Room 237 has been called the perfect film for film critics because it's all about the overly obsessive nature of dissecting a movie, something film critics get paid to do for a living. And if there's any movie worthy of a nine-part dissection, it's Stanley Kubrick's The Shining, which is one of those movies that will forever have people debating its signs, symbols, codes, meanings and secret hidden agendas spread all over the film like a psychedelic cream cheese. Through interviews with "Shining experts," Room 237 transports us to a world of wild conspiracy theories while also serving as a fascinating history lesson on both The Shining and Stanley Kubrick's career. The problem is the film, in its current state, cannot be released. Every frame is made up of different film clips, primarily from different Stanley Kubrick movies, and the filmmakers don't have the rights to any of them. In fact, at the film's Sundance premiere, director Rodney Ascher said he was still shocked they had actually made it far enough to screen Room 237 for an actual audience at one of the world's largest film festivals.
But the way it's constructed is what makes Room 237 so compelling. These long, monotonous interviews with guys we never see are cleverly reconstructed using clips of characters from Kubrick movies (Tom Cruise's character in Eyes Wide Shut is used many times), as well as clips from The Shining to serve as visual representation of the theories they're attempting to prove. And what sort of crazy theories are they attempting to prove? Well, the nuttiest one claims Kubrick was hired to stage the moon landing, and that The Shining was his way of coming to terms and owning up to his participation in it. The "expert" in this case provides proof in the form of Danny's Apollo 11 sweater, as well as the plate on the door to Room 237 -- the Overlook Hotel's most mysterious, intoxicating and deadly room -- which reads "Room No 237." When rearranged, this spells out "Moon Room."
Other theories include the notion that the entire film is meant to represent the genocide of the American Indians, with proof evident in all the American Indian references hidden throughout the hotel. Another expert claims The Shining is Kubrick's film about the Holocaust, pointing out all the strange occurrences of the number "42" (1942 was the year Hitler gave orders to exterminate the Jews).
Room 237 also spends a great deal of time touring the Overlook Hotel, examining things that don't make sense; pieces of furniture that disappear or change color within the same scene, or windows that shouldn't exist. Why the carpet Danny is playing on reverses itself mid-scene, or how come the hotel staff walk through the lobby carrying extremely light loads (one chair?) at a time.
One of the more fascinating detours involves an art exhibition featuringThe Shining where folks decided to play the movie forwards and backwards at the same time, superimposing the images over each other to see how they would match up. Very much similar to the whole Wizard of Oz/Pink Floyd myth that's been entertaining stoners in their dorm rooms for years, this alternate way of viewing The Shining is most definitely up for interpretation right from the first frames, which lay the opening helicopter shot on top of the final date on the photo of Jack frozen in time. The creep factor comes into play when you realize the road they're flying over was completed in the same year featured in that image, 1921.
Unfortunately we'll never know whether Kubrick legitimately snuck these hidden agendas into The Shining, or if it's all in our heads. We do know the filmmaker studied the art of subliminal seduction in the years prior to making The Shining, and it's definitely possible he wanted to try out some of what he learned in the film. Regardless of what is or isn't true, Room 237 is a really fascinating look back at The Shining, as well as an intriguing study of obsession and how it can ultimately lead to us to become the very thing (or people) we're obsessed with.
Note: This review was originally published during the Sundance Film Festival on January 26, 2012.