by Zac Ryan
It has long been known that Stanley Kubrick was a perfectionist, sometimes calling for hundreds of takes with the same line read over and over, just to get the right nuance and emotion from the actor. To say everything that ends up on the screen was meticulously planned and planted by the iconic filmmaker may be a stretch, but Room 237 goes into great depths to bring to light several conspiracy theorists and lovers of The Shining to highlight the little nuances that indicate there may be something deeper there than an adaption of the best-selling Stephen King novel - an adaptation that the author hated so much that he made sure the film was remade into a less-than-stellar, but more faithful miniseries adaptation.
In this day and age of the internet, there are countless conspiracy theorists with a forum to tout their ideas to the public. Several years ago on the web, I first came across the documentary's craziest of assertions, that Kubrick used the film as a confession that he was hired by NASA to fake the first moon landing. Clues validating that theory can be found by watching the film with an obsessive eye through countless viewings. Even that theorist, one of the many disembodied voices of the documentary, claims that while what we saw on television was faked, NASA did in fact land on the moon. It may be a crazy pill to swallow, but this obsessive viewer isn't the only one to find a deeper meaning in Kubrick's film.
Room 237 is filled with accounts of what Kubrick may have been trying to say, and if he were alive today, he may have been filled with glee to see so many different interpretations, only to stay mum about why the film diverges so far from King's original novel. Two of the doc's other subjects feel Kubrick was trying to deliver a message about genocide. One find clues behind the Calumet powder cans on the Overlook Hotel's supply shelves, with their depiction of a native American on the label, and believes that Kubrick was trying to bring to light the demise of the American Indian. Another theorist sees a deeper message in the recurrence of the number 42, along with different divisions and multiplications of that number, as a sign of the Nazis and a reference to the holocaust.
The last of the conspiracies goes into great detail about the layout of the hotel, including the patterns in the carpet and how Danny's ride on his tricycle is totally impossible. It is one of the most plausible and interesting of the takes. But honestly, anyone who has ever worked on a film set knows that everything cannot align perfectly or make total sense spatially. Films are filled with countless continuity errors, usually missed by everyone on set, including the director, that aren't noticed until the film is watched several times. Every film's page on IMDb will have at least one of these errors listed, but with Kubrick's madness, could there be any meaning beyond that, or were they just mistakes? We may never know.
Rodney Ascher doesn't bring anyone on to counter his subjects' asinine ideas and theories, but the film still works. Each theory is given in voiceover, without identifying the theorist, and it works. Scenes from The Shining and other Kubrick films are shown over and over in detail, with occasional stock footage or alternate film scenes, to clue us in on what might be seen. Maybe they're right, or maybe they're nuts, and that's why we don't want to see what the theorists look like. Their appearance will not cloud our perception.
Room 237 takes obsessive culture to a new realm, and even if the film does drag on a bit in its 100+ minute runtime, I immediately wanted to watch The Shining again to see if I could find any other tidbits that Kubrick may have hidden or mistakes in continuity that weren't meant as anything more. Cinephiles, Kubrick fans and those who like dissecting conspiracy theories will dig the film, but outside of that small demographic, viewers may be left wanting a little more.