Sundance 2012 Review: ROOM 237 Is Full of Crazy Theories About THE SHINING
Rodney Ascher's Room 237 is a documentary exploring many of the wild theories of hidden meaning in Stanley Kubrick's 1980 classic, The Shining. Told in nine segments, the documentary features voiceovers from different Shining fanatics and uses footage from Kubrick's movie to show examples of their conclusions.
You won't find any talking heads here. Instead, Room 237 employs a unique method of illustrating stories from the voiceover participants: it uses footage from other Kubrick films. Example time: early in the movie, one of the participants talks about the first time he saw The Shining, mentioning how he saw the poster and walked into a movie theater. While he's telling this story, we see footage of Tom Cruise from Eyes Wide Shut as he stares at the poster for The Shining outside of a movie theater and walks in. Get it? The motions of these random film characters don't always match what the storyteller is saying, but it's a really cool way to avoid making those interview sections drag. It's also used to illicit laughter from the audience. After one particularly strange assertion, the film cuts to Jack Nicholson's character in The Shining incredulously saying, "Anything you say, Lloyd. Anything you say." Ascher is totally aware of how bizarre some of his subjects' conjectures are, and acknowledges that to the audience by including this little wink as if to say, "Hey, this sounds as crazy to me as it does to you."
But even if Ascher didn't use this technique, I doubt anyone could find this film boring. The sometimes-insane-but-always-entertaining theories presented are captivating, and though a majority of them sound totally bonkers, occasionally someone brings up a point that makes sense. Personally, I love hearing people's opinions about film (especially if they're wacky) because it makes me analyze the movie in a way I wouldn't have on my own. Ever heard the theory that Ferris Bueller's Day Off takes place completely in Cameron Frye's head? Readings like that - ones that make you rethink what the entire film is doing and how it works - are my favorites, and Room 237 delivers those kinds of ideas in spades.
I don't want to spoil many of these assertions because it's so much fun to hear them in the moment, but I want to give you a taste of what these people are talking about. They touch on the conspiracy theory of Kubrick shooting fake footage of the first moon landing, citing weird facts like room 237 in the film is used on purpose because the moon is 237,000 miles away. At one point, a guy superimposes The Shining playing normally and in reverse simultaneously, and talks through all kinds of insane coincidences (OR ARE THEY?!?!) that come up when the two images are shared on screen. Those are just a couple examples. This film is an in-depth video essay, linking symbols and imagery to supposed theories of The Shining's subtext in regards to Native American genocide and the Holocaust. Believe them or not; it's wildly entertaining.
In the end credits, the filmmakers claims to have the rights to all of the footage they used because of Fair Use laws, but I'm not entirely convinced of the legality of their usage. If it doesn't get purchased because of rights issues, this movie will be doomed to a life on the film festival circuit and will never be seen by a large audience. But if they somehow actually managed to secure everything they need, there's a chance this one could be available in some form or another to bigger crowds. The movie focuses on The Shining, but many of Kubrick's other works are touched on, so whether you're a big fan of the director or just a fan of wild theories like me, Room 237 has a lot to like about it.