Tuesday, July 11, 2023

Johnny California: Thoughts on ROOM 237

 by JB

We all know what an ill-conceived shit-fest writer/director Rodney Ascher’s “documentary” Room 237 is. Look at it, sitting there, hardly watched since it escaped Ascher’s colon eleven years ago.

I could carve a better movie out of a banana. Ascher starts off with a very promising premise, “Discuss competing critical interpretations of Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining,” but quickly gets lost in the weeds of 1) exploring how movie sets are not real, 2) exploring the plight of Native-Americans, 3) exploring the theory that Kubrick helped NASA fake the moon landing, and 4) exploring how somehow, a paper tray on a hotel administrator’s desk is supposed to be a penis.

This is sad, because I have read innumerable essays on The Shining that make real and valid points about the film and do not waste their reader’s time and patience with nonsense and bullshit like a certain documentary I know. Google how Kubrick plays with numbers in the film just to get a taste of the man’s love of puzzle structures. (HINT: It was NOT a request by hotel management that saw Kubrick change the novel’s Room 231 to the movie’s Room 237.) I would say that you could make a better movie than Ascher’s Room 237.

I have.
FULL DISCLOSURE: Most nights, I suffer from insomnia. (Maybe I should enlist the help of Dr. Sleep. Heh-heh.) When I cannot sleep, the YouTube machine is my only friend. The YouTube machine contains what might be thousands of videos, exploring The Shining, most of which are more interesting, more reasonable, and better argued than anything in Rodney Ascher’s little fan fiction turd. Sheesh.

What follows is a list of links to the best interpretative video essays on The Shining that I have found over the course of endless nights of research. They add up to 102m, the EXACT RUNTIME of that execrable pile of nonsense, Room 237.

Coincidence? I think not.

1. “Overlooked! A Detail in The Shining That You’ve Never Seen,”
a visual essay by Filippo Ulivieri (11:24)

A wonderful, unsettling piece about a seeming mistake. Uliveri follows his evidence to some very disturbing conclusions. There is an endless debate about whether there are real ghosts in The Shining. Ulivieri concludes with a theory I had never even considered. Ever wonder why Kubrick’s film is so unsettling? This IS one of the reasons.

2. “The Invisible Horror of The Shining,” kaptainkristian (13:23)

A crazy perceptive visual essay about the peculiarities of the film’s score, specifically focusing on the largely unsung work of sound editor Gordon Stainforth.

3. “The Shining: Danny's Ordeal and the Bear-Costumed Man,”
film analysis by Rob Ager (19:00)

A lengthy video featuring a theory many fans of the film actively dislike.

When you hear his argument and see Ager’s evidence, though, it’s a little hard to deny. I will say that Rob Ager is the king of these things. Through his website “Collative Learning,” he has published no fewer than 18 separate videos on various aspects of Kubrick’s film. All of the videos are fascinating and each one is capable of leading you down a rabbit hole of Shining interpretation from which you will never climb back. NOTE: Ager declined to be a part of Rodney Ascher’s Room 237.

Buckle up.

4. “Why The Shining's Music is Genius,” kaptainkristian (7:08)

More great insight into the musical score, this time focusing on the manipulation of the classical pieces used in the film and how the score often uses musical overlap, with particular attention to two scenes: Danny meeting the Grady twins for the second time and the famous hedge maze chase. The pleasure of this short video essay is, to me, hearing someone who is knowledgeable about a certain subject matter explaining it clearly to novices. It’s terrific.

5. “The Shining — Quietly Going Insane Together,” Lessons from the Screenplay (10:15)

This video succinctly summarizes the genius of the film’s script and what sets it apart from all other horror films. Tasty.

6. “The Shining: How did Jack escape the store room? Five theories, You Decide,”
Collative Learning (21:24)

One more from Rob Ager, exploring one of the few aspects of the film that suggests a supernatural element.

7. “The Shining: Visual Design & Mise-en-Scene in The Colorado Lounge,”
Yoonique Films, Eljin Yoo (9:19)

A fine introduction to the “sinister art direction and lighting” in the film.

8. “Thoughts on Room 237,” YourMovieSucksDOTorg (10:47)

“Washed out by lunatics,” indeed.


  1. I've watched a few Collative Learning videos, he's very good

  2. OOOOO cant wait to deep dive into these!!! i looooove this flick and all the interpretations.

    Not sure if included but a few months ago i saw the following on the twitter machine:

    * the hallway walk where Jack freaks out ONLY when walking by a mirror

    * a super well done edit showing how Jack subtly looks directly at the camera for a split second during tons of scenes....maybe just creative editing..likely not intentional...but its a great watch

  3. OK I confess, I actually loved watching Room 237 when it came out. I watched it back to back with The Shining at The Music Box and it was a good time. That said, I definitely want to watch all of these videos! They sound fascinating and perhaps less conspiracy theory-ish.


  5. I enjoyed Room 237 back when it came out as a funny documentary about weirdos with dumb theories.

    1. Same--I remember feeling like it was ultimately more about obsessive fandom / conspiracy theorism than about The Shining (which I can certainly see as potentially disappointing for anyone who went in looking for a documentary about The Shining!).

      Although I found Room 237 enjoyably diverting, I also found it to be pretty slight. As a gigantic fan of The Shining, I'm looking forward to digging into JB's alternative documentary / playlist!

  6. Which, unfortunately, is the ONLY way to enjoy it. But there is so much good stuff out there about the film, why not…?

  7. Had a chance to watch these videos today, and really enjoyed them! Definitely a better "The Shining" documentary than Room 237.

    Both score/music videos really made me appreciate Gordon Stainforth's contribution as indispensable to how great the movie is. I've always thought the movie had a great score, but had never paid close attention to some of the details. I particularly liked the bit about the up-and-down string glissandos matching the question/answer beats in the scene between Jack and Danny. After having so many of the score-matching-visual stuff pointed out, it was pretty wild to find out that all of the scoring was planned and executed AFTER the final cut of the film was set (with no intentional syncing of action to planned scoring during filming).

    While Rob Ager's takes on The Shining are clearly more coherent than those of the subjects of Room 237, he does exhibit some of the same conspiracy-theory-style rhetorical techniques. Occasionally, he'll start by raising an interesting idea or question on pretty solid, evenhanded ground, then progress to increasingly tenuous proclamations, delivered as obvious and irrefutable and moving along to the next topic so quickly that there's not much time to consider those more questionable propositions. I laughed out loud when, as an aside to a consideration of which parts of the movie may or may not be supernatural, he briefly mentioned Jack appearing in the old hotel photograph, quickly followed by (I'm paraphrasing here), "but that's actually Kubrick commenting on the political theme of the gold standard." That said, I'm definitely going to go watch his MULTIPLE Shining / gold standard videos, and his videos had a lot of intriguing ideas. I found his exploration of the "Danny let Jack out of the freezer as part of a pre-meditated plot to lead his father to his death" particularly interesting and convincing, and also enjoyed the slightly more speculative "The hedge maze is actually the kitchen" idea.

    I did think the final clip ("Thoughts on Room 237") sort of misunderstood that documentary. I know I'm repeating something I said above, but I don't think the doc is really about The Shining at all, but rather the ideas of obsessive fandom and conspiracy thinking. Yes, a lot of what the documentary subjects are saying is utter nonsense, but I think that's sort of the point of that movie. When the YouTuber points out the doc interviewee's little "ROOM No" Jumble game, in which he produces "room" and "moon" as solutions, but completely misses "moron," it's funny, but I think that's a joke that the documentary is ALSO in on.

    Great playlist--thanks JB.