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Video review: Room 237 – Shines a light on ‘The Shining’ symbolism

Posted by on September 30, 2013 – 7:23 pm

Room 237Back in 1980, when the term “Easter eggs” still meant hard-boiled eggs that were hidden from children by the “Easter Bunny” in celebration of the onset of spring, eccentric director Stanley Kubrick released one of the most iconic horror films of all time, The Shining. But was this movie much more than just the psychological fright fest that it appeared to be?

Many people believe that The Shining is rife with intricate secret messages and symbolism, and the excellent documentary film, Room 237, attempts to examine and decode some of the movie’s alleged layers of mystery. I think when they are making movies about your movie then you’ve done something right; although a lot of fans of Stephen King’s popular novel absolutely hate Kubrick’s take on the story.

The film features interviews with several knowledgeable fans and cinema scholars, although they are mostly unseen in the movie itself and their backgrounds are never really identified. Writer/Director Rodney Ascher instead uses their voices over archival footage of The Shining as well as several other Kubrick films like Eyes Wide Shut, A Clockwork Orange and Spartacus (in addition to non-Kubrick film footage.) At times, Ascher also utilizes fascinating graphics and maps of The Shining’s Overlook Hotel in order to help explain some of the film’s complex theories.

The speculation in this movie is provided by Bill Blakemore, Geoffrey Cocks, Juli Kearns, John Fell Ryan, Jay Weidner and Buffy Visick, but I honestly couldn’t tell you who is who in the film as they are just anonymous voices. Their speculative thoughts on The Shining include the theories that it is either an allegory for the Holocaust or the genocide of the American Indians; or that it is Kubrick’s subliminal admission that he was involved in the government’s cover-up of the Gemini 11 moon-landing; or that the movie is simply loaded with hidden sexual imagery (beyond the unhidden and infamous naked witch and such.)

Room 237There’s no doubt that Stanley Kubrick was a cinematic genius and one weird and demented dude. In fact, I’ve always thought that The Shining was probably one of his tamest efforts. But after watching Room 237 I have to say that is just as strange as some of his other work, just a little bit more subtle and approachable.

One of the most shocking parts of this documentary occurs when it shows bits of The Shining from a screening where it was played both forwards and backwards at the same time with overlapping images on the screen. Who knows if Kubrick really intended for these pictures to match up and mix in the artistic way that they do or if it is all just coincidence, but the fact that the synced overlaps make such amazing double-images is creepy as Hell – like you are looking into the mind of a madman – and to quote Dick Hallorann (Scatman Crothers), “You got no business going in there anyway.”

After watching this film you may never look at movies the same way again, and the fact that the filmmaker’s true intent is so hotly debated (after over thirty years since The Shining’s release), with such wild and varied explanations, is incredibly intriguing in and of itself. Those interpretations make Room 237 an engrossing film for those with even a casual interest in art, as much as for true fans of Kubrick and his films.

The Blu-ray disc for Room 237 also contains the panel discussion, “The Secrets of The Shining,” which was taped at the first “Stanley Film Festival” held at Colorado’s Stanley Hotel (the location that was the inspiration for Stephen King ‘s novel.) The film’s director, Rodney Ascher, and a handful of guests talk about The Shining, Kubrick and Room 237, and while some of this is interesting, the discussion is spoiled by Kubrick’s one-time personal assistant, Leon Vitali, who is annoying at best and uses his moment in the spotlight to put the kibosh on all the fun speculation about the 1980 film.

Room 237The disc also contains a music video, where the film’s theme is played by its musicians, and there is also a special feature showing the interesting deconstruction of one of the movie’s posters by its artist, Aled Lewis, who unveils the hidden meaning in the image’s details.

The film’s original trailer is also included on the disc and is a fun treat for fans of The Shining, in that it incorporates the blood pouring out of the elevator scene, but with a vintage VCR instead of the elevator doors. There are also several “deleted scenes,” which are just audio clips over a boring sound-board still image.

The Room 237 Blu-ray and DVD were released on September 24, 2013.
Movie Grade: 7/10 – Special Features Grade: 3/10