Earlier this year I checked in to “Room 237”. For quite some time I had heard about this film. I had pictured it to be a sort of underground film, one that you could only view in special screenings that were held in old World War Two bomb shelters or something. It had a dark, mystery cloud hanging over it for some reason. It seemed it had been made in secret, indeed the disclaimer that appears in the trailers, on the posters and in the actual film seem to drum in the fact this film has nothing to do with the 1981 film “The Shining“, even though it’s all about it. It was this mysterious and creepy allure that made me fascinated already with “Room 237”, and thankfully it did not disappoint.
The main purpose of this documentary film is to show that there is more to Stanley Kubrick’s cult classic “The Shining” than originally meets the eye. Indeed, there is apparently not just one layer to the film, but an endless amount of theories and imagery that all try to show Kubrick (who’s IQ was well above 200) made a film that paralleled the Holocaust, represented the Native American Genocide, retold the tale of the Labyrinth and the Minotaur, proved that Stanley Kubrick faked the Apollo 11 Moon Landing and also analogied every moment into a metaphorical sign that Kubrick was a genius. Now, I must admit the evidence throughout the film is overwhelming (for some cases – plausible, for others -laughable) but are we to believe one of these theories or are we meant to believe Kubrick made this film as a five (if not more) tiered cake of conspiracy? It is an obsessive world that these interviewees get themselves into, and as viewers we are given a ringside seat to the biggest debate and possibly the biggest conspiracy theory ever put on film, that not only makes us fall in love with “Room 237” but makes us fall in love with “The Shining” once more. Indeed after watching the documentary I immediately ordered the Kubrick classic on Blu-Ray!
“Are we to believe one of these [conspiracy] theories or are we meant to believe Kubrick made this film as a five tiered cake of conspiracy?”
I am proposing that “Room 237” is to the Expository Mode of Documentary what “Grey Gardens” is to the Observational Mode. With the Observational mode there is a “fly-on-the-wall” style of filming, the type of documentary that has become prevalent on Channel 4 – the epitome of Reality TV! With this style the documentary makers become part of the lives of those at the heart of the film. There is a sense, as a viewer, we are being shown things we are not supposed to – we are becoming voyeurs on other people’s lives and their innermost secrets. It is the inbuilt human perverseness that allows us to watch these types of documentary. Shows on television like “The Hoarder Next Door” appeal to our yearning to spy behind the closed doors of others.
But then what is it that appeals to us about the Expository mode of documentary? With this style the viewer observes, typically, a series of interviews and clips about a certain topic in order to portray a debate or a discussion. This is the style of documentary that most documentaries on the Crime Network work by, usually showing re-enactments of crimes and court cases to discuss certain cases. What appeals to the viewer here is the fact everyone has an opinion. Whether introverted or extroverted each person has an opinion about everything, and whilst watching the Expository form of documentary it is easy to get caught up in a debate or argument depending on which way you are inclined.
“It is the inbuilt human perverseness that allows us to watch these types of documentary… and appeal to our yearning to spy behind the closed doors of others.”
“Grey Gardens” is the epitome of the Observational form of documentary (as I have said before in my essay on the film HERE). It has become a cult film a standalone example of the “fly-on-the-wall” documentation of people’s lives. In years to come I hope and imagine that “Room 237” will garner as much of a cult following, for it is a prime and pivotal example of the Expository form of documentary.
Previously we have had “An Inconvenient Truth” and “Fahrenheit 9/11” but personally the subject matter and politics behind these two films were a little heavy. Director Rodney Ascher has managed here to produce a well thought out, creatively edited and narrated documentary that unsettles the audience as much as the source material did back in 1980 – all without actually showing us the interviewees. Instead the audience is treated to clips from “The Shining” that portray exactly what the narrators are trying to explain, which makes it altogether easier as an audience to follow the conspiracy theories they are producing. And sometimes it gets very difficult to follow the five main lines of arguments and theories.
When I first started watching the film, I literally had no idea what to expect. The trailer for the film was very limited (view below) purely for the fact there is no film per se. Indeed “Room 237” could have been a book, with each theorist’s argument written in the form of essays, using images from the film to illustrate points. Or it could have been a radio show, as we never once see the interviews in the actual film so the visuals are not necessary. But no, the fact Rodney Ascher has used clips from “The Shining” (we basically see the film in it’s entirety) is remarkably clever for two reasons. One, it helps illustrate each theory – by actually seeing the image of the old Red Indian on the wall of the hotel helps to actually understand the Native American Genocide theory, by seeing the jumper Danny wears with Apollo 11 on it helps to appreciate the Faked Moon Landing theory etc. And two, I believe the director knew that this film, this type of film, would appeal to a certain person or group of people – namely film geeks and movie buffs. By knowing this he has used clips from the films because he knows that would appeal to the target audience. Film geeks and buffs love a good YouTube video of Continuity Errors compilations or television shows about Movie Mistakes, and “Room 237” is a grand, spectacular, giant continuity error compilation – picking out and individually going through each second of “The Shining” and pointing out the moments and trivial visuals that all conspire to show us Stanley Kubrick was a genius.
“Room 237 is a grand, spectacular, giant continuity error compilation – picking out and individually going through each second of The Shining and pointing out the moments and trivial visuals that all conspire to show us Stanley Kubrick was a genius.”
However, my not knowing what to expect in the film was quickly cleared up by the first interviewee Bill Blakemore, who goes into great detail about his first time with “The Shining” – vividly recalling the precise seat he sat in and the exact hand he used to grab his belt buckle (his left) during his first viewing of the film. And then he recounts to the viewer the one thing he took away from the film, the single most important piece of imagery throughout the entire motion picture after his first encounter with it – a can of baking powder. From this can of baking powder, that appears in “The Shining” on two occasions, very briefly, Blakemore was able to deduce that the film was not your typical scary movie or psychological thriller, it was instead a hidden visual representation of the Native American Genocide – genius! And it was at this moment, 3 minutes 46 seconds into the film, that I realised “Room 237” was itself a masterpiece.
For more information on the film and to find out about screenings near you, the official website is available HERE!