Few films are as heavily analyzed as Stanely Kubrick’s – be it 2001: A Space Odyssey, Full Metal Jacket, or A Clockwork Orange. The visionary director who left us all too soon had the practice of leaving clues and hidden easter eggs to the larger meanings and themes to his films, of which there are many. But none is more controversial in this respect as The Shining. While I did a review of this back in 2011, a new documentary was just released that spreads out the many theories surrounding what the true deeper meaning of the film is, no matter how bizarre they may be.
Join in me in my first documentary review as we look at Room 237.
The documentary revolves around the many fan theories and conspiracies surrounding the 1980’s film The Shining, directed by Stanely Kubrick, and is named after the infamous room in the film. For those of you who don’t know what the film is about (and I highly suggest you go watch it), the plot is as follows: Jack, Wendy and their son Danny Torrence all go up to a large Colorado hotel which needs to be taken care of during the harsh winter. However, the hotel is haunted, and causes the already mentally unstable Jack to lose his mind. In the meantime, Danny sees many disturbing images around the hotel due to his psychic powers (his “shining”) though is powerless to change anything. Eventually Jack is convinced to kill his family, and Wendy and Danny are forced to escape in a blizzard.
People have always told me that there are other meanings to the film other than what the plot dictates but it’s something I’ve never been sure about. I even wrote a little about it in the aforementioned review I did, but it never seemed like a big thing to me – I generally just took the film at face value. That’s why when I saw the posters for this documentary, I was actually kind of excited – I thought this was going to be the most comprehensive way I could learn about the film and the theories surrounding it. I already been made aware of the moving/disappearing furniture thanks to a friend, and thus was more or less prepared to see what else about the film there was that I hadn’t noticed…which was basically everything.
What’s great about the documentary is that all of the theories are from fans – there are no members of the crew to debunk them, no one stepping in to disprove them, just the full theory plain and (not so) simple. Hell, there’s not even a narrator involved, so the documentary isn’t trying to validate any one theory over the other – the choice of which, if any, theories seem plausible are left entirely up to the audience, with very little bias made from the filmmakers themselves. In a way, it makes the film seem more like a lecture than a documentary…but then again it feels like a lecture. It comes off as a little structureless since there’s no conclusion or introduction – it starts and it ends. It also lulls a little in bit in the middle because of it, so I think lack of narration helped and hurt in equal ways.
The film also never shows the faces of said fans who are describing their theories, but shows scenes of either The Shining to show what the person is mentioning, scenes from Kubrick’s other films, or very occasionally other films (but only in brief snippets). In this way, it almost feel like the backdrop to a lecture, always remaining visually interesting, but also occasionally being distracting or lulling the audience, so it has its pros and cons.
Some of the theories presented in the film come off as strange and pulling on straws, though your own mileage will vary. Personally, my favorite theory is one about how the film is about history, not just about the Holocaust or the Native American genocide, but all violent and unpleasant history. However, I found the full explanation of the conspiracy that the film was about how Kubrick telling the world how he had actually filmed the Apollo Lunar landing too bizarre, which I found out was in part debunked by members of the crew. There was another how there are allusions to the Greek myth of the Minotaur and how the corn maze was supposed to mirror how Jack was the Minotaur trapped in the hotel. While they may seem like stretches me to me, they may resonant more with you – as I said, each theory has its own set of clues and hints which may be more conviothers depending on how you viewed the film, and maybe even when you view it.
Overall, Room 237 is a strong documentary, able to present interesting (though not always plausible) theories about what The Shining might be about. What makes it so great is not that one or two people have the film “figured out” or that others sound kind of crazy, but that the movie is more like a mirror, with the theories people have really reflecting more on their lives and beliefs than on the film itself. The movie can be seen from many different angles and that’s what has kept it so popular for so long. In a way, I think that’s better than having any definite answers – after all, nothing kills a mystery quite like the ending. This documentary really showcases that fact better by showing these people and their theories than they could have by just outright saying it. There are places where it falters, but is something I would recommend to all Kubrick fans.
– Brings forth a lot of interesting theories.
– Presents them in a non-traditional way.
– Can sometimes fall into lulls.
– The format can, at times, feel unstructured.