Room 237 (2012, Rodney Ascher)

I can’t believe people took this movie as serious criticism of The Shining and complained about its arguments instead of reveling in Ascher’s technique. He wastes no time showing us the Shining obsessives and conspirators on-camera, or obtaining rebuttals from people involved in the original film’s production – just uses these stories and fantasies to spiral further inside the movie, revisiting and altering footage to suit him, bringing the rest of Kubrick’s films into the mix (one speaker is visualized using Tom Cruise from Eyes Wide Shut). It’s a clear progression from his short The S From Hell to this – can’t imagine where he’ll go next.

Noel Murray says it best:

The Shining can’t be a coded confession by Kubrick that he helped fake the moon landing and a metaphor for the Holocaust and a symbolic representation of the American government’s slaughter of the Indians and a subliminal-message-filled exploration of deviant human sexuality and a complicated structuralist film that’s essentially 2001 in reverse. Or can it? Room 237 joins the ranks of classic documentaries like Rock Hudson’s Home Movies and Los Angeles Plays Itself that encourage cineastes to take a closer look at the secret messages that movies send, and to ask whether they’re intended or not—or whether it matters. What makes Room 237 work so well is that Ascher shows the same Shining clips over and over, with different interpretations, letting only the voices of the theorists and the images from the film (plus a few other relevant movies) tell the story. The effect is intense: a deep dive into the rabbit hole of semiotics, which leaves viewers more alert to what’s really on the screen.


The manipulation of the film material, the juggling of meanings, the associations connecting truth, memory, and film in Room 237 add up to something very enjoyable, as a kind of a fresh pleasure in film viewing, which is not exactly the same as the essay-film format, nor the usual patchwork in the found-footage genre. Made with no clear tradition behind it, Room 237 invites us to a dance with a cinema that is daring and free.

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