Stanley Kubrick directed some of the most enigmatic films, so it is no wonder that someone like Rodney Ascher would come along and attempt to “decode” one of them. The subject of this documentary is The Shining, and in the course of Room 237′s 102 minute running time, Ascher challenges viewers to consider the relevance, validity, and / or coincidence of various symbols, sight gags and synchronistic events that several commentators expound upon.
The film plays a bit uneven. There is no unifying thesis, and the effect of having various commentators discussing their theories plays out like an anthology of segments rather than a collective approach to examining the film’s meaning. Additionally, the propositions range from fairly traditional Freudian analysis (based on the notion that Kubrick was a Freudian filmmaker) to avant-garde readings wherein the film is run forward and backward (concurrently via superimposition) to reveal potential meaning. Also, the commentators range from astute-sounding professor-types to excitable conspiracy theorists to a guy who actually walks away from his microphone to silence his crying child while recording his commentary.
Some of the theories are interesting, but many of them are conspiratorial. For instance, several cases are made to explain the secret meanings behind what could simply be continuity errors (ex. the chair was there in one shot, but it’s not in the next; Jack’s typewriter changes colors; the children’s stickers on Danny’s door change; the carpet pattern changes directions; etc.). Furthermore, numerology is brought into play; a ski poster is equated to a minotaur, which leads to a discussion of minotaurs and “minotaur expressions” on various characters in Kubrick’s films; and Danny’s hand-knit shirt of Apollo 11 is supposedly a clue that Kubrick assisted NASA in faking the video footage of Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin’s Moon landing.
Despite the uneven nature of this film and the fact that Leon Vitali, Kubrick’s personal assistant during the production of The Shining, has said that much of the information in Room 237 is “total balderdash,” it is certainly entertaining to hear Kubrick be referred to as a “mega-brain” who condensed the totality of human history and experience into the “patterns of our world” and laced his take on Stephen King’s book with these patterns, symbols and messages. Probably one of the most apt comments made in this film was that Kubrick made The Shining for overwrought critics who will get so involved and locked into decoding it that they will be trapped inside forever.
– By Scott Feinblatt