ROOM 237

5 Stars
Year Released: 2012
MPAA Rating: Unrated
Running Time: 102 minutes
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This review was originally published on February 2, 2012…

When examining art, you can find meaning or allegory in almost anything. Not only that, but with careful creativity and academic gymnastics, you can graft a meaning onto a piece of art that coalesces with whatever it is you’re trying to say. Whether or not the meaning you’ve culled out of a poem, book, painting, song or movie is completely correct can almost never be truly proved or disproved which is why, for me, serious film studies have always been somewhat indigestible. And I say this as a “film scholar,” having received my Masters Degree in Cinema Studies, which is to say I read and watched the assignments and jumped through the hoops necessary to earn that degree, but in the back of my mind I always wondered if it was all bullshit.

Still, I love studying film and looking at meanings hidden within frames even though I still find the idea of “semiotics,” when boiled down to a Cliff-Notes version of a definition means that true meaning in film can be defined by studying the signs that are present onscreen which create a sort-of unanimous language, is ridiculous because obviously there are many different languages in different countries and if a filmmaker is expressing his or herself, they are not using a singularly defined and accepted form of symbols to make a point. Their background and experiences as well as the person receiving them via the film can differ wildly, thus a true answer or the meaning of a symbol can never be defined.

At least, that’s my take on it. But rather than get into my personal gripes with certain areas of cinematic academia, let me just say the documentary “Room 237” is a fun and wildly engaging look at various in-depth analysis of Stanley Kubrick’s film “The Shining” and what the things seen onscreen mean to different people.

In the film, director Rodney Ascher examines the insights of five people of varied backgrounds who have all seen secret signs, symbols and meanings in “The Shining” that have lead them on wildly differing paths in search of what Kubrick’s film “really” means. If you are a fan of film study and/or conspiracy theories, you can do no better than this film as the theories imbedded within hold just enough water to be curiously insightful yet are also so batshit crazy, there’s no way they can be true. Or, can they?

In a way, “Room 237” is a film about film theory and criticism in that yes, what is being said could be true but if you ask someone else in another area of expertise where their obsession or area of interest lies, the film can mean something completely different but equally believable. Or equally full of crap as sometimes, as the old adage goes, “a cigar is just a cigar.” But no matter what you believe (or, don’t) “Room 237” is a fascinating watch for casual film fans all the way to hardcore film devotees and everyone in between.

In his film, Ascher uses footage from “The Shining,” as well as various other Kubrick films and some films that have nothing to do with Kubrick at all, to tell these varied stories. We never see a talking head or a face behind these ideas as they explain their stance, the entire film is told through film clips. I don’t want to give away these theories as that’s part of the fun in watching the film but I will say I own a DVD called “Kubrick’s Odyssey: Secrets Hidden in the films of Stanley Kubrick” by Jay Weidner which is one of the storylines in “Room 237.” I bought it after stumbling across Weidner’s website and was just too intrigued to let it pass.

In his doc, Weidner proposes NASA hired Kubrick to fake the moon landings in exchange for carte blanche in terms of accessing NASA for research on “2001: A Space Odyssey” and to assist with future interference from studios on all his projects (ie; there would be no studio interference ever again). But the catch is, Kubrick is not allowed to tell anyone about this deal, not even his wife. Weidner then claims that “The Shining” is  Kubrick’s mea culpa for faking the moon landing as well as for lying to his wife and that many images onscreen are Kubrick coming clean in order to clear his conscience.

Weidner’s film is a perfect blend of paranoid conspiracy and completely amazing and intriguing insights that create a perfect conspiratorial brew. While you busy yourself doing spit-takes at the insanity of the proposals being made, you somehow can’t help but wonder if Weidner is onto something. Thus is the entire experience of “Room 237.”

I loved this film and hope it finds a way to get out into the world. It’ll be tough, as Ascher and company will have to fight for “fair use” in terms of the clips being used but I’m also fairly certain they can use the new rules of fair use in terms of using them for educational purposes as “Room 237” is not only fun but highly educational.

To me this film looks at what in-depth criticism of art really means, which is basically: everything or nothing at all, it’s in the eye of the beholder. But at the heart of every conspiracy theorist is a desperate hope that they are right and having seen “Room 237,” I can’t completely discount every person’s take on the film or at least not every part of their insight. As a result, “Room 237” is an incredibly engaging watch. You don’t have to be a die-hard film fan to fall into this adventure but, even if you are, the ride is equally as fun.



