Sundance Review: ROOM 237, A Documentary About THE SHINING

What secrets and mysteries are contained within Stanley Kubrick's THE SHINING? This documentary examines theories both amazing and strange.

The best movies let you in, give you the space to explore theories and themes and to bring your own analysis to bear. It's thrilling to approach movies from new perspectives, to look for symbols and hidden meanings - whether they were intended or not. There's certainly a conscious level of meaning in all films, but as is always the case in art there are subconscious themes and ideas that slip in, even unbeknownst to the director.

For those who like to get inside movies and throw around theories and thoughts, Stanley Kubrick is a seminal figure. Not just a great filmmaker, Kubrick was an exacting and specific craftsman. It can be argued that there is little in a Kubrick film that is accidental; every detail is there for a reason and has a meaning.

That level of exactitude gives movies like The Shining an incredible cerebral life all their own, but sometimes the fun of over-analysis gives way to obsession and delusion. Room 237 is a movie set right on that line. Director Rodney Ascher interviewed people who have deeply held theories and beliefs in the film that range from the idea that The Shining is actually about the Native American genocide to the belief that the film holds the key to unlocking the truth about Kubrick faking the Moon landing.

Some of these theories are compelling and intriguing; smart film fans will find their cerebral cortexes lighting up with exciting new thoughts about The Shining. Others are entertainingly nuts. And best of all, sometimes an exciting, smart theory suddenly gives way to a totally crazy, bonkers idea. The documentary is sort of structured like the movie's hedge maze, which each intellectual turn a mystery.

What makes Room 237 a truly entertaining film is the fact that it is made up entirely of film clips. There are no talking head interviews - everything is illustrated with movie clips, mostly from Kubrick films. When someone says they got a phone call, Ascher uses a clip of a telephone being picked up in Paths of Glory. When someone says they were in the backseat of a car, Ascher uses a clip of Tom Cruise in the back seat of a car in Eyes Wide Shut. The use of clips is funny and cool - it's the sort of touch that rewards the kind of film nerd who would want to watch a documentary like this in the first place.

The basic concept of Room 237 is that these theorists are, in their own way, trapped inside the Overlook Hotel. This leads to something of a mid-section lull and eventually an ending that sort of fades away. The documentary isn't looking to make any grand statements about the truths of these beliefs, and while the audio interviews give us some small, clever insights into the theorists, the movie makes no grand statement about them either.  I almost wish we got to know these people a little bit more, as they are so fascinatingly odd.

Room 237 is a movie for film lovers, especially those who like long conversations about esoteric minutia. It's a smart movie, a funny movie, an intriguing movie and most of all a movie that is filled with a passion for cinema. The greatest compliment I can pay Room 237 is that the film made me want to go out and immediately watch The Shining again.