***1/2 (out of four)
Perhaps you won’t buy every theory in “Room 237,” a documentary collecting several extensive analyses of Stanley Kubrick’s take on Stephen King’s “The Shining”—a movie no one’s ever called simple or easy to begin with. Doesn’t matter; the thrill’s in the thinking about little pieces of cinematic language as words contributing to a two-hour essay.
In director Rodney Ascher’s fascinating doc, non-professional critics make points about Kubrick’s examination of genocide (including the Holocaust and the killing of American Indians) and the tendency of civilizations in denial to dismiss the past when it’s convenient. They also share arguably more out-there theories, such as “The Shining” verifying that Kubrick helped fake footage of the Apollo moon landing and that a picture of a skier actually depicts a minotaur.
The moon landing stuff almost convinces. The minotaur? I’m not buying it.
“Room 237” may not capture the wide range of “Shining” fandom or survey perspectives on the film outside of the participating analysts, but the collection of footage and testimony should be instructive to anyone looking to dig beneath the surface of a film. It’s this kind of thinking, and the conversations that result afterward, that make movie-going—and repeated viewings of films that deserve it—such an enthralling cultural and social experience.
It’s rare to feel the kind of nervous energy that one “Shining” fan describes early in “Room 237.” And it’s a testament to Kubrick, who delighted in details but resisted handing easy answers to audiences, that different people can pull so many different elements from the same material. You might not sync up forward and backward versions of “The Shining” and watch them simultaneously, but you’ll probably want to watch “The Shining” again, then “Room 237” again, then repeat.
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