Film Review: Room 237

Kubrick:Insinuation or Insanity? Film theorists analyze or, more accurately, overanalyze Stanly Kubrick’s seminal film The Shining.

click to enlarge “Here’s Johnny!” Kubrickphiles debate just about everything in the documentary Room 237.
“Here’s Johnny!” Kubrickphiles debate just about everything in the documentary Room 237.

Room 237  | B-


Stanley Kubrick was an obsessive filmmaker famous for his endless takes, rigorously composed images and meticulous attention to detail. But, while the subject matter of his movies varied wildly (this is the same man who made Dr. Strangelove, Barry Lyndon and Full Metal Jacket), his method and style remained eerily consistent.

It makes a twisted kind of sense that the celebrated director’s films would attract similarly obsessive fans; would-be detectives who sift through every frame of his work to unlock the cinematic secrets that we, less-dedicated viewers, have foolishly missed. For these folks, Kubrick’s 1980 horror The Shining is akin to Dan Brown’s “The Da Vinci Code,” a complicated work of art where every nuance and continuity error is an Easter egg of proof that their crackpot theory is true.

But, you know what? Sometimes a guy moving a table in the background is just a guy moving a table in the background.

Filmmaker Rodney Asher has assembled a quintet of film “theorists” who believe Kubrick’s big screen adaptation of Stephen King’s The Shining is densely packed with hidden symbols, puzzles, themes and confessions that eclipse the novel’s genre trappings. Though none of these “experts” are actually seen in the documentary (a perplexing and ill-advised choice by Asher), they each provide a running commentary for their cinematic doctrines, explaining to us what The Shining is really about. Think of it as a big screen podcast for cine-nerds.

For ABC News correspondent Bill Blakemore, probably the most credible of the kooks, The Shining is an elaborate metaphor for the genocide of Native Americans, with Jack Nicholson standing in for a white patriarchal society driven mad by the loss of its power in an increasingly multicultural nation. It’s nonsense, of course, but Blakemore would probably earn a respectable grade in a freshman semiotics class.

Albion College professor Geoffrey Cocks also sees genocidal themes in Kubrick’s scare-fest, but more of the Nazi persuasion. While his chuckle-inducing assertions that the movie is an artistic reaction to Hitler’s “Final Solution” are flimsy, at best, his passion is anything but that.

So, too, is play wright Juli Kearns’ claim that the movie is a funhouse expression of architectural and spatial puzzles. Though it’s doubtful Kubrick made the film as an expression of his artistic bankruptcy (Kearn professes that he was admitting that he had nothing left to say as a filmmaker), her observations are a fascinating rabbit hole of meta-commentary and symbolism.

Musician John Fell Ryan takes that self-referential hall of mirrors to a whole new level as he superimposes The Shining over itself, running it both forward and backward to reveal meaningful synchronicities. The result is akin to watching the The Wizard of Oz while listening to Pink Floyd’s “Dark Side Of The Moon.” You’ll witness plenty of weird connections if you look hard enough, but believing any were intentional requires a special kind of delusional thinking.

The award for rapturous lunacy, however, goes to Jay Weidner, who professes with no uncertainty that The Shining is Kubrick’s code-filled confession that he helped to fake the Apollo 11 moon landing. It’s here that Asher’s movie begins to feel like one of Christopher Guest’s mockumentaries as Weidner offers up ever more desperate “proof” of his asinine theories.

Room 237’s cinematic deep dive into fringe obsessiveness isn’t for everyone, however. Asher’s approach is to simply let the oddballs speak for themselves, which limits both its appeal and insight. Instead of an Errol Morris-style inquiry into overzealous fandom, the doc is merely a series of narrated freeze-frames, footage comparisons, and snippets from other films to illustrate (and sometimes take cheap shots at) the theories in play. For cineastes, it’s an amusing example of how so many people can extract so many meanings from a single film. For others it’ll be an exercise in tedium.

In the end, Room 237 is an extended riff of the “Paul is dead” variety. (For those unfamiliar, conspiracy nutters once studied the covers of Abbey Road and Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, and listened to “Revolution No. 9” for evidence that Paul McCartney had died in a car crash and had been replaced by a look-alike.) mt

Cast includes: Jay Weidner, Bill Blakemore, John Fell Ryan, Geoffrey Cocks, Juli Kearns and Buffy Visick. Directed by Rodney Ascher. Rated NR. Run time of 104 min.

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