For those of us who have seen director Stanley Kubrick’s masterpiece adaptation of Stephen King’s ‘The Shining,’ we all know how unique, bizarre and often times confusing, the film can be. The film has been analyzed over and over by countless people, as most of Kubrick’s films has, in order to try and figure out the hidden meanings and potential subliminal messages the film contains. With ‘Room 237,’ director Rodney Ascher has created a documentary that presents us with a wide variety of theories on this subject, which range from believable to the somewhat of a stretch to the completely nonsensical. Essentially this movie review, is an analysis of a film which analyzes the analysis of film.
When I saw the trailer for ‘Room 237’ I was absolutely desperate to see it. The trailer was actually kind of creepy, and was an incredibly good marketing technique, as it really didn’t show you anything at all other than suggestive imagery and therefore it let you form a preconceived idea of what the film would be. Going in I was expecting the best documentary I’ve ever seen. That’s not quite what I got, but it was definitely a valiant effort.
The film presents us with close to ten intertwined theories about the hidden meanings behind Kubrick’s masterpiece. Each is presented by a different individual, but we do not ever see these people, just hear their voices over the top of footage of the film, and other Kubrick films. It is an interesting technique, which at first I found a bit strange. However, as the film went on it became clear that this was done for a reason, as Ascher doesn’t want us to see these people. When we look at someone, we become biased to their theories based on ow they look. He wants us to judge these theories based only on the theory itself. This makes for a very interesting dynamic, as we are place in the sometimes embarrassing decision where we have to judge these theories, and at times you start to believe one. Then it throws in something that is completely ridiculous and you feel like the film is making fun of you. It’s one of those things where you decide to completely keep your thoughts to yourself, in fear of sounding stupid to your friends.
It is just that which makes this film such great fun. The presentation itself is pretty old fashioned, and a little dull, but it is the food for though that provides the entertainment. As these theories are presented, you find yourself getting sucked into them and attached to ideas. Thinking back to when you saw the film yourself. When an idea seems to make sense, like the suggestion that the film is about the genocide of the Native American Indians, you smile in happiness, like a kid who just solved the easter egg treasure hunt. Then another theory, such as the moon landing connection, will be so completely out there and ridiculous, but presented with such sincerity, that you will laugh hysterically. Either way, it is pure entertainment for those who are level headed. For those who are keen to jump down every rabbit hole, I can only imagine how much fun the film could be.
The thing that you have to realize when watching ‘Room 237’ that the director’s intention is not to make you believe any of these theories. They aren’t HIS theories, they are other people’s theories and he is presenting them to us. His intention is analyze the act of ‘critical analysis.’ My interpretation of his film was that, when you look at something long enough, and with predetermined ideas about what you want to see, you will more than likely see exactly what you were looking for. If you analyze every detail, of course you can find connections. Ever scene in a film has so many details, that there are so many puzzle pieces that people can force together, and our narrators certainly do so here. When I was thinking about writing this movie review, I knew that I wanted to mention one of the narrators in particular. Most of the ideas presented, no matter how insane, were at least well structured and thought out. This young fellow was literally just describing the scene and then making a sound, like he had revealed something to us. Not once did I figure out what that was.
“Oh, yeah like, see here, like the guy is like carrying that chair. Then we see Jack laugh. Then the scene pans out like that, and like, the guy like shows up again, carrying that same chair. Like, way too long later. Then Jack stands up. Like. Wow. Haha. Yeaaaaaah…..”
I mean, it’s hard to tell if this is supposed to be comedy or not, but I was literally laughing out loud. It is really great fun, mixed in with those theories that really do catch your attention as legit. It’s a nice mix of different feelings that keeps the film interesting, since each theory isn’t presented one after the other, but rather in a more disjointed way, hopping back and forth.
The film did have some negatives though. While I did enjoy it a lot, for a documentary about one subject, the 105 minute running time was a little long, and doesn’t always maintain the interest level. Also, the lack of any people or real life footage can get a little repetitive at times as we see scenes from the film over and over again.
Also, the theories can get a little muddled at times, because some of the narrators voices sound a little similar, and we can’t always distinguish between each of them, and therefore we don’t always know what theory we are supposed to connect their points to. Maybe this is part of the presentation intentionally, to make us understand how thee theories are conceived See what just happened their. I tried to explain something that doesn’t make sense, by making up a theory on what the director MIGHT have been thinking. Looks like I’m guilty too.
Well, going in I was expecting a complete masterpiece, and the fact that it involved one of my favorite films, ‘The Shining’ I was even more excited. Then there is the fact that we do know that Kubrick paid attention to detail, so some of these theories might be true no matter how crazy we may think they are. I did not get a masterpiece, but what I did get was a fantastic and entertaining analysis of the way people watch films, and how critical analysis can get out of hand.
This is a great movie about movies, and what I learned from it is something between, ‘Stanley Kubrick is way, way smarter than the rest of us,’ and ‘sometimes a chair, is just a chair.’