Room 237 (2012) – A Review

Room 237 2012 documentary about The Shining
Room 237

Stanley Kubrick made less than twenty films in his 50-year career. Hey it’s not about quantity, but quality right? Many of those films have made him one of the most revered directors in the history of cinema.

Fans continue to re-watch, discuss and debate the meaning in his movies. The care, the details, the artistry and the symbolism that filter throughout Kubrick’s films have made them an endless source for fans to contemplate.

His films will undoubtedly be discovered by new young movie fans as long as people still watch movies. Probably a hundred years from now a gawky thirteen-year-old blossoming movie fan will download Dr. Strangelove into his brain and fall in love with it.

In the documentary Room 237 some passionate Kubrick fans share their theories on what Kubrick secretly meant to convey with his 1980 horror film The Shining.

According to them it isn’t just an ordinary film. There’s more to The Shining than just being a film adaptation of a Stephen King novel. Casual moviegoers might view it as simply a scary movie set in a huge hotel with Jack Nicholson running around with an ax yelling “Here’s Johnny!”

Oh, if you’re only seeing that you’re missing the bigger picture. Look closer. Carefully scrutinize each frame and Kubrick’s hidden agenda with The Shining and its subliminal messages will slowly reveal themselves to you.

Don’t strain yourself.

Room 237 The Shining documentary
Little Danny helping Kubrick come clean about Apollo 11

Room 237 features a collection of Kubrick enthusiasts who describe their various theories and what they take away from The Shining. They never appear on-camera, they each offer their analysis over clips of the film with various other Kubrick movies and random clips to illustrate their points.

The interpretations range from Native American genocide, the Holocaust, Kubrick’s confession of helping fake the Apollo moon landing. minotaur symbolism, even viewing the film forward and backwards simultaneously over one another will reveal cloaked messages.

I had been interested in checking out Room 237 since I first heard about it. Typically any kind of documentary about Kubrick can offer up some insight into him and I love hearing theories and opinions about his films.

I think I actually enjoy hearing people talk and discuss 2001: A Space Odyssey and learning various opinions about the meaning of it than actually watching the movie. Hey, what can I say – it’s not my favorite Kubrick film.

With Room 237 it’s not so much a critical analysis, but more like picking up one or two things here and there, attaching some significance to them and running with that idea throughout The Shining looking for anything in the background, dialogue, props, numbers, set design that will further support it.

Room 237 theories about Stanley Kubrick's The Shining
Scatman Crothers, Indians and Tang –
What’s it all mean?

While one might want to explain some seemingly insignificant thing away as a continuity error or some kind of limitations of set construction or artistic decisions to create a dramatic mood or just plain coincidence – that don’t exist in the eyes of this doc and with these die hard Shining fans.

Every movement, every detail in every frame in The Shining was strategically staged a specific way by Kubrick’s precise calculations and has a purpose. They are really giving him a great deal of credit.

And it’s fun for awhile. I especially enjoyed the segment about the movie being a disguised admission of Kubrick faking the moon landing. I always got a kick out of that idea. After awhile though the theories and examples of evidence gets shakier and shakier. Everyone begins to really grasp at straws and things start to run out of steam.

Whether you personally want to subscribe to any of these theories is up to you. The film doesn’t favor any one particular one nor does it try to argue against them. It simply allows these Kubrick fans to talk about their own interpretations of what they see in the film uninterrupted.

Actually they might have been talking over the phone for this doc. At one point one guy has to quiet down his crying baby in the background. That was unexpected to hear.

It held my attention in the beginning and I wasn’t bored. Hearing how obsessed and enthusiastic some people have become with The Shining is kind of unsettling, but I guess there are worst films to be watching over and over again. It would be a fruitless effort to find any deeper layers in something Michael Bay directed. Then you’d really have to get creative.

Room 237 Nicholson Kubrick The Shining
Kubrick strategically setting up a shot that will
be scrutinized more than he could ever imagine

There really aren’t many film directors that could spawn this much scrutiny with his work as Kubrick has. In a way Room 237 represents the high regard he’s held by movie fans, the enthusiasm he generates and the way his films are so rich that they could offer up countless ways to interpret them by individuals – much like great art.

Here, that’s taken to the extreme. If it was any other director who goofed up continuity and forgot to include a chair in the background of a shot it would be chalked up as a ‘movie mistake’.

With Kubrick that one missing chair is the beginning of a thesis. It’s pretty stunning. Kubrick’s old assistant shared his thoughts about the doc saying it’s “total balderdash” and was “falling about laughing most of the time” while watching it.

