“All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.”
And though the movie’s contributors have possibly spent a wee bit too much time at work to find the truths woven into The Shining [pictured], there’s certainly nothing dull awaiting audiences in Room 237.
Ostensibly a documentary about the symbols, subtext and hidden messages littered throughout Stanley Kubrick’s horror classic, The Shining, Room 237 also doubles as an equally fascinating and frequently disturbing profile of the dark psychological labyrinths explored by its heard-but-not-seen narrators/contributors. With the five amateur symbolists bringing their own unique mental toolkit and differing levels of movie fandom to the ‘study’ of Kubrick’s 1980 masterwork, credibility [or even sanity] isn’t always on offer in the theories posited, but the movie-makers’ reverence for the source material and their passion for all-inclusive debate fuse together here to create a uniquely engrossing cinematic experience.
From the slaughter of the Native Americans and genocide of the Jews in World War II to sexual deviancy and NASA’s ‘faked’ moon landing, there’s little that this group of Shining acolytes can’t find hidden within the walls and, indeed, the very architecture of the Overlook Hotel and Kubrick’s supposed intentions. Pulling from multiple viewings of the picture and verifiable accounts of The Shining’s production, as well as questionably secondhand stories of unrecorded conversations with the director himself, each contributor finds ample foundation for their own interpretation of a movie that, whether initially loved or hated it, has worked its way into the blood and brain with the efficiency of a deadly virus.
The first argument presented here comes from journalist Bill Blakemore, and though the basis for his own lightbulb moment might seem something of a reach at first glance [he suggestive onscreen placement of a particular brand of Native American-emblazoned baking powder in the hotel’s expansive pantry revealing the movie to be an allegory for the brutal and bloody displacement of America’s indigenous populations] it ultimately comes out looking quite sturdy following a number of the more left-field conclusions unspooled later on.
Director Rodney Ascher’s decision to present the arguments in voiceover alongside Shining footage and a hodgepodge of cleverly edited classic movie collages [including a great many clips from Kubrick’s canon] may be a bit too ADHD for the average viewer, but it succeeds in moving the focus from the contributors to their ideas. In general, the movie-makers here go to great lengths to refrain from openly judging anyone’s opinion, leaving the conversation open enough to allow audiences to do their own heavy lifting.
Another caveat for potential viewers:
That the majority of interviewees have spent as much time as they have [years and decades] clawing away at a single text for evidence to support their theories should say plenty about the scarcity of solid answers waiting to be unearthed [then again, fans of The Shining, Kubrick’s work, or the fun of a good pub quiz aren’t likely to show up expecting clear resolutions to this].
What audiences will find in Room 237, however, is a thrillingly provocative dissection of obsession and a study on the nature of artistic consumption and the infinite ways in which consumers refashion a text to create their own unique meanings.
So, while we’ll never know whether Jack Nicholson is reading a Playgirl magazine to clue attentive audiences into the movie’s unspoken sexual abuse subplot, or simply as a joke on the audience, we can be certain that future generations of Shining fans [and audiences of all great art] will continue to uncover entertaining explanations for every last nook & cranny of what could just as easily be nothing more than another spooky old Hollywood hotel. t:s
written by Mr Peter Berg