Movie Review: 'Room 237' gets geeky over 'The Shining'

Is Kubrick’s ‘The Shining’ a subliminally loaded examination on the evils of mankind? A gory commentary on the founding of America? An allegorical diatribe on the horrors of the Holocaust?

In the fascinating documentary ‘Room 237,’ Stanley Kubrick’s adaptation of Stephen King’s best seller is put under a microscopic examination by five obsessed “experts” on the symbolism, archetypes used, and film techniques employed to create a unique horror masterpiece.

Kubrick’s entire directorial oeuvre could be described as horror film with a sociopolitical edge. From ‘Paths of Glory’, ‘A Clockwork Orange’, and ‘Full Metal Jacket’ alone, the famed director seemed steeped in examining the basest depths to which humans plunge themselves in pursuit of each of his own darkness.

Framed in grand, wide-angled images are often the seeds of madness itself. Stanley Kubrick’s ability to paint these images onto movie screens even resulted in what critics and followers have defined over the years as “The Kubrick Stare” as the actor/vehicle for his tale descends into obvious insanity.

‘Room 237’, the 2012 documentary from director Rodney Ascher, examines Kubrick’s ‘The Shining’ in near-conspiratorial fan insights in an attempt to determine just exactly what the legendary director created for audiences.

Is ‘The Shining’ a polished and sly political statement? Did Kubrick create a disturbing allegorical montage documenting the long history of man’s basest nature? Was Kubrick’s “horror” film really an indictment on our forefathers’ mistreatment of Native Americans?

Where ‘Room 237’ succeeds is in postulating some very insightful and interesting theories about Kubrick’s true intent and message in ‘The Shining.’

‘Room 237’ falters, however, in presenting too many alternatives from its various experts. Several interesting ideas are presented about the film, but by focusing on all of them ‘237’ director Ascher proves none of them.

The doc is akin to having a poetry reading with several people interpreting the intent of an author. No one opinion is right or wrong and each point of view seems valid. However, a lack of consensus seems to only raise questions without answers and ‘Room 237’ ultimately felt tantamount to “all foreplay…no finish.”

The documentary eschews having its ‘Shining’ dissectors appear on camera, as each of their commentaries and insights are essentially voice-overs as footage from ‘The Shining’ and various other films is shown.

This emotional disconnect from the experts forms a wedge between the audience and each insightful observer of Kubrick’s film. I want to see the facial expressions of someone who is so passionate about any subject instead of an occasionally giddy anecdote from a faceless film nerd. I felt distanced from the theory each was presenting.

Tightening up the number of loose threads by focusing on compelling interviews and fewer theories would have made me enjoy ‘Room 237’ even more.

To that point, however, ‘Room 237′ is an-often thought-provoking and passionate documentary about perhaps one of horror films’ misunderstood “classics.”

For hardcore fans of Stanley Kubrick or of ‘The Shining,’ ‘Room 237’ is a passionate, don’t-miss love letter to a classic film whose timelessness only grows as the years roll by.

Flixnerd Rating: ★★★☆☆

‘Room 237’ is available streaming on iTunes





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