The Shining, as we all know, is Stanley Kubrick’s mea culpa for his part in faking the video footage of the moon landings “ an expression of the angst he felt about lying to his wife about what he had done and a howl of rage about the difficulties he found in complying with government orders and keeping the whole thing secret. This is clear because at one point in The Shining, the child Danny wears a jumper with a picture of the Apollo 11 rocket on it and because, on the key of Room 237, the words ˜Room No’ are on display. And the only two words that these letters can spell out are ˜Moon’ and ˜Room’.
What’s that, you don’t agree with this interpretation? Well don’t worry because there are plenty more where it came from, and just a few of them are offered up in Room 237, or to give it its full title: Room 237 Being an Enquiry into The Shining in Nine Parts. Since its release in 1980, The Shining has enjoyed the status of one of the finest horror movies ever made, but what you might not know is that it is also one of the most dissected and theorised about films ever as well, with academics, film studies students and movie enthusiasts arguing at length about hidden meanings and subtexts that lurk throughout.
Room 237 gives five Shining obsessives the opportunity to put forward their various theories and interpretations of the movie. They do this in voice over only while on screen clips from The Shining appear to illustrate their points, and scenes from other Kubrick films are slotted in to keep things ticking over. It’s a very simple, but effective device. There’s no interviewer voice and we never see the individuals in question and only find out about them what they choose to reveal in their dissection of the film. Despite being so simple, this device is never a hindrance to the film, which skips along at a pleasing pace.
Sometimes it’s hard to tell whether the film is gently mocking these individuals who have studied the film to minute length, or if the director, Rodney Ascher gives any credence to the theories put forward. Importantly though, it never feels mean-spirited, instead it feels more like a film that revels in the richness of The Shining and the way it allows for these various interpretations. It also feels, more generally, like a celebration of fine film-making and the way that movies can create these discussions and huge differences of opinion, whether over a post-cinema drink or via rival theses.
Arguably, Room 237 says as much about its contributors as it does Kubrick’s work “ and the way we in general find meaning in art that suits our needs. Essentially, we will believe what we want to believe. Some of these contributors seem to want to be the one to unlock the puzzle of the film, to be able to say ˜Aha! I worked it out “ it was me!’ One half-heartedly mentions post-modern theory that allows us to interpret films how we choose, regardless of the director’s intentions, but generally most seem to believe Kubrick has laden The Shining with clues for them to find. And while some of the things they claim to have found are barmy, other theories seem far more plausible and genuinely interesting as food for thought. After all, Kubrick was a notoriously meticulous director, so perhaps nothing is accidental. Or perhaps people are building elaborate theories on continuity errors.
Room 237 is an enjoyable, absorbing film in its own right, but it will almost certainly have the additional effect of making you want to watch The Shining again, and then maybe watch it backwards afterwards (no, really). It’s also interesting that the subtext to Room 237 is the theory that Kubrick faked his own death in order to have peace from the tabloids. I’ve definitely spotted various clues throughout the film that point to this being the case. Not really, just kidding. Or am I?