You walk away with some possible hidden meanings of the film but ultimately with a strong desire to watch The Shining right away.
It has been over 30 years since Stanley Kubrick blessed cinema with his Stephen King adaptation of The Shining but many people are still debating what the hidden meanings behind the film are. That is where the documentary Room 237 by Rodney Ascher comes in to play. The documentary obsessively explores several different theories behind the film. Some seemed like far stretches but at the same time pointed out some interesting references to make their case. If you are infatuated with Stanley Kubrick or just simply love The Shining then you will no doubt find the documentary interesting.
The first thing you will probably noticed about the documentary is that it is done entirely with voice overs. None of the people talking or being interviewed are actually shown. Instead, everything that they are describing is used with source material, mostly scenes from The Shinning as well as other Kubrick films such as Eyes Wide Shut and 2001: A Space Odyssey. This makes for somewhat of an awkward experience that might be best described as unconventional.
One man (Bill Blakemore) is convinced that the film is largely about the genocide of the American Indians. He points out that there are many references to Indians in the film, from paintings on the wall to a baking powder can in the stock room that features an Indian on it. Then he later points out that The Shining mentions that the hotel was built on an Indian burial ground which could explain the famous blood from the elevator scene.
Jay Weidner explains that his background of being a historian with a focus in Germany has him to believe there was a lot of sub-text in the film that referenced the holocaust. This theory first came into his mind when he saw that Jack Nicholson’s typewriter was a German model. He mentions that it may seem arbitrary but brings up a good point saying that nothing in Kubrick’s film is arbitrary. Then seeing the number 42 appear in the film multiple times was the other big clue as it was the year the Nazi’s did a lot of terrible things.
One of my favorite topics that is examined is the little boy riding his tricycle. There are three different scenes in which the camera follows the little boy on his tricycle. The first one is a rather simple loop that is one continuous tracking shot. The second shot following riding is slightly more complex on the route that he takes before stopping to stare at Room 237. It is not a simple loop as before and he is on the second level of the hotel. The final shot of following him around is the most bizarre as it starts out on one level but then cuts to him riding upstairs that sort of links the previous shots together. The documentary explores more in depth meanings to what exactly could be happening metaphorically for the boy on those rides.
Conspiracy theories will love this film, in one theory someone links the Apollo 11 fake moon landings to the work of Kubrick. It seems a bit over the top but it was still fun to hear. The man describes how 2001: A Space Odyssey was funded by the government to ultimately stage the moon landing. He goes into some detail about how this relates to Kubrick not being able to tell his wife and linking that to The Shining. He points out that the boy had an Apollo 11 sweater on in the famous scene of the ball rolling up to him while he is playing. The theory comes to an end when he makes the argument that the real reason why Kubrick changed the room number from 217 in the book to 237 is that 237,000 miles has long thought to be the distance from earth to the moon.
What I can to realize from watching this documentary is that The Shining is so complex and ambiguous, it can really have an infinite amount of different sub-text and meanings behind it. If you look hard and close enough you could probably make a case for just about anything you want. I think that only speaks to how powerful, brilliant and complex of a film The Shining really is.
While Room 237 is a compelling documentary that searches for deep (sometimes too deep) hidden meanings behind the mastermind of Kubrick and his films, it does not offer anything but theories. These theories range from completely fascinating to borderline ridiculous. The film feels most like commentary you find on a special feature DVD. Though Room 237 definitely makes you appreciate Kubrick’s work, the documentary Stanley Kubrick: A Life in Pictures is a lot more effective. You walk away with some possible hidden meanings of the film but ultimately with a strong desire to watch The Shining right away.