Apart from being one of the greatest horror films ever made, The Shining is an intricate and fascinating film, which much like all of Stanley Kubrick’s movies, is packed with startling imagery, amazing direction and fastidious attention to detail.
It is no wonder then that over the years many people have seen concealed messages embedded between the frames – clues to a greater meaning glimpsed in the background and answers to questions never asked overheard in the dialogue. And it is these theories and hidden meanings that the brilliant documentary Room 237 fully explores.
Broken into nine segments with the voices of several theorists explaining the whys and how’s of each of their personal hypothesis on the meaning of The Shining, director Rodney Ascher attempts to convey and convince the viewer on the validity of these ideas which vary from directly allegorical and symbolic to downright crazy, but always intriguing and interesting.
Built wonderfully visuals-wise from tons of scenes from The Shining slowed down and shown frame by frame, at times Room 237 primarily uses pieces from other films and media including Kubrick’s movies such as Eyes Wide Shut, 2001 and A Clockwork Orange as well as other horrors (such as Demons), never actually showing the people purporting their filmic readings.
From The Shining’s brain altering subliminal images to a metaphorical exploration of the genocide of the Native Americans, to a tale about the holocaust to Kubrick’s confession of his involvement in the faking of the moon landings to the exploration of the impossible geography of the hotel itself and more – all backed up with evidence, some more solid than others – Room 237 is like a giant film studies seminar offering up plenty for the audience to ponder on.
With all the different theories thrown together it is sometimes confusing keeping up with which particular extraordinary explanation is being expanded upon. But this is a minor structural quibble as many people’s points interweave and merge, making it less important the ultimate meaning they are tying to the movie.
Whether you’re convinced or not is another matter, but the mad theories are all interesting and entertaining. And although you may not end up thinking that Kubrick’s twisted tale is anything other than stupendously scary movie, Room 237 proves that The Shining is a cinematic horror masterpiece that deserves to be watched over and over again because you never know what you may discover that 501st time around.