When written down in its simplest terms, the concept behind this 2012 documentary from American director Rodney Ascher at first sounds dry and almost academic. Take a whole bunch of people who’ve all developed their own (often peculiar) theories about hidden imagery and messages packed into Stanley Kubrick’s ‘The Shining’ and then set them loose over 102 minutes of running length, with accompanying footage from the original film that may or not support their points. In reality, it’s a consistently entertaining watch from start to finish that occasionally veers into hysterically (and unintentionally) funny territory. It’s also fair to say that if you haven’t watched ‘The Shining’ itself, the impact of a lot of the various theories posited here are likely to be lost on you. Having said that though, there certainly aren’t that many other movies of the mainstream horror genre (‘Psycho’, perhaps ‘Jaws’) that occupy such a significant position in popular culture, with the levels of mystique raised by the fact that the late Kubrick himself certainly isn’t in any position to confirm or deny any of the theories being posited. Rather than providing any unifying narration, Ascher simply lets the various contributors speak themselves, with the audio for each individual section being accompanied by edited footage from the original film as, well as other selections from Kubrick’s oeuvre.
As for the theories presented, they manage to veer all over the place. At least two of the contributors manage to make a reasonably convincing case for the presence of imagery and symbolism relating to the Holocaust (something that certainly impacted Kubrick’s own childhood), while another points to the continual use of Native American paintings and artefacts in the Overlook Hotel as proof that it’s actually about genocide of a different kind. Elsewhere, there’s a guy who sees penises and phallic imagery packed into numerous shots, and predictably, another person who presents the case that Kubrick was actually trying to sneak the message that the Moon landings had been faked with his involvement (spookily, the distance between the Earth and the Moon is 237,000 miles). I have to admit to being fairly convinced by the woman who points towards visual cues that hint that Jack is actually the minotaur at the centre of the maze in his own head though, as well as the guy who suggests that young Danny is actually a far more active participant in his Dad’s eventual demise than we’re lead to believe. Rather than simply being a movie about Kubrick himself or ‘The Shining’, ‘Room 237’ serves more as a hugely entertaining illustration of just how far some people are prepared to take their obsessions. The DVD release is pretty comprehensive too, packing in a load of extra features including deleted scenes, audio commentary and director interviews.