What’s most strange about ROOM 237 is that this is a documentary that for all intents and purposes should work on all levels. Rodney Ascher’s film allows six obsessed fans the opportunity to present their ideas, concepts and theories as to what Stanley Kubrick’s THE SHINING is truly about and what the filmmaker was trying to say with it, no matter how far-fetched they may be... and yet while a film is the perfect medium to support the cases each is making through the film’s numerous sections, it’s the moving pictures that really fail ROOM 237, undermining the very content of this sometimes interesting, sometimes wild, sometimes ludicrous beliefs as to what Kubrick was doing with his adaptation of Stephen King’s work back in 1980.
Ascher makes the interesting decision to make this talking-heads film one that features no talking-heads, only using a stream of imagery from a variety of Kubrick’s works, both THE SHINING and not THE SHINING. However, seeing the very personalities that are offering up their ideas would have made for a nice break of seeing what feels like a highlight package of Kubrick’s films, ranging from 2001 to BARRY LYNDON to EYES WIDE SHUT and so on and so forth. As a result, it makes it difficult to follow who is speaking often at times, which sort of makes all the ideas blend together after awhile. ROOM 237 plays like a film lecture where the Powerpoint presentation has gone mad. There are instances where Ascher uses the visual evidence from THE SHINING to point out a commentator’s hypothesis, like Danny’s Apollo sweater implying that Kubrick is making comments about his involvement in the faking of the moon landing, and that is where ROOM 237 does click, but the rest of the film can feel quite monotonous in spots when you’re seeing the same imagery pass before your eyes over and over and over again.
ROOM 237 isn’t all about the theories though; that’s merely the package it comes in. If you dig deeper below the surface, you’ll find a film that examines our own analysis of films, where two people can look at the exact same movie and interpret it in two completely different ways. Add in a third person, and they may offer up their own drastically different perspective. And the more we watch them, the more expansive our ideas may get, sometimes even generating new theories that conflict with other ideas we continue to hold for the material. We also obsess about films, like some may with art or music. We don’t let the ones that really impact us go, and we can recall the finest details of those pictures and use them to argue any point we’ve made up our minds about. Those greater ideas about ROOM 237 are a unique approach, but just because it’s an interesting thought process doesn’t make for a good film.
ROOM 237 is a struggle to get through as a result of those visuals which do not engage you at all and often detract from what is being said about THE SHINING. Quite often you might find yourself wondering why you’re looking at a scene from A CLOCKWORK ORANGE when that very film isn’t even part of the discussion... and when your mind wanders there, it takes your attention away from the delivery of the content, and, if that’s the case, then what’s the point in even trying to pay attention?
Ascher’s documentary deals with some intriguing ideas, but it doesn’t quite land what it’s going for. On paper... well, what is being said by the commentators may actually have made for a better book than a film, using stills and photographs to illustrate various ideas, especially when the film winds up deviating from what should be a rather simple visual approach. And if we’re just talking about the various ways people interpret films or obsess over them, there has to be a better way to present those concepts than the way ROOM 237 chooses. As a result, ROOM 237’s content may grab your attention, but due to some questionable decisions made about their visual delivery, ROOM 237 settles in as one of the films you ponder “What could have been?” if it really lived up to its potential.
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