‘Room 237’ Review: Down The Rabbit Hole

Posted in The Screening Room by - February 12, 2015

Room 237 is one of my favorite movies due in part to the fact that it may be the singularly most insane piece of non-fiction/fiction/meta-fiction in the history of film. It’s the cinematic equivalent of a funhouse; one that offers no escape. While I don’t really buy into any of the fan theories presented in the documentary, I do enjoy how it just goes for it, not holding back any of the wild ideas or notions of the interviewees. 

The subject of Room 237 is Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining which is based off of the Stephen King novel of the same name. The documentary posits that there are hidden meanings within the Kubrick film, all intentional placed there by Kubrick for the viewing public to deduce and synthesize. While there have been movies about movies, this is unlike any of those. Those documentaries normally feature talking heads, archival footage of the movie, and the presentation of factual information. Room 237 has none of these things, save some factual information for the sheer purpose of attempting to prove the theories. 

The film is made up of interspersed footage of The Shining along with a number of forms of mixed media to go along with the interviewee’s voices. The interviewees are never seen on screen, only heard through their changing narration throughout the film. With no time devoted to the interviewees on screen, it allows the focus to fall squarely on the the footage presented and how to applies to the theories. It’s an interesting technique that I hope can be emulated in the future as it makes for a less documentary feel and more of a traditional movie. 

The theories are the real draw of Room 237. The there are three theories about the meaning of the film that are the most insane: it’s about Kubrick faking the moon landing, it’s about the Holocaust, and it’s about the genocide of the American Indians. The idea that Kubrick faked the moon landing is the crazy, right? Well Jay Weidner, one of the interviewees, doesn’t seem to think it’s that improbable, going into an absurd amount of detail about it.

The Holocaust theory is pretty great as well, as it hinges solely on the typewriter that Jack Nicholson’s character uses in the film, the reoccurring glimpses of eagles, and the number 42. It’s a crazy notion to think that a horror film could have anything to do with such a terrible event in human history, yet Geoffrey Cocks posits that it’s because Kubrick didn’t want to make such a depressing film outright. So instead of making a Holocaust film, he simply hid it within a horror film allowing him to dilute the true horror of the subject matter. It’s an interesting idea.

The idea that the The Shining is actually about the genocide of the American Indians has the most hilarious evidence presented in the film. It relies on the way that cans of Calumet baking soda are arranged on a shelf in two separate scenes in the film. In one scene, the baking soda cans are seen straight on, and in another they are slightly turned, obscuring the front of the can. The idea that “Kubrick did everything for a reason” is believable to a point, but I’m not sure how that applies to cans of baking soda with a American Indian on it. 

My personal favorite theory is that Jack is the Minotaur from the myth of Theseus and the aforementioned Minotaur. It’s the craziest theory in the film as it relies on a picture of skier that the interviewee Juli Kearns interprets as a minotaur, along with Jack Nicholson making a “bull-like face” during one scene in the film. It’s as crazy as it sounds, but god bless her for thinking out of the box.

Along with the theories and the way that the footage is presented, the soundtrack for the film adds to the increasing mental instability that one begins to feel watching the film. John Snipes and William Huston have done a fantastic job of creating a soundtrack that not only compliments the theories in the film, but also can stand on it’s own. It is heavy on the synthesizer which provides the an interesting ethereal, dream-like quality. It’s definitely worth a listen.

Room 237 is a one of a kind documentary about a legendary filmmaker and how fans interpret one of his master works. It’s interesting to see how people analyze the film and the theories that come along with it, no matter how out there they are. It’s clear that the interviewees have lost themselves in the film, similar to the way Jack Torrance loses his mind in the The Shining. They have become obsessed with every minute intricacy of the film, almost to the point of insanity. Maybe that’s the point Kubrick was really trying to make; if you look too hard for something that may not be there, you run the risk of losing yourself. Once you enter Room 237, there is no way of getting out. 

Final Say: Watch It

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Chris Stachiw is the Editor-in-Chief and co-host of the Kulturecast. He's a native Californian with a penchant for sarcasm and a taste for the cinematic bizarre. You'll often find him wandering the wasteland of Nebraska searching for the meaning of life and possibly another rare Pokemon.
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