January 25, 2012


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Written by: Mitch Salem
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I write this as a fairly obsessive fan of Stanley Kubrick, back since I desperately wanted to see A Clockwork Orange in its original X-rated release but was too young to get in. So the very idea of ROOM 237, a feature-length film by Rodney Ascher constructed of the theories and interpretations that have been formed around The Shining is, to be honest, catnip for me.
Let me prove my Kubrick-geek (Kub-Geek?) bona fides at the outset. I was moderately outraged that the movie entertained the concept that viewing The Shining backwards and forwards simultaneously, the images superimposed on each other (a la The Wizard of Oz and Dark Side of the Moon), would impart hidden insights. The reason? I was one of the people who saw The Shining on its limited opening weekend (at the Criterion Theater in NY) and thus saw the original ending, which Kubrick had removed from each individual print a few days later. It was an epilogue set in the hospital where Wendy and Danny were recovering (before the final shot of the 1921 photo with Jack) and its excision was no loss, but the point is that its removal changed the running time of the film, altering any possible superimposition. Room 237 (do I really need to say that the title refers to the room where Jack encounters the nude woman who becomes a rotting corpse?) should at least have mentioned that, damn it.

Ascher, though, isn’t particularly interested in “proving” or “disproving” any hypothesis–he simply allows its particular obsessives to reel off their theories in voice-over, while we watch the footage that illustrates their points (or sometimes just illustrates random things they’re saying–good luck justifying those latter clips under fair use, man!)

Many movies have given rise to bizarre, elaborate, tortured interpretations over the years (a technical term for this is “French film criticism”), but Kubrick’s provide more fodder than most. There are a few reasons for this. One, of course, is the director’s famed perfectionism, his own obsessive attention to detail. It’s easy to assume some critical meaning must lie in every frame, when Kubrick insisted that each one be absolutely perfect. Combine that with Kubrick’s fondness for narrative vagueness, and the fact that his films really do comtemplate giant philosophical themes, and the result is a formula for fixation.
The theories featured in Room 237 run the gamut from one reasonably finding The Shining to be, on some level, a tale about the conquest of the American Indians–the film’s own dialogue and production design call attention to this theme–to the fairly crazy idea that it’s Kubrick’s way of confessing that he personally faked the footage of Apollo 11’s landing on the moon, pre-Capricorn One. My personal favorite, however unlikely, was that a quick shot of a red Volkswagon pinned under an 18-wheeler (when Hallorann is making his way back to the Overlook) is Kubrick’s coded message to Stephen King that this was Kubrick’s Shining and not King’s. Which would serve King right for his rejection of the movie over the past 30 years (until it was cut short by the terms of a deal with Warners–but that’s another theory).
Ascher’s decision to make Room 237 a compilation of illustrated theories (we never even see the theorizers) sometimes makes it feel more like a Powerpoint presentation than a movie. (I did, however, appreciate little touches like its studio logo designed to look like the Warners one circa 1980.) Its reflection of a certain kind of movie love, though, make it uniquely fascinating–albeit undoubtedly more so for those who are already members of the church of Kubrick.

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About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."