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Room 237

Room 237

By Ben Nicholson • April 4th, 2013
Static Mass Rating: 3/5
ROOM 237 (DOCUMENTARY)
Metrodome Distribution

DVD release: April 1st, 2013
Running time: 102 minutes

Director: Rodney Ascher

Cast: Bill Blakemore, Geoffrey Cocks, Juli Kearns, John Fell Ryan, Jay Weidner,

Room 237

Mid-way through Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining (1980), there’s a scene where Danny (Danny Lloyd) sits on the floor of one of the Overlook Hotel’s many hallways playing with some toys. Seemingly out of nowhere a yellow ball rolls to him; its source remains unknown, but the interruption compels him to the mysterious Room 237. The scene is a key one regardless of whether you consider the film to purely be a horror movie, or something altogether deeper. It’s this scene that holds the key to one particularly unique reading of the film; however, it simultaneously provides an example of how a viewer can see whatever they would like to in such a rich work of cinema.

The cinematic work of Kubrick inspires great debate and theorising in audiences; his oeuvre is endlessly dissected by new generations of film fans as well as long-term admirers. This will often lead to alternative interpretations of a particular film’s underlying themes, especially in the output of a filmmaker so famed for being exacting in the minutiae of every shot. Every prop, every vista, every colour can be read as representative of some unknown message that the auteur is attempting to communicate through his art.

Rodney Ascher’s documentary Room 237 gives a voice to several alternative readings of Kubrick’s Stephen King adaptation, allowing the proponents of different theories to talk through their own analysis. Abandoning the conventional approach to such a subject, the director forgoes the theorists giving talking-heads interviews, but keeps our eyes squarely on his ultimate subject, The Shining itself. Using relevant clips from the film along with footage from other Kubrick movies, Ascher creates a hundred minute montage which takes us, guided by the narration, on several different journeys through Kubrick’s labyrinthine movie.

Room 237

Remaining conspicuously absent from proceedings – both literally and figuratively – is Ascher himself. Concerned largely with portraying these conflicting readings of the film he elects to make no judgement or comments of his own. Whilst this is a noble attempt to let the theories speak for themselves, it does mean that Room 237 lacks a much needed authorial voice to give it drive and direction. Still, it does raise interesting questions and provide curious insights.

The most outlandish of the theories – and this one can be firmly classed under ‘conspiracy’ – is that of Jay Weidner which can be seen in considerably fuller detail in his own, similarly styled, documentary about The Shining. His theory is that Kubrick used 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) to perfect techniques that would allow him to fake the Apollo moon landing in 1969. He would subsequently Room 237be wracked with guilt, anger and fear for his life that would result in him “confessing”, using Stephen King’s horror novel as his vessel. There are many facets to this interpretation of the film, such as Jack Nicholson’s character being a cipher for Kubrick himself, but the aforementioned scene with Danny and the ball is a vital one.

Weidner’s observations include the fact that the pattern on the carpet upon which Danny sits, bears a striking resemblance to the shape of Cape Canaveral where Apollo 11 launched, and that when Danny stands up, we see he’s wearing a knitted Apollo 11 jumper. He subsequently walks to room 237, which is the number of miles, in thousands, between the Earth and the Moon. It follows that room 237 is a representation of the moon, and as the events that take place in that room can be considered as ‘not real’ it can be read that the moon landing was not real either. All of this makes for an interesting, and almost convincing, theory. Sadly, he undoes his good work when he ascertains that the door key reading “Room No. 237”, instead of “Room Number 237”, is a clue.

Alternative theories that have The Shining as examinations of the holocaust of Native Americans, or that of the Jewish by the Nazis also seem to hold some water Room 237for large stretches. None of them ever entirely convince, but they each have merit and all, at different times throughout the film, prove eerily pertinent. However, it’s all about seeing patterns where you want to see them.

This became enormously clear to me when watching Room 237. When the scene with Danny and the ball came onto the screen, and we’re asked to see Cape Canaveral in the carpet patterns, I saw the state flag of Colorado. This had already been introduced earlier as part of the theory regarding the Native American holocaust and now, that’s what I saw even when listening to the opposing theory being verbalised. The kicker? 237,000 is not the amount of miles between the Earth and the Moon, but the population of America after the aforementioned genocide.

And so the scene that seemed pivotal to the Kubrick/moon landing theory showed me that if I wanted to, I could find the Native American theory there too. And if you multiply 2x3x7? You get 42; the year that the Final Solution was adopted in Nazi Germany. Ultimately, what Room 237 shows us is that we can find anything we want to find, if we look at The Shining hard enough. One thing is for sure though; it’s all because of the richness, complexity and enduring allure of one of Kubrick’s most masterful works.

Room 237

Ben Nicholson

Ben Nicholson

Ben has had a keen love of moving images since his childhood but after leaving school he fell truly in love with films. His passion manifests itself in his consumption of movies (watching films from all around the globe and from any period of the medium’s history with equal gusto), the enjoyment he derives from reading, talking and writing about cinema and being behind the camera himself having completed his first co-directed short film in mid-2011.

His favourite films include things as diverse as The Third Man, In The Mood For Love, Badlands, 3 Iron, Casablanca, Ran and Grizzly Man to name but a few.

Ben has his own film site, ACHILLES AND THE TORTOISE, and you can follow him on Twitter @BRNicholson.

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