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.
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.