Room 237 (2013)
So much for it being about the worst dad ever.
Room 237 is a documentary about the many different meanings, messages and interpretations that have been derived from The Shining after countless viewings by some diehard fans who just can’t get enough of it. And unless you’re part of the club, chances are it will all be coming as news.
The first thing I did when I heard about this movie was send the trailer to one of my colleagues. Now, I like The Shining as much as the next guy. It’s one of the all-time greats of the genre and there’s never been anything quite like it (as far as I’m aware). Although as much as it makes me want to drop whatever I’m doing whenever it’s on TV, it’s still not my favorite Kubrick movie and it’s still not something I’ve found myself coming back to over the years. What can I say, I’m a 2001 kinda guy.
Anyway, back to my colleague, the one who’s got the that floor pattern on the poster as the wallpaper on his computer. I sent him the trailer not really knowing what this documentary was about or what I would eventually be getting myself into. Not surprisingly, he’d already heard about it and began to tell me quite an unusual story.
He told me that he’d done some digging of his own at one point and time, eventually coming across a theory that even he couldn’t quite believe. The theory went as such: contrary to popular belief, The Shining is not about a dad who goes nuts and tries to kill his whole family, but is in fact Stanley Kubrick’s way of telling the world that the moon landing in 1969 was staged and that he was the one who helped stage it. My colleague couldn’t remember all the details, but the grounds for this interpretation was based on Danny wearing a sweater that had an Apollo spaceship on it and something having to do with Room 237 itself. Needless to say, we both had a good laugh over it.
It was a crackpot theory, the kind of thing that would make you question a person’s sanity. Sure, even with a base understanding to go off of, it doesn’t take repeat viewings to see that The Shining leaves a lot to the imagination. But the moon landing? Dude, come on, I’m worried about you over here.
It was such a crackpot theory that I couldn’t believe Room 237 would even have the sense to entertain it. There was just no way.
And yet it did, and here I am, more skeptical than I ever thought I would be on the subject. I’m not saying I believe it, I’m not saying we didn’t land on the moon, but damn, if that crazy bastard doing the voice-over doesn’t make an unusually convincing case for himself. Buzz Aldrin’s gonna sock me in the mouth for that one, I just know it…
To say the least, it’s a surprisingly effective documentary.
The thing is, it’s hard to convey why that is without sounding like a full-blown conspiracy theorist in turn. I mean, with the exception of maybe Pi and Pulp Fiction, I’m not the kind of moviegoer who revels in cracking every code that may or may not even be there. I’ve gone down that road, and there’s simply no end to it. I don’t need that kind of stress in my life. But that’s exactly what this is: a talking heads movie that’s steered by nitpicky people with some truly inspired/batshit bonkers viewpoints. They’ve dissected The Shining to where they’ve drawn out maps of the Overlook Hotel, contacted the owners of the actual hotels that were used for filming, and superimposed the movie over itself with one version playing forwards and the other playing backwards. Why? Because it was there. It is borderline unhealthy how deep these people have gone, and for that very reason, it’s actually hard to write them off as loonies.
The way they talk about The Shining, they’re not out to convert us or make us feel like idiots for not seeing it their way to begin with. They’re just trying to show us how they saw the movie, completely comfortable with the conclusions they’ve drawn, regardless of whether or not anyone else shares them. For them, it’s all right there, and that kind of approach goes a long way in making them seem like your everyday moviegoer and their opinions seem that much more believable. A lot of these guys didn’t even like the movie when they first saw it, but for some reason or another it either stuck with them until they finally understood why that was.
Not only that, but these guys did their research. They know everything there is to know about Kubrick, they know exactly what kind of director he was and that there’s no such thing as a flub, an Easter Egg or happy accident in his movies. When Stanley Kubrick puts something in the frame, it’s been put there for a reason and it’s up to us to figure out why. Not calling the guy a genius or anything as I’ve had my doubts in the past, but the man knew what he was doing and he had an IQ of 200 to boot. If it were any other director, these testimonies just wouldn’t have the same weight to them. After all, if there’s anyone who could have pulled off a fake moon landing, it’s the guy who did 2001: A Space Odyssey, a movie with special effects that I’ll never be able to wrap my head around.
Unfortunately, for all the sells that I found myself buying, not every theory is as convincing as the next. I can understand how someone could watch this movie and see it as one big metaphor for the Holocaust or the eradication of Native Americans, but when you start drawing connections between certain scenes and unrelated events in your own life, that’s just grasping at straws. Just because your kid’s head split open in a nightmare doesn’t mean it relates to a horror movie from 1980. Also had a hard time with some of the subliminal messages that Kubrick supposedly threw in there, but to each his own, I suppose.
I was thinking about re-watching The Shining before going into this, but in hindsight, I’m glad that I didn’t. Well, it probably wouldn’t have mattered either way, because as long as you’ve seen it once, that’s all the preparation you’ll need. The real difference here is how I’m going to view it from here on out. While I’m sure it’ll still work like gangbusters on a purely horrific level, I can tell already tell that I’ll be looking for the signs. Not sure if that’s a good or a bad thing, but I expect it’ll be something else.
I can imagine that it can’t be easy to make movies about movies in any way, shape or form (especially about movies that actually exist), and I’m also guessing that’s why there’s so few of them in this world. It’s not an easy pitch for some and I feel like there are only so many movies out there that really bear this kind of treatment/analysis. But being the movie nerd that I am, I was all ears from start to finish. As for my wife, the trooper that she is? Not so much, and I don’t blame her. I owe her for this one.
Needless to say, Room 237 is catering to a pretty niche audience, and if you’re not already intrigued, then you’re probably not part of it. It’s the kind of movie that critics and cinephiles will go flat-out ape over and will make casual moviegoers feel duped for trusting the reviews. Don’t get me wrong, there are exceptions to every rule, but by and large, that seems like the way this cookie’s gonna crumble. So if all this crazy talk has you the least bit interested, by all means, take the plunge. But if you’d rather not risk having The Shining ruined for you by some movie nerds with microphones, continue on and cherish those memories.
And in case you’re hoping, it has no explanation for that guy in the bear/pig suit. For God’s sake, will someone please explain that guy in the bear/pig suit!