories are a little more convincing than others usually because the logic leap isn’t so gargantuan. One lady swears a poster of a skier in the background is actually a minotaur and it doesn’t get any less insane from there. But some ideas about Kubrick’s matching dissolves and the forward/backward imagery (red rum!) don’t sound too far-fetched. Most would chalk it up to Kubrick making a very layered and supremely well-crafted film without jumping to any further conclusions. But the film does point out that the act of observing does affect the thing being observed.
Assuming a lot about Kubrick is the crux of a number of theories. I wouldn’t put a lot past the man but his genius wasn’t about fucking with you but making great movies. But try telling that to people who see faces in clouds and doubt the moon landing. It’s a fascinating and frustrating exercise. It goes on a little too long as the ideas lose momentum. Only having five contributors doesn’t help and the piece lacks structure despite being in nine parts. Part of the message is encoded in the presentation, but it keeps the focus narrow. It’s easy to understand why Ascher avoids showing the theorists, but a broader understanding of them could have benefitted the film. A behind-the-scenes look at The Shining with Jack Nicholson interviews and others could have made for some interesting subversion as well. Still, what it says about movie watching is important and not to be dismissed even if the conjectures within are nonsense.