ROOM 237



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The interviewees in the movie Room 237, a documentary in which a group of people reveal their subjective theories as to what Stanley Kubrick’s horror film The Shining is really about, basically fall into the same category as birthers; truthers; those that believe that Castro, the Mafia, LBJ, J. Edgar, etc. were responsible for the death of JFK; and those that believe that the moon landing never happened. 
All right, you’re right.  They’re not exactly like that (well, except for the one who believes The Shining is Kubrick’s way of letting everyone know that he faked the moon landing—or as he puts it, I’m not saying we didn’t land on the moon, I’m just saying all the footage is faked—my favorite line from the film).  They’re much more benign.  And amusing.  I mean, trés, trés amusement.  The one thing you can definitely say about this almost, but not quite mockumentary is that it’s highly entertaining.  You will definitely not be bored.
But these fans of Kubrick’s film are in many ways just like their bigger time conspirator counterparts.  Like those others, they believe they know something that no one else knows.  That they are the chosen people who have been given special insight.  That their interpretation is so obvious, once you put all the clues together (clues that take multiple viewings to find), they don’t understand why no one else simply cannot see what they can see.  And like those other conspiracy nu…uh, enthusiasts, they tend to go to ridiculous lengths to prove their point: that The Shining is about the American genocide of Native Americans; that it’s a metaphor for the Holocaust; that it’s one sexual metaphor after another; or it’s that thingy about never really reaching the moon.
Oddly enough, these theorists aren’t totally devoid of interesting insight into the film.  They actually do hit the mark on occasion.  One points out an expression that Jack Nicholson uses here can be found in movies from Dr. Strangelove to Full Metal Jacket; others points out inconsistencies in the filming (like a chair being in one shot, then after a cut away, it’s not there anymore; or someone wearing a different pair of pants in the same scene; or a reversal in carpet patterns—even to the point where at times it may even be possible that the layout of the hotel changes from scene to scene); there’s an exploration of Kubrick’s use of dissolves and some interesting possible aesthetic choices there; there’s even the possibility that Kubrick had a thing for the number 42 and/or may have given an FU joke to Stephen King at one point.
Perhaps the neatest section, and it’s really neat, is when someone theorizes that the film has to be played backwards at the same time as it is being played forward.  And using two cameras, the filmmakers do just that.  And it’s truly neat.  But not for the reason the person states; not because it gives any special insight into the film.  It’s neat because, well, because it’s just, well…pretty damn neat.
The one theorist who comes closest to selling his approach is the one who believes that Kubrick was at an artistic cross roads.  Kubrick had achieved everything he could achieve.  Barry Lyndon, the theorist claims, is a boring film because Kubrick was bored.  So the great artiste wanted to do something different.  Fascinated by books on subliminal advertising and visits to ad agencies, he decided to be a prankster and have the film filled with brain washing type images.  There’s something about this that makes a lot of sense (especially the idea that Barry Lyndon is a boring film—it is), until the theorist actually shows us an example (something about Barry Sullivan lining up with an outbox that makes him look as if he has an erection).  At that point, you start snickering again.
And with that comes the issue I had with the movie as a whole.  As the film goes on, the director Rodney Ascher doesn’t try to explore the reasons as to why people are acting like this or feel a need to find meaning in this film.  Or why this film, in particular, may be ripe for the silliness recorded here.  Instead, he turns it into a Maury Povich show where everyone in the audience laughs in superiority at the hicks on stage; or we become high school bullies picking on the nerds, geeks and drama kids. 
And Ascher rubs it in.  While the people drone on, the director counterpoints their statements with scenes from movies (mainly Kubrick films like Eyes Wide Shut, etc.) in such a way as to make the interviewees seem even more foolish than they already are.   But in the end, Ascher doesn’t have any more insight than the people he makes fun of (can you say “irony”).   And the movie becomes a bit uncomfortable.
For the record, I’ll put forth my own theory, which I call the Occam’s razor conjecture.  The Shining has no real meaning, overt or subvert, because it’s really not that great a film, perhaps Kubrick’s weakest (depending on what you think of Eyes Wide Shut—I try not to, myself).  It’s a film that feels like the director and writer took some source material and tried to mold it into something it wasn’t, but couldn’t come up with a satisfying substitution until finally everyone lost control of the whole thing and it became a big mess.  And the reason people can come up with all these odd interpretations is because there’s nothing there in the first place.  I mean, it happens.  No artist is perfect.  Even Shakespeare had his Titus Andronicus.   For me, it’s the simplest explanation that is the most likely.
All comments welcome.
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