As a big fan of Stanley Kubrick, arguably the greatest director of all time, I was eagerly anticipating Room 237 and wanted to make sure I saw it on the big screen. I was hugely disappointed. The documentary is comprised of interviews with a small group of Kubrick-leaning cinephiles that pick apart tiny details in The Shining and use them to justify various theories about the movie and Kubrick’s hidden messages. The most prevalent theme is that The Shining is really about the genocide of American native peoples and/or Holocaust victims. Another theory presumably presented as fact is that the footage of the moon landing was faked, and faked by none other than Kubrick himself. Supposedly there are all sorts of hidden jokes also present in The Shining, which are really easy to see once you start watching the movie at home frame-by-frame, a completely ridiculous supposition given that the movie came out in 1980 and was meant to be watched only in the theater. DVD did not exist then, and neither did widespread consumer VCR use, nor VCRs that could clearly pause movie frames.
I am not saying there is no validity to any of the theories posited, but I am saying these people are reading way too much into the minutiae of the movie. And I’m also saying ‘so what?’ After having visited the fascinating LACMA Kubrick exhibit (still going a little while longer), I was hoping for more juicy insight into Kubrick and the movie-making process, more of the type of truly interesting discovery that I found in that exhibit. None of that is to be found in Room 237.
What makes this movie even worse is that it is not even particularly interesting. Consider the mastery of great documentary film: The Thin Blue Line, Roger & Me, Bowling for Columbine, Catfish, Searching for Sugar Man. These films present their story in such a way as to develop character and plot in a way just as engrossing as good fictional drama. Truth is often stranger than fiction, and these documentaries fully exploit that concept. But not Room 237. It’s just the delivery of one hackneyed, minimally qualified idea after another which do very little to offer any true insight into The Shining or the making thereof.
The highlight of Room 237 is at the very beginning of the film, where an interviewee speaks of the British movie posters for The Shining promoting “The wave of terror that swept across America.” From there it goes into the Indian genocide theory, which I found cogent. This bit at the beginning saves the movie from a lesser rating. But Kubrick fans should do themselves a favor and watch one of his movies again; they’ll get more out of it than watching Room 237. 2/10