Room 237 ★★★

Rodney Ascher’s documentary is a fascinating and certifiable film about obsession. In the thirty odd years since the release of Kubrick’s seminal, The Shining, a small but committed group of film fans have poured over every frame of the movie looking for hidden meanings. Room 237 collects these delirious and diverging theories and presents them as a labyrinthine video-essay that borders on the farcical.

Room 237 is a compelling documentary that is brilliantly edited using a novel range of archival footage from The Shining and beyond. Divided into nine-parts, it explores theories from the downright ridiculous (that it is an admission that Kubrick faked the moon landing) to the more obvious and reasoned (documenting the many impossible rooms and shifting geography of the Overlook hotel). Each theory is given equal weight and credibility with Ascher avoiding discrediting or ridiculing the more absurd interpretations. This directorial impartiality is welcome as it allows the audience to come to their own conclusions when confronted by these wildly subjective ideas.

Although the documentary is divided into chapters the different theories are woven together to create an obsessive tapestry full of insane conspiracy theories and fastidious fallacies. Each new impassioned contributor seems more crazy than the last as they get lost in the minutia of superfluous details. Only a director of Kubrick’s standing could inspire such demented devotion and meticulous scrutiny. Whilst some of the theories have credible foundations (such as the film being about the slaughter of native Indians) the contributors constantly scramble around for more references and in the process make their original argument less and less plausible.

As a devoted fan of The Shining I find this obsessive need to deconstruct the film’s mysterious power fascinating. Yet Room 237 ends up lost in its own madness with the crackpot theories becoming draining rather than absurdly intriguing. The methodical yet drawn out pacing as well as the incessant voice over only reinforces this maddening sensation: It’s like being stuck on a long haul flight with a conspiracy nut - by the end you have to tune out just to preserve your sanity.

It is a film that constantly teeters on the edge of indulgent insanity as the obsessive and absurd theories become as troubling as the film that inspired them. In the end, just like Jack Torrance, these fascinating/ridiculous contributors have been driven mad by the impossible mysteries of the Overlook hotel and have no chance of escape.

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