Room 237: New Documentary Explores Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining and Those It Obsesses

Young movie fans often dis­cov­er the exis­tence of auteurs through one auteur in par­tic­u­lar: Stan­ley Kubrick. Often, they dis­cov­er him through one film in par­tic­u­lar: The Shin­ing. Adapt­ed — loose­ly adapt­ed, to the point of rein­ven­tion — from Stephen King’s nov­el, Kubrick­’s first pic­ture of the eight­ies found itself mar­ket­ed as a straight-on hor­ror movie. Kids savor few expe­ri­ences so rich­ly as get­ting scared by a sto­ry, but when they sit down to get scared by The Shin­ing, they don’t feel quite what they expect­ed to. The movie may fill them with fear (I’ve per­son­al­ly expe­ri­enced no greater dis­tur­bance than the stare of that 1920s fel­low in the dog cos­tume toward the end), but it also fills them with the sense that it does­n’t quite align with all the hor­ror movies they’ve watched before. Some of these kids want to find out why. Soon­er or lat­er, they stum­ble upon Bill Blake­more’s well-known essay “The Fam­i­ly of Man,” which exam­ines The Shin­ing and finds it brim­ming with sym­bol­ism per­tain­ing to Native Amer­i­can dis­pos­ses­sion and slaugh­ter. These kids sure­ly all grow up to become cinephiles, but I like to think that some grew up to become the sub­jects of Room 237, Rod­ney Ascher’s new doc­u­men­tary about Shin­ing obses­sives, whose trail­er you can watch above.

“In 1980 Stan­ley Kubrick released his mas­ter­piece of mod­ern hor­ror The Shin­ing,” reads the trail­er’s crawl. “Over 30 years lat­er, we’re still strug­gling to under­stand its hid­den mean­ings.” John Pow­ers’ NPR piece on the doc­u­men­tary can tell you more. “Where you may think it’s mere­ly a hor­ror sto­ry — remem­ber that blood flood­ing out of the ele­va­tor? — these devo­tees argue that Kubrick­’s movie is real­ly about more than a writer going homi­ci­dal­ly bonkers,” Pow­ers says. “For one, it’s about the geno­cide against Native Amer­i­cans; for anoth­er, it’s about the Holo­caust; yet anoth­er says the film is Kubrick­’s admis­sion that he helped fake footage of the Apol­lo 11 moon land­ing. By way of evi­dence, these folks point to all sorts of ‘clues,’ from the pres­ence in sev­er­al shots of the Calumet Bak­ing Pow­der logo — with its dis­tinc­tive trib­al chief in a feath­ered head­dress — to appar­ent con­ti­nu­ity errors involv­ing mis­placed chairs that, this being Kubrick, can’t pos­si­bly be mere errors.” Whether you cred­it Shin­ing the­o­ries or not, you might con­sid­er pref­ac­ing your own Room 237 screen­ing with a watch of The Shin­ing Code, an hour-long video essay on Kubrick­’s film that puts this mind­set on dis­play. Just promise us you won’t get involved with any moon hoax peo­ple.

Relat­ed con­tent:

Mak­ing The Shin­ing

The Mak­ing of Stan­ley Kubrick’s The Shin­ing (As Told by Those Who Helped Him Make It)

Ter­ry Gilliam: The Dif­fer­ence Between Kubrick (Great Film­mak­er) and Spiel­berg (Less So)

Dark Side of the Moon: A Mock­u­men­tary on Stan­ley Kubrick and the Moon Land­ing Hoax

Col­in Mar­shall hosts and pro­duces Note­book on Cities and Cul­ture and writes essays on lit­er­a­ture, film, cities, Asia, and aes­thet­ics. He’s at work on a book about Los Ange­lesA Los Ange­les Primer. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall.

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