The subtitle of “Room 237” is “Being an Inquiry Into ‘The Shining’ in 9 Parts,” and Rodney Ascher’s fascinating documentary subjects Stanley Kubrick’s 1980 horror classic (based on Stephen King’s 1977 novel) to intense scrutiny that ranges from critically astute to far-fetched absurdity.
The title of Ascher’s inquiry is taken from the Overlook Hotel, the haunted setting of King’s novel and Kubrick’s film. A forbidden place where unspeakable horrors occurred, Room 237 is just one of many mysteries that leave Kubrick’s film so enticingly open to interpretation.
Ascher invited five obsessive viewers to share their divergent observations about Kubrick’s film. Heard but never seen, their thoughts are accompanied by extensive clips from “The Shining” and dozens of other films, from the sci-fi cheesiness of “The Brain from Planet Arous” to the challenging formalism of “Last Year in Marienbad.”
If the result is best appreciated by serious cinephiles, so be it: “Room 237” is an act of uncommon devotion to cinema, embracing the notion that movies are best defined by what happens to us as we watch them — how our own beliefs and experiences dictate our interpretation of what we’ve seen and heard. At a time when analytical film essays are abundant on YouTube, “Room 237” acknowledges (to paraphrase one participant) that movies can yield interpretations far beyond the filmmaker’s artistic intentions.
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Kubrick encouraged such interpretive latitude (especially with regard to “2001”), so when “Room 237” views “The Shining” through prisms of Native American genocide, the Holocaust, architectural oddities, numerology and even the ludicrous suggestion that Kubrick faked the Apollo moon landing on film, it’s a safe bet that Kubrick (who died in 1999) would be delighted with Ascher’s film. It confirms a work of importance and lasting value, which is all any serious artist can hope for.