Posted on September 21, 2012 in Reviews by
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7 Comments on "ROOM 237"

  1. BK on Mon, 6th Feb 2012 7:16 pm 

    To peer into the truly batshit crazy, check out http://iahuasca.blogspot.com and read about The Kubrick Transformer, a synced up arrangement of The Shining, 2001: A Space Odyssey, and Pink Floyd’s The Wall. Seriously, just take a few minutes of your time before you dismiss this entirely. A segment of this arrangement was screened at The Sync Book’s event in New York last month. No schizo.


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  2. Joe A on Wed, 10th Apr 2013 3:31 am 

    I’ve been waiting for over a year to see this film as I have to admit I’m a huge sucker for a great (and crazy) conspiracy theory. In addition, I’m an avid Kubrick fan having seen, and do indeed own, every single film he’s made. (Which includes his shorts: Day of the Fight, The Flying Padre, and The Seafarers.)

    This film was a huge disappointment quite frankly. Starting w/ the opening which seemed a bit clumsy. (The ABC jounrnalist, Bill Blakemore aka the Native American genocide guy, discusses seeing the film in Europe and the marketing which says The Shining is the ‘terror sweeping the nation.’) We see a scene from Eyes Wide Shut in which Cruise’s Bill Harford stands outside of the Sonata cafe looking at the aforementioned posters advertising the film. The problem is EWS is set in NYC in the late 90’s, albeit being shot in the UK but it seems an awkward intro. Then we get these inane, awful re-enacments of the various conspiracists watching the film at the cinema presumably in lieu of actually showing the subjects. Many of the clips of various other Kubrick films are only loosely associated w/ the subjects being discussed.

    The whole thing feels like a put on carefully crafted by Mr. Ascher to not necessarily make an engaging, compelling, or fascinating doc, but rather how can he use a great filmmaker’s ouevre to promote his own career. This film has some fun moments, and is not w/o merit. But, it mostly reminds me of all those awful, cringe inducing so-called docs that came out in the late 90’s that were somehow tenuously connected to Lucas’ awful Star Wars prequel trilogy a la The Phanton Menace. One such ‘doc’ was nothing more than footage and interviews of fans standing on line waiting to see the film. It shocked and appalled me to see how, not only were they getting distribution, but rave reviews… Room 237 is slightly more worthwhile, but only slightly. I can’t believe how many intelligent and worthwhile film writers whom I have enormous respect for have fallen for this film.


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  3. Don R. Lewis on Wed, 10th Apr 2013 2:10 pm 

    Joe-
    I understand your issues and can see where you’re coming from. Thing is, ROOM 237 is about how people obsess on movies; their details, trivia, outtakes and especially “what they mean.” It’s the whole basis for film criticism- finding a way to decode an authors intent. The film’s not *really* about THE SHINING, but rather that films a jumping off point. I think Ascher’s use of other films when he’s talking about Kubrick films is a clever way of getting at this idea.

    Also, in re-reading some of what I wrote I apologize to all for some truly BAD sentence structure. WOW. I wrote this deep in the doldrums of Sundance and I was clearly very tired or, someone slipped me peyote.


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  4. Joe A on Wed, 10th Apr 2013 6:20 pm 

    Nothing wrong w/ peyote my friend:) I get that as a filmmaker one couldn’t design a better, more appealing film to the critic so to speak. It goes right to the heart of the obsession that every cineaste feels or experiences. But, is it a good film? It’s certainly very watchable, but at the end of the day, something the maestro himself understood very well. A film is usually only as interesting as the people in it. The only ‘people’ in this film are those from the vatrious SK films themselves and the re-enacters, and some disconnected voices, which left a bit to be desired imho.

    It’s definitely not w/o merit, but I don’t think it’ll stand the test of time. Then again, maybe so… that’s makes this all so fun:)


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  5. Rick Kisonak on Thu, 11th Apr 2013 10:49 am 

    I congratulate Joe, BK and Don on the civility of this exchange and likewise suspect peyote use may be at the heart of the controversy. As in the film’s creators using way too much of it while making the movie. I remember watching it on a screener for awards consideration (someone had a sense of humor) and having the nagging suspicion the whole thing was a magnificent prank on the part of Christopher Guest. Hey, here’s a hidden clue: One of his films is called For Your Consideration. Eerie…


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  6. Don R. Lewis on Thu, 11th Apr 2013 4:53 pm 

    The fact that the film has engaged us all, made us think and then take time to write out thoughts makes it a winner, in my book.


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  7. Joe A on Thu, 11th Apr 2013 8:05 pm 

    LOL! Good one Rick:)


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