Rodney Ascher's documentary "Room 237: Being An Inquiry Into 'The Shining' In 9 Parts" is a fascinating exploration of director Stanley Kubrick's controversial 1980 adaptation of Stephen King's horror novel, and the subjective nature of art. The film is narrated by five film buffs/semioticians/amateur detectives: Bill Blakemore, Geoffrey Cocks, Juli Kearns, John Fell Ryan and Jay Weidner. Each has his or her own theory as to exactly what Kubrick was intending with a film that was viewed by contemporary critics as a failure, the work of a master filmmaker working with material that was beneath him.
Among the interpretations, some more convincing than others: "The Shining" is a metaphor for the genocide of the American Indian; a metaphor for the Holocaust; a coded explanation of Kubrick's alleged participation in faking footage of the Apollo 11 moon landing; and/or an allegory of the whole of human history.
Stanley Kubrick was a genius, with an IQ of 200, and probably the most meticulous filmmaker in the history of cinema. He researched his films exhaustively, and spent years on each one, with many, many months of pre- and post-production. The various theorists, whose sometimes plausible, sometimes outlandish interpretations are presented here, reason that every element of the film, from the posters on the wall to the patterns on the wall-to-wall carpeting to the cans of baking powder in the Overlook Hotel pantry, all have deeper meaning.
Leon Vitali, Kubrick's personal assistant on "The Shining," told The New York Times, "There are ideas espoused in the movie that I know to be total balderdash...I’m certain that he wouldn’t have wanted to listen to about 70, or maybe 80 percent [of Room 237]... Because it’s pure gibberish."
Of course, that would mean that 20 to 30 percent of the theories presented in the documentary have some merit.
One of the statements that concerns where Kubrick was at in his career at the time he made "The Shining" rings especially true. His previous film, 1975's "Barry Lyndon" is the only film in the director's oeuvre that could be described as "boring." Quite simply, "Kubrick was bored."
The speaker posits that, in response to this boredom, and the resultant creative torpor, "Big Stan" (as "Dr. Strangelove" co-writer Terry Southern dubbed him) made a film so loaded with subtext that it transcended its lowly roots in genre fiction. While Stephen King was appalled at the liberties taken with his novel, Kubrick had bigger fish to fry, philosophically.
Or not. Maybe he just wanted to make a scary movie.
"Room 237" is currently available via Netflix streaming.