With one seemingly unbelievable theory after another, Room 237 presents the numerous interpretations people have compiled over the thirty plus years since The Shining’s release. While some are certainly coincidence or bad continuity you can’t help but wonder, given the genius of Stanley Kubrick, if there isn’t more to this than first appears.
Rodney Ascher has painstakingly compiled a conspirator’s handbook for The Shining ranging from the credible to the down right insane. We look at the symbolism of the holocaust, the genocide of the native American population, Greek mythology and even have time for the 1969 moon landing. What sets Ascher’s documentary apart from most is the total lack of talking heads. He uses scenes from the film inter-cut with other Kubrick classics to tell the story, enabling him to pause, highlight and contrast the points the voice-overs are making. Some might see this as a dangerous move but it’s quite clever as without the talking heads we can focus on the core issue of the film, without having to constantly cut back and forth to whoever is setting out their argument. Many of the reasons for talking heads is to grandstand about who you were able to get for your documentary. With this work the contributors are largely unknown and by not seeing them we are unable to dismiss them as mere cranks or crazies.
By looking at Kubrick’s back catalogue it’s clear to see he was one the finest directors cinema has ever seen. Having finished Barry Lyndon in 1975 it would be 5 years until his next picture The Shining. One story recounts how a group of Kubrick’s researchers camped out in the hotel for 3 months to take photos and gather all the information they could on the local area. We see from this dedication to his craft and learn about how he picked up the label of a perfectionist, as Sydney Pollack recalls developing an ulcer from countless retakes on the set of Eyes Wide Shut. Realising this makes it easier to believe the theories put forward in Room 237 as it’s obvious he wasn’t just making a straight-forward horror film.
The legitimate theories seem to concern the film being an account of the atrocities carried out on the native Americans. The hotel is built on an Indian burial ground and is decorated with lots of native American art, however this seems like too much of a conventional horror story plot. The film as an examination of the horrors carried out by Hitler on the Jewish race seems to hold more weight. The number 42 is seen throughout the film, 1942 being the year in which Hitler decided to carry out his “final solution” and, as with the native American theory, the river of blood escaping from the elevator is heavily symbolic. As the blood flows from the side of the elevator while the doors remain closed it appears to represent the hidden bloody past in all of human civilisation. People felt this was Kubrick’s way of enabling us to contemplate the unimaginable reality of the murder of 6 million Jews.
Every aspect of the film is examined, from Danny’s cycle routes in the hotel to the relevance of the typewriter changing colour. How the twins are a symbol of the mother’s imagination and the very construct of the hotel makes no logical sense with rooms and windows being in impossible positions. At times elements go too far and when a contributor mentions how for a split second at the end Jack’s hair morphs into a Hitler moustache as well as the carpet in Room 237 symbolising the act of reproduction you can’t help but call shenanigans.
What all this really tells us the overwhelming effect the film has had on countless film fans. For me what stands out about The Shining is the score, it is the unseen monster occupying every inch of the screen. People like to look for hidden meanings in an attempt to understand why art has such an effect on us – there must be more to it than what we see at first glance. This is certainly true of The Shining and of any director who made 2001 – A Space Odyssey (IN 1968!!). Kubrick has not only given us one of the greatest films ever made, he has given us a puzzle or maze that we must travel through to find the truth.
Although as one voice-over quite rightly points out the more you delve into the make-up of the film the less sense it makes. So if you simply like to be scared witless then that’s fine too. After seeing Room 237 you instantly want to re-watch The Shining which happily is released this Friday in its original American cut.
USA / Directed By: Rodney Ascher / 102min / Documentary / Release: 26 October 2012 (UK/Ireland)