‘Room 237’ (2013) Movie Review

Room 237 movie review
Photo: IFC Midnight

NOTE: This review was first published on May 22, 2012 after I saw Room 237 at the Cannes Film Festival. I am reprinting it today as it opens in limited theaters this weekend.

Rodney Ascher’s Room 237 presents “evidence” according to a variety of conspiracy theorists saying Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining was actually a commentary on the Holocaust. No wait, the genocide of the American Indian. Hold up again, it’s Kubrick commenting on his involvement in the faking of the moon landing… among other things.

To that point, before walking in to see Room 237, if you had told me the faking of the moon landing would actually begin to sound somewhat plausible by the end of the film I would have told you you were crazy. But between everything presented here in this fun, often ridiculous, documentary the labyrinth that is The Shining is certainly proven not to be a straight line.

Instead of showing the faces of those presenting their theories, Ascher uses footage from past films to tell each of the stories, but none more than Kubrick’s films themselves as all the interviewees are kept off screen.

With that in mind, Room 237 opens with Tom Cruise as Bill Harford in Eyes Wide Shut. He stops in front of a theater where Ascher has digitally inserted posters promoting the overseas arrival of The Shining. The poster reads, “The tide of terror that swept across America IS HERE!” The voice over asks, “What does this mean? ‘The tide of terror.’ Stanley Kubrick controlled all levels of marketing, what could this possibly mean?”

Through a variety of connections — some loose, some more substantial — the genocide of the American Indians becomes one of several possibilities posed by these theorists as they present their stories. Ascher’s goal here isn’t so much to convince you any one of these theories is right, but instead an attempt to open the door of possibility and prove what a master Kubrick was. You’ll begin questioning whether the missing chair, the missing Dopey sticker or the typewriter that changes color was a continuity error or intentional and as soon as you convince yourself it’s one thing, you’ll begin doubting your conviction.

If anything, this is a field day for Kubrick fans, but it also speaks to the power of conversation, the reason movie websites exist and why comment sections can frequently become more and more interesting. As we drill down to the finer details in films what bubbles to the surface? What clues can be found to find greater understanding?

For people that don’t think in these terms, or would prefer to only look at the surface level of film, they’ll probably say, “You’re over-thinking it.” As anyone that has seen a Stanley Kubrick film will admit, you can’t over think it (that is unless you think you are seeing a minotaur in a skiing poster). The joy of film is in the exploration… for most film fans over-thinking comes with the territory.

Did I actually believe any of the theories posed by the collection of people Ascher assembled? I think there are parts of each that are most likely true, but I also don’t think any one of them is the end all statement the film was trying to make. I have no doubt that several of the ideas brought up by these people were considered by Kubrick in the making of the film, while others are likely tossed in there to mess with the audience. Either way, one thing is for certain, I don’t think I will ever watch the film the same way ever again and that is a good thing.


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