Stanley Kubrick faked the Moon landings! Hear this and more in a juicy compendium of nutbag theories about The Shining.
Documentaries about films are tricky. True, there have been many engrossing, (and a few scandalous) examples in the past, but while they have presented the filmmaking process at its most fraught and exciting, they tend to end up as footnotes in the big book of cinema history. Or, as now tends to be the case, DVD extras.
In stark contrast, Room 237, 'an inquiry in nine parts' into Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining, is not a making-of documentary (Vivian Kubrick covered that base over 30 years ago with her celebrated Making ‘The Shining’), but an exploration of various interpretations of the famously divisive, labyrinthine horror flick.
First-time feature director Rodney Ascher weaves a heady tapestry of warped film clips, an eerily funky score (which sounds like giallo songsmiths Goblin jamming with Kubrick collaborator Wendy Carlos) and, front-andcentre, audio interviews with a bunch of Shining enthusiasts, each with their own take on what the Torrances’ tragic trip to the Overlook Hotel actually means.
Suitably, every single one of them is absolutely bonkers. Their thinking goes that as Kubrick was such a meticulous filmmaker, everything in the film has meaning. The director’s obsession with depth of field, for example, was not simply to create a sense of space, but to make it possible to fill shots with visual clues. Thus, the brand of Jack’s typewriter might just betray a Holocaust subtext.
The posters on the hotel walls, the tinned goods in the pantry, and even the layout of the hotel itself breed similarly sinister theories. And any continuity errors – an impossible window, a disappearing chair – aren’t accidents but further riddles to be solved.
Thankfully, Ascher doesn’t simply lampoon these interpretations – he allows their absurdity to speak for itself while giving us the space to share in his interviewees’ personal eureka moments. At its best, there’s genuine excitement during some of the more unlikely readings, not least the suggestion that The Shining is proof that Kubrick helped fake the 1969 Moon landing, as revealed by the fact that Danny Torrance is wearing an Apollo 11 jumper.
Room 237 does more than poke fun – it shines a light on how great films get lodged in the viewer’s mind. Some of the theorists talk about how, upon first glance, they were frustrated, only reaching their heightened state of understanding through meditation and repeat viewings.
This enlightenment mirrors The Shining’s own critical standing, which shifted from Razzie nominated misstep (Jack Nicholson for Worst Actor – seriously) to horror classic. It speaks of a very different film culture to modern-day geek nitpicking or the ‘was it a dream?’ questions that do little to enrich Christopher Nolan’s Inception.
Instead, Room 237 provides a thrilling reminder of how art can inspire the audience to unexpected heights – or depths – of obsession. But its most exciting image is also its most fantastical; that of the master filmmaker not battling with the technical challenges of constructing his opus, but overseeing the creation of a massive, maddening puzzle.
With his unrivalled talents, Kubrick sought to craft a film that could sustain decades of close reading. Something with multiple layers, facets and meanings. A Kubrick’s cube, if you will.
What else could possibly be said about The Shining?
Plenty, it seems. The crackpot theories found in Room 237 may be a little farfetched, but they’re entertaining and exhilarating to pick through.
By capturing the giddy thrill that comes from decoding difficult films, Room 237 says something profound about being a cine-fanatic.