There was a lot of hype from film fans when this first came out and I was excited to finally see it. It was definitely insightful and fun. In it, fans/critics who have deeply examined the film discuss the symbolism of the film and draw conclusions that relate it to the holocaust, the Native American genocide and even the moon landing.
Overall, Room 237 points out some clear symbolism that seems intended. The movie is indeed about dealing with our pasts and our mistakes, just like Jack. This is blatant in the book, but in the movie, the remorse is expressed subtly with these layered metaphors. So is this movie about Native American genocide? or the Holocaust? Yes and no. It is about human cruelty and living with ourselves after committing terrible acts. But I think it’s simpler to say that these references are just that, allusions that help bolster the idea that Jack is damaged and damaging to his family. Rather than hit us over the head with his struggles and abuses, Kubrick uses symbols and objects that imply his character.
Writers have so much more leeway than film makers in this area. A writer can explain details, describe a character’s history or thoughts and paint a picture. In fact, they must in order to weave a good story. But a director who uses voice over narration or poorly placed exposition is lazy. So a great director, like Kubrick, doesn’t rely on these devices but on the set, the symbols, the colors, the sound. The director writes the story with imagery and action which is often complex and layered. Why mention that the overlook is on an Indian Burial Ground? So we are then attuned to notice all the Native symbols and photos inside. So that we think about the past, we see that the present is built upon it, that there is always more to the story, of course.
Then we have the wackiest of the theories, that this film is Kubrick’s confession that he helped fake the moon landing. This is where we enter that ancient aliens territory of stringing together loose coincidences and trying to make it seem true. It’s just not substantive enough for me. A young boy is wearing a sweater with a rocket, big whoop. Have you met little boys? The words ‘room no.’ can be respelled as moon (also moron, but that doesn’t get mentioned) and the lighting in the moon landing footage is supposedly odd and clearly stage lighting. Whatever, how the hell are we supposed to know how light looks in that setting? How can you argue that? And a key to a hotel door would say ‘room no.’ that’s all there really is to that. I might buy that Kubrick wanted to emphasize certain numbers, but since it doesn’t serve to further the main narrative, who cares? We should never lose sight of the story.
Ultimately, what I enjoyed is the love these people have for this great movie and the way Kubrick masterfully crafts it. The characters are not just revealed in dialogue but in every object in the room. And the insights to some of those symbols and their potential meanings is great. I love these kinds of discussions and would love to have more traditional salons, where a piece of literature or film is discussed with such depth and enthusiasm.
However, it was a goofy documentary. It uses clips from other films to illustrate its narrative and we never see the cinephiles behind the theories. And while I like analysis, symbolism and hidden meanings, and while I believe that the director often intends these, I also feel that dwelling on the deeper meanings too much makes us lose sight of the film itself. It’s like taking more pictures of what you are doing rather than just enjoying doing it.
The Shining is one of the best horror movies ever made and this documentary is so thoroughly insightful and entertaining I recommend checking it out.