Who knew? When Stanley Kubrick was standing on the set of his heralded horror “classic” The Shining, he had a lot more on his mind than creating a faithful adaptation of the beloved Stephen King novel. Indeed, in the opinion of a few obsessive cinephiles (who become the subject of this provocative documentary), he was really more concerned about Greek mythology, the Holocaust, the genocide of the American Indian, and his own part in the faking of the Apollo Moon Landing.
Room 237 is a movie about movies, specifically, how we see and react to the cinematic art form. While it’s the main focus here, Kubrick’s fascinating, flawed experiment in terror could easily be any of a dozen titles which drive fans to free associate. In this case, the always elusive auteur and his equally ambiguous film become the jumping off point for a series of increasingly bizarre interpretations. While some make a bit of sense (like the Minotaur images, which require misreading a skiing poster), others offer more insight into their creator than the man behind the lens.
Take the most provocative of the five main theories — that The Shining is Kubrick’s mea culpa for faking footage for the moon landing. Jay Weidner, who never appears onscreen (none of the interview subjects are pictured) argues that, since 2001: A Space Odyssey looks and feel scientifically accurate, NASA came to Kubrick to make the Apollo 11 mission equally realistic. Oh, we made it to the lunar surface all right, but the film contends that the director was responsible for everything we see — and the hints of same are scattered throughout The Shining. Danny wears an Apollo 11 sweater. The carpet designs resemble rockets. Tang is featured prominently in the background, and perhaps most significantly, the infamous room number from the book (217) was changed to reflect the location of the soundstage Kubrick shot everything on.
Or how about the whole Holocaust argument? Professor Geoffrey Cocks sites sources which state that Kubrick wanted to make a movie about Hitler’s genocidal atrocities but couldn’t come to terms with the “evil” inherent in the subject. So instead of tackling the Final Solution, he made The Shining and scattered his views throughout, the most important of which is the number 42. That was the year the Holocaust “officially” began. It is also the number of baseball bat swings Jack takes at Wendy, as well as another of Danny’s sweater images. Even a disappearing sticker of Dopey the dwarf on a child’s bedroom door apparently alerts the audience of the “awakening” to such unimaginable horrors (and let’s not forget the abundant eagle imagery…).
This is what Room 237 is all about. It’s the result of too much time thinking about something that begs for such in-depth analysis. Kubrick was always a bit cheeky in how he handled narrative. He presented enigmas and asked that you accept them as plot, or character, or context. Here, the obsessives who’ve watched The Shining over and over again think they have it all figured out. Yet there are some interpretative leaps here. Yes, Calumet baking powder is featured prominently and the Overlook has a very distinct Native American decor. Does that mean Kubrick was really meditating on the white man’s destructive of the West?
As fascinating as it is frustrating, Room 237 is a byproduct of a technological era where movies have become personal artifacts, not just pieces of the popular culture. It’s an amazing experience, one guaranteed to give you much filmic food for thought — as well as reasons to scoff.
The Blu-ray includes deleted scenes, a commentary track from an expert who originally declined to be interviewed for the film, alternate trailers, and more.