Room 237 (2013) (Unrated)

"Room 237" is a documentary about obsession and analysis. Technically, that's not what it's about—by definition it concerns "The Shining". I must confess that I did have an ulterior motive in watching the 1980 horror movie yesterday: I wished to see "Room 237". This movie had a lot of hype surrounding it, and spying a chance to see it, I grabbed the opportunity.
If you haven't seen "The Shining", don't bother watching "Room 237"—you will be completely and totally lost. Not only does the documentary spoil much, if not all of the movie; but it dissects the parts that seemed insignificant on the first viewing. This is what makes the documentary so much fun—the outlandish hypotheses that line up one after another are ridiculous, but not without evidence.
There's four men and a woman who voice the movie, never appearing on the screen—each and every one of them is a Kubrick fanatic.
Because the narrators remain faceless, most of the emotions that they are conveying in their voice and phrasings are giving actions with clips of older movies. Much like a story that one of the men tells about going out to his car after seeing "The Shining" for the first time in theaters—his story is mirrored with a clip of Robert Redford coming out of the parking garage from meeting Deep Throat in "All the President's Men".
At first, this style was off-putting to me, but I eventually warmed up to it.
The theories about "The Shining" themselves seem so random and nonsensical that there is a believability to each one. It's the thought that however more bizarre a story gets, the more likely it is to be plausible—after all stranger things have happened.
Some of these theories range in scope from the Holocaust to the genocide of the American Indians. Although the initial piece of evidence is sometimes as trivial as a can of baking powder, the people narrating give their arguments due time to ruminate and eventually bewilder the viewer.
Take one theory for instance—"The Shining" is Stanley Kubrick's confession to helping fake the Apollo 11 moon landing videos. The man who is telling us this is so convinced of it that he claims that the government has it in for him, because of his correctness. Supposedly, he found out how Kubrick faked the videos, and with that technique in mind, he begins to see clues to the moon landing video everywhere. Naturally, I didn't buy this theory but when the man started to line up his evidence, all blinders fell away. The most convincing piece of the evidence was the shirt that Danny wears in a hallway that depicts the spaceship taking off with "Apollo 11" written on it. Compared to the other pieces of evidence that the other narrators were giving—example: a ski poster is actually the Minotaur—this one was overt.
There was another man who was convinced that "The Shining" was Kubrick's way of unveiling the horrors of the Holocaust. He found the number "42" (regrettably not at all related to Douglas Adams's The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy) appearing in several places...on another of Danny's shirts, mind you.
The simple structure of the Overlook Hotel is taken apart and shown to be purposely fraudulent in "Room 237".
The more minute the details of the theories—from Kubrick's face supposedly appearing in the clouds to a phallic image popping out of nowhere—the less credible they seem.
It's interesting to hear the stories of the people who took apart the film just because they were excited about it—good for them.
The thing that makes a documentary work is the interest in the source material. A good documentary will be open to everyone. Can anyone watch "Room 237"?—sure. Will you get more from it if you've seen "The Shining"?—undoubtably.
"Room 237" confines itself to the Overlook Hotel and in that, it has a downfall. It's a very in-depth movie about movies. For the average person not interested in "The Shining", "Room 237" would be tortuous to watch.
"Room 237" isn't that professional either, the narrators are occasionally interrupted by their offspring crying in the next room and it gives us the feeling that we are in their office off of their bedroom—it's a little too intimate for the kind of analysis that the film is trying to achieve.
But for the most part, "Room 237" is a success.
It's fascinating, disturbing, and some times ludicrous.

Score: 3 out of 4 stars

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