Who knows. It’s entertaining for awhile to see The Shining through these hardcore Kubrick fans eyes and listen to their interpretations, but I didn’t take any of it seriously.

No one came up with any hidden meaning with that moment of Nicholson yelling “Here’s Johnny!’ There must be something behind that remark. Maybe it’s a reference to John F. Kennedy’s declaration of landing on the moon by the end of the 60’s? He has Kubrick to thank for that I guess.


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5 Responses

  1. Anonymous says:

    I think Kubrick is a great director but these rabid fans, like a friend of mine, just go too far with his 'greatness'. For example, I thought Eye's Wide Shut sucked but my friend says "there has got to be some deeper meaning". BS. It just sucked. Except for a naked Nicole Kidman (if I remember correctly). Wow! The only highlight for me. KrG

  2. Capt Nemo says:

    I wouldn't be too harsh on the people who try guess at Kubrick's motives. Kubrick had a weird mix of thoughtfulness and eccentricism.

    He would plan things out to the last detail. Take Dr. Strangelove. Kubrick found out about a special nuclear calculator that the government was passing out for free. He incorporated one in to the film by having Stranglelove use one to find out how long the human race would stay underground. Making the scene absurd.

    You can read about the computer here:

    http://www.fourmilab.ch/bombcalc/

    But was he saying anything about these computers? Probably not. Kubrick saw an opportunity to make his film quirky and he grabbed it.

    Kubrick himself gave his thoughts on what people thought about his films. He basically said that each interpretation was unique to it's viewer. If one person saw one thing, it was valid. If someone saw something else, it was just as valid. So the experience was more about the viewer than Kubrick.

    So in a sense, everyone in this film is talking about themselves and not about Kubrick at all.

    http://www.visual-memory.co.uk/amk/doc/0069.html

  3. spaceodds says:

    Kubrick was an amazing filmmaker and I always say that with Eyes Wide Shut (which I revere as the ultimate flawed masterpiece) a curtain was pulled over the film industry. Its sad to think that two years after the release of Eyes Wide Shut, Warner's would be releasing Harry ******* Potter films. Kubrick, you are sorely missed.

    Watched the documentary last night, and I agree with your assessment. At first I was drawn into it, the idea that the film is a parable to the Native American genocide, the Holocaust overtones, pretty interesting theories. But I started to laugh my head off at the moment when one of the 'theorists' does a frame by frame analysis of Mr. Ullman (Barry Nelson) getting up from his desk to greet and shake Torrence's hand. The idea that the paper tray stack on the desk is supposed to represent Ullman having a boner just deflated the balloon and I just simply couldn't take this seriously anymore. The moon landing theory was a laugh fest though.

  4. I've been interested in seeing this, as I too sometimes find ridiculous subliminal messages in movies. It's an interesting hobby. Kubrick films are infinitely interesting to analyze, my favorite Kubrick film, A Clockwork Orange is one that I completely over think. Whenever I have my grasp on the messages of that one, I completely lose my thoughts. Maybe that was Kubrick's point: to confuse the hell out of the viewer.

    Any director can slip their own views and messages in their own films, no matter how impersonal they seem. I understand you hate Michael Bay movies, but even his pieces of cinematic excess are deeper than most people realize. Armageddon was an exploitation of American feelings of pre-millenial doom. Hell, even the Transformers movies have simplistic messages about American Foreign Policy. I know I'm not changing anyone's views on the guy but I'm just saying, as long as filmmaking is around, film nerds will analyze the crap out of everything. And that's ok, it makes movies more fun and watchable.

  5. Christopher Kulik says:

    I love Stanley Kubrick as much as the next film buff, but personally I think THE SHINING is one of his weakest films…and while I was tempted to check this out just to see what all the fuss was about, your review has ultimately made me decide to leave it alone. It's okay to obsess over a movie (just ask any VERTIGO fan), but THE SHINING was just way too long and uninteresting for me to give a damn in terms of its story. Kubrick's direction is great, and there is eerie imagery to be sure, but so does VILLAGE OF THE DAMNED and CARNIVAL OF SOULS and those have as much intellectual juice as THE SHINING…which isn't much if you ask me. What's even more bizarre is I'm a total Jack fan; I would rather watch him in THE LAST DETAIL, THE WITCHES OF EASTWICK, THE KING OF MARVIN GARDENS…hell I'd take over 50% of his resume over THE SHINING.

    By the way, speaking of Stephen King adaptations, I'm now quite excited for new CARRIE movie which is purportedly much more faithful to King's original book. As well acted as the 1976 film is, it's now embarrassingly dated, and besides we now have Hit-Girl being directed by Kimberley Pierce (BOY'S DON'T CRY)…sounds awesome to me.

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