Conspiracy theories and opinions run amok in Rodney Ascher’s documentary, Room 237 (2012). In great detail, Ascher interviews nine contributors who have spent years analyzing and deciphering Stanley Kubrick’s masterpiece The Shining (1980). From people who simply try to piece together the illusionary hotel’s surroundings to messages Kubrick may have been secretly trying to tell his audience, each contributor to the story has a different approach to the genius of Kubrick’s vision.
We are all aware that Kubrick is regarded as a genius director simply for being possibly the most manic and controlling director of his time. Therefore, people assume every detail, from a missing chair to a ski poster in the background, has meaning the director deemed was required. Every colour, sound, frame and (Jack Nicholson) eyebrow is open for analysis.
In Room 237, each conspirator grasps for a reason to make The Shining an even better film. Several of the commentators stated, that upon their initial viewing of The Shining, they had just seen a classic film, but sensed something was missing. It took another few, or sometimes hundreds, of viewings to pinpoint what they couldn’t comprehend in their original viewing. This is when the conspiracy theories and, sometimes even, plausible opinions begin to surface.
As noted in the documentary, Kubrick took certain liberties to instill his own vision into Stephen King’s novel. He changed aspects involving so many key aspects of the original book, that you can understand why King was upset. Therefore, again due to Kubrick’s controlling reputation, it’s each of these changes that the commentators rely on most when making their claims. Some conspiracies are not so far fetched, like the hotel’s layout being in such a way that it cannot be possible. There are also some ideas or theories that are borderline mental. For instance, that Kubrick was responsible for directing the original moon landing and he plants, time and time again, hints in the film to prove it. Room 237’s director uses these commentator’s voices mostly for voice-overs allowing the audience to actually witness the instance in the film that is being described. To great affect I might add.
One by one, another contributor greets us and discusses what they believe Kubrick was trying to communicate. Was Kubrick trying to say the child was molested or was he simply trying to sneak comedic bits into the foreground so it’d look like Nicholson was aroused? These details are all brought up with convincing proof, spun around and around, until you’ve lost your room key and forgot which floor you are on.
As a whole, the sum of the parts makes the documentary an interesting viewing. Especially for the portions when they go into such detail by showing the hotel’s halls and mazes and the research Kubrick put into the film. However, once it begins to lean heavily on a couple of wild conspiracy theories the film begins to lose some luster. Personally, I think those that create these conspiracy theories, such as the current Boston Massacre theory or the fake moon landing (to only name a couple), are people who either cannot accept the truth or they have an ulterior motive.
Overall, the one thing that is not debatable is that The Shining remains, and will forever be, one of the greatest horror films of all time. For so many people to continue to vest so much energy into the film after all these years only proves it worth. I’d recommend watching The Shining prior to watching this documentary, then again after the documentary. Maybe you’ll see something nobody else has.