“I would not think of quarrelling with your interpretation nor offering any other, as I have found it always the best policy to allow the film to speak for itself.” – Stanley Kubrick
Stanley Kubrick’s legendary adaptation of Stephen King’s horror The Shining may be over thirty years old, but due to the director’s fastidious approach his films are subject to eternal debate, speculation and mystery. Rodney Ascher’s documentary explores the numerous theories about the hidden meanings within Kubrick’s visionary masterpiece.
Before approaching the film in question Ascher identifies the importance of explaining the legendary director’s renowned style. Paying particular attention to Kubrick’s incredible precision, with reference to the repetitive takes during production (Kubrick would often repeat takes of even the most simple shots up to one hundred times), the documentarian makes it clear to those unfamiliar with Kubrick’s oeuvre that there is little possibility of a continuity error. This decision is beneficial as it creates universal understanding that everything within a Kubrick frame is there for a reason and justifies the bold claims that are being made by the theorists who have dissected the film.
In showcasing the numerous theories Ascher segments his documentary into nine sections, with each one focussing on a different subject that highlights hidden clues that hold the key to an overall thematic allegory. While the iconic Room 237 lies at the centre of the film, Ascher’s documentary explores many other elements of Kubrick’s film from the hotel’s impossible floor plan that anchors to the metaphor of a maze to underlying autobiographical subtexts that are linked to the great director’s personal life.
The ideas the theorists introduce are inventive, thought-provoking, but often ludicrous. They focus so intently on far-fetched symbolism, break scenes down frame-by-frame and even watch the film in reverse that most audiences will find it hard to acknowledge where they are coming from. And at times they are certainly clutching at straws – there is no way I’ll ever be convinced that Kubrick’s face can be seen in the clouds – but just as their claims are seemingly impossible they present an essential piece of evidence, so blatant and unmistakable that you have second thoughts and begin questioning your own opinions.
But what makes Room 237 such an impressive documentary is that it neither forces the ideas upon its audience nor asks them to accommodate them. Ascher’s motive is to present the continuing debates and leave his audience to generate their own opinions. Though some will be put off by the intense analyses, most will be motivated to re-watch The Shining with this documentary as the perfect accompaniment. You’ll never see The Shining in the same way again and when you come to watch it you can unearth what it is to you; a condemning of America’s westward expansion and Manifest Destiny? An exploration of Nazi Germany and the Holocaust because of a recurring reference to the number 42? Or Kubrick’s confession as the director of a “faked” Apollo 11 moon landing?
Seen as part of the 48th Chicago International Film Festival