Room 237 is not to be mistaken as merely a documentary. It is a romantic serenade to the film The Shining, complete with interviews, expert insight and an exciting soundtrack. It is thoughtful, charismatic and thorough. Director Rodney Ascher has taken what is clearly an enjoyable passion of his and turned it into an experiment in discovery and study. His respect and reverence for the efforts of Stanley Kubrick are sincere and heartfelt. This documentary is the mother lode for fans of the cult classic.
The novel The Shining was published in 1977 and became an immediate hit. After Stanley Kubrick solidified himself as a gifted director, it was a major coup for readers of The Shining to learn that such an accomplished filmmaker would be bringing the story to life. The genius known as Kubrick was self-proclaimed to have created a cacophony of terror in his interpretation of Stephen King’s novel. In 1980, after its release, early reviews of the film were contradictory and mediocre at best.
Even today, there are skeptics to the perception of terror the film was set to instill. Early posters for the foreign release of the film claimed it represented that terror which “swept across America”. Candidly, Ascher admits to running out of the theater twenty minutes into the film as a young child. Despite what some have argued as a cartoon-like effect in comparison to the novel, Ascher was indeed terrified by the film.
Appropriately, Room 237 delves into the psyche of the unforgettable and lasting impressions of The Shining. Throughout the documentary are personal reflections of the director and others. Most notable are the perspectives of those who have read the book and their initial reactions to the film; or as Ascher appropriately labels the interviewees: the “most profoundly affected”. From the extreme blood bath to the subtle positioning of canned goods and other prop and accessory placements, no proverbial stone is left unturned in this exploration into all things derived from The Shining.
In January 2011, Ascher and producer Tim Kirk made the mutual decision to bring their fascination with the film to the big screen. After much research and many interesting theories found regarding The Shining, production implemented the personal accounts of several different types of experts. Among them, journalist Bill Blakemore and Kubrick aficionado Jay Weidner lend their wealth of knowledge to the documentary, enhancing the texture with anecdotes and insights perhaps before unconsidered.
Room 237 is beautifully, if not cleverly edited. It reflects director Rodney Ascher’s background with horror movies and their soundtracks. Featured throughout are the cryptic and menacing compositions of The Caretaker, James Kirby’s interpretation of music from Kubrick’s haunted ballroom scene. Included within the film are snippets from Kubrick’s myriad directed features, which are used to express ideas and set tone as the mysteries of the story are compared and contrasted. Audiences who know the works of Stanley Kubrick will appreciate the care put into revealing the incongruences and hidden messages of the film adaptation of Stephen King’s novel.
In one particularly noteworthy moment, the beginning of the film is overlapped simultaneously with the end sequence. Audiences are welcomed to speculate if the late director intentionally orchestrated the timing of the film’s opening credits to allow actor Jack Nicholson’s name to appear in seemingly coordinated timing to his portrait in the end scene. It is this brand of immersion that keeps the documentary insightful and protects it from projecting as dictatorial or flat.
Though Room 237 is constructed by an obvious lover of Kubrick’s film, enjoyment of the documentary is not restricted to those who have seen the film. Nor is the film restrictive to those who are unfamiliar with King’s novel. Audiences will find that this documentary is much like an exciting carnival ride that journeys into Kubrick’s The Shining and what is perceived as his interpretation of global warfare and misinformation. Much like its polar response from critics and loyalists alike, it is an experience in the creative arts as well as in popular culture. In sum, Room 237 attempts to locate and solve the riddle that has become the obsession and fascination that is Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining, and the alleged terror that swept America.
Editor’s Note: Southern Californian moviegoers can catch Room 237 at the Sundance Sunset in West Hollywood, Laemmle’s Playhouse 7 in Pasadena and South Coast Village in Costa Mesa.