Room 237
Exploring various theories about hidden meanings in Stanley Kubrick's classic film The Shining, this fascinating documentary presents fans' and conspiracy theorists' ideas about messages regarding genocide, government conspiracy and history.

Scott Hardie: “It ruled.”

This documentary, which consists entirely of interviews with five fans of The Shining who find deep hidden meanings in it about the Holocaust and Native Americans and other subjects, is brilliant and insane because its subjects are brilliant and insane. They'd have to be, to come up with such wildly convoluted theories based on the scantest of evidence in the film itself. (Stanley Kubrick faked the Apollo moon landing footage because little Danny Torrance wore an Apollo 11 sweater in one scene?) The theories are explained at length and always interesting even though there's zero validity to them, and the movie dresses up the sometimes dry and humorless talk with cleverly edited footage from The Shining and many other films to illustrate what's being discussed, often humorously.

I'm disappointed to look up Room 237 online and see that while critics praised it, most casual viewers hated it. They conflated the interview subjects with the film itself, as if the film is simultaneously arguing for five mutually exclusive (and all very implausible) theories about Stanley Kubrick's hidden true meaning. Viewers also mistakenly thought the documentary was supposed to be about The Shining itself, but it's not; there's virtually nothing to learn about the original film by seeing this. It's about the way that authorial intent is misinterpreted, and the way that we project our own hang-ups and preoccupations onto works of art, in this case using an artistic work that's especially fertile for misinterpretation because of the detail-rich photography and Kubrick's reputation as a genius. The five fans are affected by pareidolia (one literally sees Kubrick's face in the clouds in one shot) and all of them bring their own personal backgrounds and areas of expertise to bear in coming up with what they are utterly convinced is the true meaning of the film even though nobody else anywhere sees it that way. That's more than interesting enough of a subject for a film, especially if it's as cleverly animated visually as this one is.

For what it's worth, I recall Stephen King saying in On Writing that The Shining is about his own alcoholism and struggles with fatherhood, but it's also about women and minorities taking power away from the white man, and the white man gradually becoming the villain of history instead of the hero as times changed. Then again, maybe I just imagined that...

− May 8, 2014 • more by Scottlog in or create an account to reply

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