'Room 237' Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love 'The Shining'
Published: April 24, 2013
We hover over water where mountains surround us, heading toward a small island. The water is a mirror reflecting everything above, forming parabolas of sky that touch in the center. On our left, everything is in shadows; on our right, everything is in light. The island gets closer. We are flying fast. Just as we reach the island, we veer right, narrowly avoiding the pointed tops of pines, and head into the sunlit side. Now we are above a small, solitary car as it snakes its way through a labyrinthine forest road. A variation of Berlioz’s “Dream of a Witches’ Sabbath” from Symphonie Fantastique warns of the impending dread, and so starts Stanley Kubrick’s flawed masterpiece, The Shining. If you are looking for thematic symbols in the opening scene, you can find them: mirrors, labyrinths, solitude, and isolation.
The documentary Room 237 attempts to find meaning for many of the supposed signs and mysteries contained within Kubrick's film. Using footage derived mainly from The Shining, as well as some of his other films, it provides, in nine parts, various theories attempting to discern some of the hidden meanings. Five interviewees give their theories behind things as seemingly trivial as a Calumet baking soda can (Native American genocide), a can of Tang (faking the Moon landing), and even to a German Alder typewriter (the Holocaust). A poster of a skier in a background shot is turned into an image of the Minotaur for one woman, revealing the entire film to be a retelling of the Greek myth of Theseus. Kubrick’s use of mirrors prompted one theorist to play the film forward and backwards at the same time, superimposed, showing, at the very least, some interesting visuals.
And this is Room 237’s greatest flaw. In deciding to give the various theories equal credence, the filmmakers negate them all. The can of Tang theory negates the can of Calumet baking soda theory, while the Holocaust theory negates the Native American genocide theory, and so on. Perhaps the more interesting take would’ve been to focus on the theorists themselves. We never see them, we only hear them — their voices cluttered on top of a masterpiece. Is Room 237 a good documentary? Or is The Shining so good that the little bits of it we see make up for the scattered conspiracy theorist commentary it’s attached to? I’d prefer to put on The Shining and find my own personal meanings.