Director: Rodney Ascher
Stars: Bill Blakemore, Geoffrey Cocks, Buffy Visick
Release Company: IFC Films
MPAA Rating: NR
Rodney Ascher designed his documentary Room 237 for a small niche audience--movie aficionados who appreciate Stanley Kubrick. It could also appeal to English majors who enjoy the academic exercises requiring them to support a plethora of literary interpretations. Ascher collects a handful of obsessed Kubrick fans who expound on The Shining: a couple insist that it's a treatise on genocide, another suggests that it uncovers a governmental cover-up, and another suggests that hidden themes are revealed only when the film is run backwards.
As wacky as the various theories sound, it's an irrefutable fact that Kubrick was a certified genius. In fact, he could have been an extremely competitive chess grandmaster if he had devoted himself to the game instead of following his passion for cinema. 2001: A Space Odyssey alone demonstrates that Kubrick deliberately inserts visual puzzles to boggle the mind; viewers continue to debate nuances of this masterpiece--over four decades after its initial release. Undoubtedly, a college professor has designed a course based on deconstructing the film (perhaps still awaiting University approval).
When first released, The Shining was met with disappointment; it was underwhelming compared to most of Kubrick's work. But the years have been kind to the film as it gained cult status and greater fan acclaim. The film has gained a firm foothold in pop culture. Is there anyone out there not familiar with the blood sloshing elevator image, the carpet patterns of the Hotel Overlook's hallways, or Shelly Duvall's terrifying scream accompanying Jack Nicholson's axe wielding scene?
So if there is a Kubrick film suitable for deconstructing for a mass audience, The Shining fits the bill. However it would be really helpful for audiences to be familiar with Kubrick's other films (especially 2001 and A Clockwork Orange) to more fully appreciate the documentary. Ascher wisely refuses to resort to a standard talking heads formula. Instead he deftly weaves cinematic montages over the obsessed fan's verbal explications--whether discussing how The Shining explores Native American genocide, delves into the Holocaust, or signals how the filmed images of Apollo's moon landing were faked under the direction of Kubrick himself.
You really don't have to accept any of the theories to appreciate the documentary. In fact, accepting the theories may indicate a need for a psychological checkup--these guys classically illustrate obsessive compulsive disorder. But the details they note are often extremely interesting. Was Kubrick really guilty of a number of continuity errors, or was he really a bored genius who was toying with us, taking us through a cinematic maze and tossing Easter eggs for puzzle fans.
Kubrick fans and movie geeks will want to check this film out as soon as possible, but it doesn't requite a large screen treatment. So casual fans can wait for a Netflix release; more devoted fans may want to purchase the Blu-ray for repeated viewings. Regardless, you'll never see The Shining quite the same way again after watching Room 237.
* For anyone going OCD over The Shining, I highly recommend a vacation stay at the Stanley Hotel in Estes Park, Colorado. It inspired Stephen King's novel. The hotel offers ghost tours and plays Kubrick's The Shining on closed circuit TV 24/7 every day of the year.