A search for signs and symbols hidden in Stanley Kubrick’s horror classic The Shining, Rodney Ascher’s entertaining Room 237 is an unerring look at obsession - a fitting theme given its five amateur theorists are all entrenched in a world created by one of the most obsessive directors of them all.
While numerous Kubrick movies have generated similar internet-spawned interest - look, for example, at the number of theories surrounding Eyes Wide Shut - it seems fitting that Ascher zeroes in on this nerve-shredding 1980 adaptation of Stephen King’s novel, a story where unseen forces drive Jack Nicholson’s snow-bound hotel caretaker Jack Torrance into the mouth of madness.
Each of the five interviewees - Bill Blakemore, Geoffrey Cocks, Juli Kearns, John Fell Ryan and Jay Weidner - seemingly understand something of that, their very distinct theories requiring such microscopic analysis and so many repeat viewings that the film’s infamous phrase “all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy” springs readily to mind.
Illustrated with judiciously chosen clips from both The Shining and other Kubrick movies, Ascher lets his guests speak one by one (we never see them) before cutting back and forth.
ABC newsman Blakemore believes it’s an allegory for the Native American genocide (evidence: tins in the hotel’s storeroom). College professor Cocks claims Kubrick is talking about the Holocaust, thanks to Jack’s German-made typewriter.
Musician Ryan plays the film simultaneously backwards and forwards, studying patterns, while playwright Kearns slavishly maps out the Overlook Hotel’s confusing, mind-fuck geography.
Best of all is Weidner’s theory, so juicy it’d be churlish to spoil it. Admittedly it can get quite head-spinning listening to five discombobulated voices. And it does get wearing, straining for clues in carpet patterns. Can these theories be true? Any of them? We’ll never know.
Really it ceases to matter whether it was Kubrick or coincidence, for the joy of Room 237 is watching what happens when film buffs become convinced that the devil’s in the details.