There’s getting deeper into movies and then there’s ROOM 237. It’s a new documentary opening April 5, available on cable VOD right now, about obsessive fans of Stanley Kubrick’s 1980 horror film THE SHINING. The doc is both fascinating and frightening. It’s fascinating as it indulges these fans who find all sorts of layered symbolism in the movie, and it’s frightening as the more you here these fans go on and on, you realize they may be more than just a little off their rockers. In some cases, these movie buffs are scarier than anything Kubrick conjured up in his film about the haunted Overlook Hotel.
Interestingly, we never get to see any of these over-the-top fans in ROOM 237. They're kept off screen, as we only hear their narrative accompanying the scenes played out from the movie that they insist are laden with hidden meaning. By doing so, filmmaker Rodney Ascher (THE S FROM HELL) might be saving them from ridicule. Or is he letting you watch his doc with the feeling that you're being joined on the couch by a fanatical friend? Maybe he wants us to feel like we're listening to some overly pretentious DVD commentary. No matter, it allows us to view and judge the scenes from THE SHINING for ourselves, at face value.
Still, there are certain details in THE SHINING that do beg questions. Why did Kubrick dress youngster Danny in that ‘Apollo 11’ knit sweater? Why is there Indian symbolism everywhere in the movie, from the art on the walls to the eagle T-shirt Nicholson wears to the cans of Calumet baking powder seen in the pantry? And what is it with all the sexual imagery and the blood red rooms everywhere? Is Kubrick trying to equate ‘red rum’ (the word murder backwards in the movie, if you recall) with the blood of birth? Or the sins of extramarital sex? I’m not sure, but there is definitely phallic imagery in that carpet in room 237 when Torrance encounters the nude bather. That one's pretty obvious.
The intellectual maze that these fans create in regards to THE SHINING is as intricate and head spinningly complex as the garden maze that Torrance gets lost in at the end. And by the end of ROOM 237, you may not be certain of anything that Kubrick is showing you. Are even the titles symbolic? Are the dissolves trying to tell us something with their strange layering of one scene onto the next? Are those twins an extension of Shelly Duvall's motherly instincts? Egads, don't pass the popcorn! Pass the Advil!