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London Film Festival 2012 Alternative Review: Room 237

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Although we already have a review I thought I would offer up a different opinion on the Rodney Ascher documentary, Room 237.

Despite being a long-time fan of both Stephen King and Stanley Kubrick I realized that I had never read or seen The Shining in full when I received my invite to the documentary. Of course, before seeing Room 237 I got myself caught up: I watched the film, I ran through the book and – as I expected – I admired both for their respective merits and scares. I had already been exposed to umpteen popular culture references and already learned many theories behind the film through general reading on Kubrick and I assumed that Room 237 was going to be one of the more interesting films I got to see this year. That said, and despite every reputable film blog/magazine/critic lapping up the doc, Room 237 simply failed to impress me.

Claiming to divulge the secrets and hidden meanings of Stanley Kubrick’s adaptation of the Stephen King novella, the documentary is split into nine different sections which aim to tackle different theories based on the film. These theories range from the film serving as evidence that Kubrick filmed the ‘faux moon-landing’ in 1969 to the film standing as an allegory for the Holocaust, to the film making a statement on the genocide of the Native Americans.

I am all for reading up wild theories on the internet and find the film’s subject fascinating, but listening to those theories being talked about in Room 237 is mind-numbing. This is where the two flaws of the film come into play. First off, we never see any of the theorists throughout and are never informed of their credentials. Instead, the film is made entirely of inter-cutting scenes of The Shining and other Kubrick films (as well as unlicensed clips from various ‘relevant’ films which will make it difficult for the documentary to gain distribution) as it flits between each theorist rambling uninterrupted on what they believe the film is about.

The other major flaw is that not only can we not identify with the speakers, but the speakers never get to identify with each other. Each theorist’s voice randomly pops up every now and then – essentially rendering the nine sections useless – and pose their thoughts on a particular theme, scene or technique without challenge. None of these thoughts link or contrast. There is no argument or discussion; no debunking or confirming. All ‘to’ and no ‘fro’ makes Room 237 a very dull documentary.

Room 237 is undoubtedly passionate about its subject matter. Most of the theories – no matter how far-fetched – resonate in some way and even seem plausible at times, but because of its multiple unanchored, un-opposing threads it is hard to stay interested in any given one or the film as a whole. On the internet we read one opinion and then another at our leisure. With Room 237 we are made to sit through each opinion, whether we care for it or not, in their entirety. While it can be argued that there is no right or wrong when it comes to discussing the subjective art of film-making, Room 237 is simply a bland documentary with plenty of good ideas but no structure. Just like a Kubrick film it is polarising. I have taken my side, and I hope you get to someday too.

@sjbowron