Film Review: “Room 237” Offers Few Insights Into Stanley Kubrick’s “The Shining”
Room 237 is almost exactly what I thought it would be. I had huge reservations about seeing it, as The Shining is one of my favorite films and Stanley Kubrick is one of my all-time favorite directors.
I have seen all manner of youtube videos proposing some sort of connections to the Illuminati or Freemasons or some such nonsense. In Room 237, we are shown a list of different interpretations and explanations for some of the more enigmatic elements of The Shining.
The numerous allusions to genocide and historical violence are the most overt. While these connections were entertaining, it was hard not to laugh when one observer touted Kubrick’s subliminal admission of involvement in NASA’s moon landing hoax as one of the film’s “underlying themes.” While interesting by itself, there’s little evidence that this subtext was really present in The Shining.
What I enjoyed most was the level of mind-blowing detail that went into purposefully confusing the audience and the subtle allusions to various elements of The Shining. Having seen the film on multiple occasions, it is hard to delve into all of these things in a single viewing. For instance, the impossible geometry of the hotel stood out almost immediately.
On the other hand, such recurring cinematic motifs as disappearing furniture, changing colors, etc., revealed themselves in repeated viewings. However, far from suggesting real-world conspiracies, they were most likely just tricks on the late director’s part intended to frighten his audience. The real terror lies in more plausible analyses on the part of several of Room 237’s narrators.
What struck me as most intriguing was the notion of “pastness,” or the idea that all things that have happened should be studied. Furthermore, when the student is aware of the variables, he/she – like Danny in the film – can avoid the eternal recurrence of unfavorable pasts. There is extensive talk of the Holocaust, as well as the slaughter of Native Americans, the latter of which is a major visual motif in The Shining.
Room 237 would have benefited from more of this type of analysis. To be sure, it is present, but only briefly mentioned and subsequently discarded in favor of some ridiculous theories such as the aforementioned connection to the Apollo 11 landings. Although some may enjoy a good conspiracy theory now and again, The Shining is already loaded with interesting imagery and allegory. Why muddle about with nonsense?
Worse, while the filmmakers seemed to grasp editing quite well – even giving us a superimposed version of The Shining playing backwards on top of The Shining playing forward, to interesting effect – they seemed to have forgotten their cameras. Not a single person that is interviewed shows their face. Viewers have no connection to the disembodied voices talking about The Shining with such authority. Even though continuously showing clips from a film that has top-notch cinematography and camera presence may seem like a good idea, it really does not work in this context.
Filmgoers should skip this one. It offers little insight and leaves the viewer wanting to watch The Shining again. Anyone considering Room 237 would be better served watching or re-watching its outstanding source material. At least Kubrick had the good sense to bring a camera.