Room 237 Movie Review
Just when I thought I had found a slam dunk - a documentary about one of my favorite films of all time, The Shining - I quickly realized that Room 237 was not the film I expected and wanted to be. Room 237, so titled for the infamous room from The Shining, takes an interesting approach to the subject matter, gathering an assortment of eccentric lovers of the film who all have various theories on its deeper meanings. Like the film being about the oppression of the Native Americans to Hitler's persecution of the Jews to even stranger interpretations.
Each person is given their chance to explain how they arrived at their theory and provide specific examples of their theory in action. For the most part, these examples are extremely specific and represent nuanced moments from the film, such as the relevance of the placement of a certain kind of can in several of the kitchen scenes or the existence of a window in a room where there should be no window.
The most intriguing and also most troublesome aspect of Room 237 is director Rodney Ascher’s decision to fill the entire runtime only using footage from Kubrick's films. At no point do you ever see any of the people being interviewed (only their voiceover) or their presentations for why they believe their theories are true. What this does is place the interviews in a vacuum and at the whim of the director to manipulate. As the film progresses it begins to more rapidly bounce between the theories to an almost manic level where the audience is left with little option but to scoff at these at these people and their theories. If we would be able to see the subjects, see their passion and see them walk us through their presentation materials it would allow the audience to view them in a more unbiased way.
The director chose to not use this approach for what seems to be stylistic reasons. Understandably, the accompanying visuals drawn from Kubrick's films are very creatively constructed and fans of his work will not be disappointed in that regard, but it almost plays more like a long montage clip from YouTube than a fully fledged feature film.
Perhaps I'm being too hard on the film. I can tell it was trying to take a unique approach to the subject matter by avoiding the standard interview/clip/interview/clip approach, but it doesn't quite work. For example, what makes the films of documentary filmmaker Errol Morris, who consistently finds eccentric characters to explore, so engaging is his ability to show them in all their glory, tell their stories and let the audience decide what they think. Room 237 does not allow the audience that same luxury.
The result is that the film feels mean-spirited by the end. While it should be a celebration of the fans of The Shining and the incredible and lasting impact of the film, it instead ends up poking fun at these die-hard Kubrick-lovers; these are the kinds of passionate audience members any filmmaker would die to have!
So with a bit of a sad heart, Room 237 offered some sweet moments of nostalgic fun, but fell a bit short for me...
Review by Some Other FilmJabber Guy
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.