Review No. 478
Enter “Room 237” and you’ll never see “The Shining” the same way.
DIRECTED BY RODNEY ASCHER. PRODUCED BY TIM KIRK. FEATURING BILL BLAKEMORE, GEOFFREY COCKS, JULI KEARNS, JOHN FELL RYAN, AND JAY WEIDNER. ALSO WITH ARCHIVE FOOTAGE FEATURING STANLEY KUBRICK, STEPHEN KING, JACK NICHOLSON, SCATMAN CROTHERS, JOE TURKEL, DANNY LLOYD, BARRY NELSON, PHILIP STONE, KEIR DULLEA, MARTIN POTTER, TOM CRUISE, AND NICOLE KIDMAN. DISTRIBUTED BY IFC FILMS AND IFC MIDNIGHT ON MARCH 29, 2013. PRODUCED IN ENGLISH BY THE UNITED STATES. RUNS 1 HOUR, 42 MINUTES. INTENDED FOR MATURE AUDIENCES, DUE TO VIOLENCE AND NUDITY (IN ARCHIVE FOOTAGE).
ROOM 237 WAS WATCHED ON MAY 11, 2013.
“Remember what Mr. Hallorann said: It’s just like pictures in a book, it isn’t real.” –Danny Lloyd as Danny Torrance (as “Tony”) in The Shining
I’ve seen The Shining twice. With my second viewing, I picked up on one thing that shocked the living hell out of me: a twist ending. It’s not until I watched Room 237, an artful documentary that investigates the film, that I began to see it as a work of genius.
Of course, I understand that Stanley Kubrick is a genius. As mentioned in Room 237 he has a 200 IQ(!). It’s why we can view 2001: A Space Odyssey as such a powerful analogy, engrossing because, although it has a lack of action, this simplicity represents every action since the genesis of humanity. His genius is why A Clockwork Orange can be hilarious when its main character is imposing graphic violence on others, yet whenever he is the subject of this terror, the movie is simply unsettling. Sometimes Kubrick’s genius is too difficult to explain. But with The Shining, it was just too difficult for the average person to analyze.
Many of the analyses in Room 237 could be valid. So long as you found The Shining interesting, it’s undeniable that all points made here are intriguing, even if you don’t believe very many of them in conclusion. Room 237‘s overall thesis is that The Shining was not a horror film in particular, and that it had a greater, underlying meaning (something true, albeit more obvious, with other Kubrick works).
At times, the documentary’s look at Kubrick’s intentions frightened me more than the 1980 work itself, just with its logical explanations of every possible subtlety Kubrick offers. He naturally hides more in his films than any other director. There’s always a bathroom scene in one of his movies, for example, and they always mean something. Remember A Clockwork Orange, when Alex starts “singin’ in the rain”? Oh and there’s the far better example in The Shining, of course, with Jack Nicholson’s “little pigs, little pigs”-turned-“Heere’s Johnny!” ad lib. Or you could go with the accusatory encounter between Jack’s “parallel” (I’m trying not to spoil the 1980 classic for the sinners who have not seen it). Both scenes are set in a restroom, and they are perhaps the most important moments in the film. Yet Kubrick digs deeper.
This investigation explains the differences between the film and the Stephen King novel. King wrote Jack Torrance (Jack Nicholson) as having a red car. Kubrick made it yellow and wrote a scene in which the red car had been destroyed in a roadside accident. As if King wasn’t angry enough for the huge destruction his novel had gotten, that very scene was meant to give him a slap in the face. The bigger change to the novel is one that has been well fabled in the film world: that maze scene at the end. Perhaps the scene was foreshadowed from the very beginning as objects, as we were focused on the characters’ interactions instead.
The film looks at The Shining inside out and, literally, forward and backward. There are several theses about what is represented by the hiding of objects across the film. Perhaps The Shining was Kubrick’s use of the horror genre to tell of the Holocaust, which was all over the news when he grew up. Or perhaps it was meant as an analogy about Indian-Americans. It sounds valid to me, having the prior knowledge that Stephen King had originally titled his book The Shine, but it became The Shining upon discovering that the Shine was a tribal name.
The one thing I’m sure about with Room 237 is that it’s thought-provoking. I’ve said way too much about it, but there are countless other points brought up in this study. Who knows what Kubrick was actually intending: he is no longer alive to say so, his family never approved or endorsed the documentary, and the 200 IQ could mean there’s a whole universe living inside his mind. If you are a fan of Kubrick’s The Shining, you may have the same reaction I did. The word “jaw-dropping” is thrown around like a figure of speech, synonymously with “mind-blowing,” as if a movie can’t make one’s jaw drop. But Room 237 was, in quite the literal sense, a jaw-dropping experience.