Matthew Kresal has a theory...
From Dr. Strangelove to Eyes Wide Shut, the films of Stanley Kubrick have been a favorite subject for movie buffs and critics. 2001: A Space Odyssey has especially been a favorite topic of discussion and speculation, but the documentary Room 237 proves that it isn't the only Kubrick movie open to a myriad amount of interpretations, as it focuses on another film all together: The Shining (1980).
Told entirely in voice-overs from a number of different contributors, Room 237 features a number of different interpretations of The Shining. In that regard, it's a fascinating piece of work. The joy of watching the film lies in a simple fact: that it is amazing to see what people can believe in. Some of the theories put forward are intriguing (such as the film could be an updated Minotaur tale, or that it is a mediation of sort on the treatment of Native Americans, or on the Holocaust). Others interpretations present are far more “out there” shall we say (such as belief that Kubrick put clues in the film indicating that he'd helped to stage the Apollo Moon landings). The theories themselves, no matter what one makes of them and their validity, are intriguing to witness. For, even as “out there” as they might be, they can reveal things about The Shining that one has likely never noticed before. The results are compelling and intriguing...for the most part.
And there lies the problem with the documentary as well. For better or worse it seems to make no judgments about the theories it puts forwards and just gives them all roughly an equal amount of screen-time. While it makes for a fascinating study of how a piece of art (in this case a film) can produce such a large number of interpretations and opinions, it can also be rather dull at times. There comes a point when it stops being compelling and becomes tedious. It can also be unintentionally hilarious as the “evidence” for some of the theories becomes more and more outlandish, often stretching a theory to and beyond the breaking point of credibility. There are also some issues with the editing as one of the theorists can be heard leaving the room to check on his son at one point, something that (outside of proving that the theorist has a life) adds nothing to the documentary on the whole. As can be the case then, its strength is also its biggest weakness.
At the end of the day, Room 237 is a more often than not compelling documentary. However, compelling does not equal convincing, in regards to the theories it presents. If anything, it's more like looking at the results of a Rorschach Test. The theories put forward reveal far more about the theorists themselves than about The Shining as a film. It's a study of a study and intriguing, if not perfect, for that reason.
Matthew Kresal lives in North Alabama where he's a nerd, doesn't
have a southern accent and isn't a Republican. He's a host of both the
Big Finish centric Stories From The Vortex podcast and the 20mb Doctor Who Podcast. You can read more of his writing at his blog and at The Terrible Zodin fanzine, amongst other places.