Movie Magic and the Mystery of ROOM 237

The documentary Room 237 is a thorough investigation into the many interpretive theories about the ultimate meaning of Stanley Kubrick’s classic horror film The Shining. The Shining is a powerful film and I remember watching it for the first time. It was scary and mysterious and deeply unsettling. I have since watched it numerous times, and each time I watch I come away with a few answers and countless more questions. Room 237 takes that essential truth about the film and extrapolates it, resulting in one of the more interesting documentaries I have seen.

The people interviewed in Room 237 have all watched The Shining dozens of times, and they all have extremely nuanced and well-formulated theories about what Kubrick is actually saying. One of the more fascinating theories is that Kubrick filmed the Apollo 11 moon landing, and that The Shining is a documentation of his inner and outer struggle with that deception. This may sound crazy, but it is also extremely convincing. In fact, it might be the most cogent argument in the entire film with the most concrete evidence and examples. Another theory is that The Shining is about the eradication of the American Indians and the larger reality of socially sanctioned genocide and mass murder. In this interpretation, the Overlook Hotel is a kind of Freudian house of mirrors dealing with how to face and recognize the horrors lurking deep in our cultural unconscious. Another theorist posits that The Shining is a labyrinth that denies and further complicates any attempt to understand it. All of these theories are fascinating in their own way, and the attention to detail is impressive. It was very easy for me to get wrapped up in these stories, making Room 237 an enjoyable movie experience.

Apollo 11, blasting off

While Room 237 is an ode to one great film, a celebration of it and its maker, it is also a documentary about film magic, of which The Shining is a particularly fecund example. Something as simple as a disappearing chair or a picture on the wall resonates with powerful meaning, and what could easily be dismissed as a continuity error by a jaded and knowledgeable movie-watching public is now a symbol of a deeper mystery. Room 237 gives us back that sense of wonder; the magic of the movies. Yet, this only scratches the surface of what Room 237 is offering us. It also offers a world and a worldview that is only opened up through cinema; a unique hermeneutics with deep philosophical and historical implications.

Room 237 personifies much of what I love about the movies; that the smallest detail can hold profound meaning, that film can access time and cultural memory, and that by watching we can know ourselves and our world more fully. Communicating those things is what makes Room 237 exceptional. If you are even remotely interested in film as a unique communicative medium, I can’t recommend Room 237 enough. It is more than just the movie it is about. It is a movie about movies, about human history, and about the deeper mysteries of life and celluloid.

This movie is available on Netflix Instant.

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11 Responses to Movie Magic and the Mystery of ROOM 237

  1. The Vern says:

    This movie looks like it poses questions about a movie I like, but I will wait to watch this after I see the movie again.

  2. Completely agree with your review. It was a real joy watching this.
    Jordan

  3. TravisW says:

    Finally got around to watching Room 237. My favorite part by far was seeing portions of the film double-projected forwards and backwards. That would be an incredible film-watching experience!

    I also really liked the pointing out of Danny’s Apollo 11 shirt and his trip to Room 237 representing Apollo 11’s actual 237,000 mile voyage to the moon. However, I found the argument that this hints at Kubrick’s involvement in the staging of the moon-landing to be a little overly speculative and extra-textual for my liking. I think reading the scene as a symbolic reenactment of the moon-landing is awesome, but I’m more inclined to include this scene as part and parcel of the greater subtext of imperialism and genocide. I think the references to Native American genocide are numerous to the point of being blatant, and I think the references to the Holocaust also fit nicely into the grander thematic of genocide and imperialism, which makes me more inclined to look at the moon-landing sequence through this lens also–another manifestation of imperialism, coming as it does from the Cold War, two empires striving to conquer the globe and all that is within reach.

    Room 237 is the farthest push of imperialism, and this limit-point exposes its erotic charge, bringing desire and death together in a ghastly embrace.

  4. Yeah, the double projection was awesome. I am glad you liked the movie. I was most persuaded by the imperialism/genocide angle, and really liked the part where they talk about The Shining as a super-condensed version of this history as a way of facing it.

    I will say that I liked the extra-textual reading of the moon landing, even if I wasn’t convinced. It added to the mythology of The Shining. I could see that particular theory living on in the annals of the internet.

  5. CMrok93 says:

    Who knows what was going through Kubrick’s mind when he was making this. In all honesty, what I do know, is that even though this documentary brings up so many crazy ideas about the original flick, it still backs itself up and makes it interesting enough to stick with. And that’s even though the conclusions some of these people come to are a bit far-fetched. Good review Jacob.

    • The theories are definitely defensible, which is more a testament to the complexity of The Shining than anything else. I love how The Shining has its own mythology. Such an amazing picture.

      Thanks for the comment!

  6. jjames36 says:

    Great review! Honestly, I like the documentary more than I like The Shining. How’s that for something?

    • Thanks! I find it fascinating that you liked Room 237 more than The Shining. Maybe someone will make a documentary about the documentary, and it would be like The Shining’s grandchild.

      • jjames36 says:

        🙂

        It’s really only because I’ve never been a terribly big fan of The Shining. The documentary makes me appreciate the original horror film more than I ever have before, but it still doesn’t make me fall in love.

  7. Pingback: I only watch Documentaries, and Trash TV // Room 237 | OH'S KNOWS

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