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Room 237 - Cinemaholic Movie Reviews
one person's obsessive addiction to film
Room 237
Directing: C+
Writing: C
Cinematography: B
Editing: B-

Who knew there were so many conspiracy theories about the Stanley Kubrick film The Shining? Well, "so many" is relative, I suppose. Only five are presented in the new "documentary," such as it is, directed by Rodney Ascher, here directing his first feature-length film (it shows).

We might as well regard "conspiracy" and "crackpot" as interchangeable in this context, because that's all we're presented with here. One person is convinced The Shining is actually a statement on the American genocide of "American Indians" (the phrase the guy always uses). Another believes The Shining is Kubrick's subliminal confession of using the set and stage for 2001: A Space Odyssey to fake the footage of the moon landing. I am not making this up.

Of course, we can't have a crackpot theory about faking the moon landing without a crackpot theory about the Holocaust -- not even in the context of a 1980 horror masterpiece based on a Stephen King novel (if you're thinking, Huh?, then you're right on track). One person is so beyond-the-pale he insists you can see Stanley Kubrick's face patterned in the clouds in one particular shot, and even freeze-frames a shot to show how a paper tray on a desk "turns into an erection" for a guy standing next to it. All I saw was a guy leaning slightly over next to a paper tray.

I'd admit this one seemed kind of cool: in the tradition of Pink Floyd's The Dark Side of the Moon played while watching The Wizard of Oz, it turns out there's a lot of fascinating juxtapositions of imagery if you play The Shining both forward and backward, superimposed over each other. I'd actually be interested in seeing that. To the credit of the guy who discovered this one (I forget his name, but really, who cares?), at least in this case no one is claiming it's some grand message Kubrick intended for intrepid audiences to decipher.

By and large, Room 237 is tedious, frustrating, and misguided. Ascher seems to have made an "artistic decision" not to show us the faces of any of the interviewees; we only ever hear them speaking. Only once, near the end, do we hear even one question posed to any of them ("Why would Kubrick make his film so complicated?" -- indeed). Instead, we just get the running narration of these batshit crazy people who are convinced this movie represents something far greater and deeper than it's ever been. With this narration, we get mostly clips from The Shining, and sporadically several other films, most of them from the rest of Kubrick's output.

This film drives home the point that people see what they're looking for. Someone gets the idea that this is, say, a commentary on the genocide of Native Americans, and so they start counting all the images of native Americans -- on baking soda cans, on wall hangings -- and convince themselves they're gathering convincing evidence. Could this be about the lunar landing? Oh my god, little Danny's wearing an Apollo 11 rocket sweater!

I certainly had no idea that The Shining was the subject of so many conspiracy theories. But really, how many massively popular movies aren't? I would wager it wouldn't be difficult to find five crackpot theorists in this country who are just as obsessed with, say, Sunset Boulevard. And I just pulled that title out of my ass, just like all these people are doing with their ideas.

Strangely, Ascher doesn't bother to offer rebuttals to these people, or even point out when they get their facts wrong. The lunar landing guy, obsessed with numbers (as these people often are), points out that the key room in the hotel in the room is room 237, and, can you believe it, there are 237,000 miles from Earth to the moon! Ascher even offers animated graphics to illustrate this point, as he does with many of them. Turns out, anyone can go to Google and discover that number's actually a little off.

So all these monologues are presented, with accompanying film footage, and Ascher just chooses to let it speak for itself. Frankly, I got bored. The film offers no chance to get a sense of these conspiracy theorists as people, since we only ever hear them. It has the curious effect of leaving the entire film devoid of personality. Even as nutballs, they might have been worthy of some level of affection, if only for amusement. But with nothing but their idiotic ideas to think about, with a couple of notable exceptions -- okay, so I laughed a couple of times -- the film on the whole is not amusing at all. And without that, with a movie like this, what's the point?

room 237

Overall: C+
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