During my time as an English Literature major, whenever taking up a piece of fiction, I was always encouraged to “read between the lines” and determine the subtext (if any) using different literary theories and critical lenses. In essays from then on, I endeavoured to solve the most enigmatic puzzles using complicated theses, locating various conversations, narrative descriptions, etc. to prove my (sometimes stretched) point. What I tried to do in essays is exactly what “Room 237” does with Stanley Kubrick’s “The Shining.” Through 103 minutes of narrative voice-over, frame-by-frame breakdowns, montages from various Kubrick films and pop culture videos, and screenshots, “Room 237” endeavours to present various perspectives and theses to determine “The Shining”‘s ultimate meaning.
Kubrick as Meta-Theatrical Magician
The multiple narrators of “Room 237” scrutinize every detail, read through every subliminal image, and disregard every potential continuity error to suggest “nothing is arbitrary,” and ultimately depict Kubrick as Producer/Director Extraordinaire. Given that “Barry Lyndon” was Kubrick’s film prior to “The Shining,” one narrator argues Kubrick was a “bored genius” in serious need of an outlet. Thus, “The Shining” became Kubrick’s psychological masterpiece with a multitude of deeply laid subtexts.
Given this is a film review of a film review, it’s very difficult for me to identify all the subtexts highlighted by the narrators. Especially since the entirety of “Room 237” is spent trying to prove and validate arguments about the meaning of “The Shining.” It is my ultimate conclusion; however, that “Room 237” successfully proves Kubrick is the greatest meta-theatrical magician because the multitude of subtexts are so drawn out, it proves the film must have multiple layers of historical, political, cultural, and social meaning. Some narrators justify that these subtexts speak to ancient mythology as well as Kubrick’s opinions on the Holocaust. Two of my personal favourites state, “‘The Shining’ is truly about the genocide of the American Indian,” and, alternatively, “‘The Shining’ is a film about haunted phantoms who are sexually attracted to humans and are, therefore, feeding off them.”
In regards to the narrators’ credibility, some are film professors as well as Holocaust historians; however, there are the few theorists who undermine the narrative’s credibility by stepping away from the microphone (which sounds a lot like Skype or a Webcam microphone) to silence their screaming toddler in the background, for example. Similarly, there are a few times in the film when the narrator hems or haws over the point he is trying to make. Despite the few instances where the narrators sound like they don’t know what they’re talking about, “Room 237″‘s brilliance lies in its ability to depict Kubrick as “the megabrain of the planet,” and unite such unrelated topics as Apollo 11 conspiracy theories and debased human sexuality.
King vs. Kubrick
One of my favourite scenes in “Room 237” is when the narrator brings “The Shining” back to its origins as a Stephen King novel. The narrator, quite brilliantly, compares the “Volkswagen and 18 Wheeler Snowstorm Collision” scene in the novel and Kubrick’s rendition of that scene in the movie, and concludes that Kubrick intentionally changed slight details to undermine King. Did King despise Kubrick? “Room 237” says he absolutely did, and Kubrick did not care in the least as Kubrick was trying to use “The Shining” as his ultimate confession. What was he trying to use “The Shining” to confess? You’ll have to watch “Room 237” to figure that out.
In a very structured film comprised of nine parts, each with its own agenda for what it aims to accomplish in analyzing “The Shining,” the narrators themselves either make or break these sections of the film. Insofar that “Room 237” is primarily voice-overs and montages, the onus is on the narrators to sway the audience into witnessing the truth of his/her claim, and some are very unsuccessful. However, there are arguments presented well by the narrator, and they have a strong impact on the viewer, seeming absolutely plausible. But, all-in-all, “Room 237” has instigated my desire to re-watch “The Shining” since there’s a lot I’ve clearly missed in the last several times I’ve seen it.
My Rating: 7.5/10