Did Stanley Kubrick film the moon landing and leave clues of the conspiracy sprinkled throughout The Shining? Is The Shining a deeper metaphor for the genocide of the Native Americans? Is it possible to retain credibility when your documentary features an interviewee’s kid interrupting the interview?
These are all questions raised and then haphazardly discarded in the nearly unwatchable conspiracy documentary Room 237.
I was actually looking forward to this documentary. I knew going in that the claims the filmmakers were going to make were outrageous. But I was looking forward to letting my mind run free with the ideas posited in the film, at least for the doc’s 90 minute runtime. Unfortunately, the information is so sloppily presented that I had no choice but to count down the minutes until it was over.
The movie is told in a series of interviews told by unseen fanatics who have gotten it into their head that their interpretation of The Shining is absolute fact. That would be good enough in itself. Where the documentary falls apart is in the execution. These aren’t talking heads interviews. They’re excerpts from one-sided phone conversations. The interviewees give their perspective on The Shining with no rebuttal or seemingly no pre-interview preparation.
This could have had a small chance of working if the interviewees were all contributing their analysis to one single theory. But that’s not the case. The movie describes the many supposedly hidden meanings of The Shining. The theories range from Kubrick leaving clues that he helped fake the moon landing and Kubrick telling the story of the Holocaust to the movie being an allegory for Native American genocide. They are all told concurrently throughout the documentary, leaving the overall experience very scattered.
If the interviewees were part of a panel comparing their theories against one another, the movie would have been a lot better. At the very least it would have been watchable. I love a good debate about film, even (and sometimes especially) when the participants are off the wall insane in their convictions. I felt cheated out of that by Room 237.
Not that the panel would have yielded any worthwhile discussions. The interviewees have a habit of making the flimsiest and most incoherent arguments possible. One interviewee makes the argument that a chair missing in the background of a scene between shots is Kubrick’s biting indictment of traditional horror films and a clue that The Shining is anything but one.
Seeing this one-sided argument made me want to scream at the man and tell him it’s simply a continuity error that can be found in most films. Somehow I don’t believe I would have gotten through to him.
There are more instances of the interviewees taking continuity issues to the extreme throughout the movie. Most of the time, it’s presented as though it’s about to reveal something profound about the movie’s deeper themes before it takes a sharp left and explodes into a flimsy conspiracy. It’s frustrating, to say the least, and left me wishing I was watching a straight documentary about the making of The Shining.
I had a difficult time following their line of thinking when they described why one thing means something else entirely. It’s not due to a lack of anything on my part, though. It’s solely due to the fact that these theories simply don’t make any logical sense.
One such theory involves some anachronisms with the layout of The Overlook as depicted in the movie. On one hand, there’s an interesting bit about the impossible window in Ullman’s office. It’s an interesting look at the mad genius of Kubrick as he worked to subconsciously disorient the audience with anachronistic features throughout the layout of the hotel.
The trouble comes when they expand on that to include the Gold Room’s bathroom. The filmmakers go through the effort to show diagrams of the layout of the Overlook. In the scene where Grady spills the drinks on Jack and the two go to the restroom, the diagrams follow them a la the Marauder’s Map in Harry Potter.
The diagram shows the pair ending up where they began, despite the screen showing them in the bathroom. This could have been another interesting subliminal disorientation method by Kubrick. But I watched it three times and my mind couldn’t follow the information they were trying to show me. It’s clear to me in the movie that the bathroom is where it should be. Yet, the film presents this as some groundbreaking clue into the mysteries of The Shining.
Even the more thoroughly demonstrated theories suffer from a severe lack of concrete information or even any convincing arguments. We’re told the long standing explanation for why Kubrick changed the room number from 217 in the book to 237 for the movie is a lie. The interviewee explains the real reason for the change is because the moon is 237,000 miles away from Earth.
In the scene where Danny enters the room there’s a close-up of the key tag that says ROOM No 237. The interviewee implies that Kubrick intentionally capitalized “ROOM N” to force a subliminal association in the viewer’s mind between the words “ROOM” and “MOON.” He actually says, “There’s only two words you can come up with that has those letters in them and they are ‘moon’ and ‘room.'” Personally, I could only see the word “MORON.”
Despite a runtime of around 90 minutes, the documentary manages to overstay its welcome. With another 15 minutes left, I was ready for the movie to end. I had accepted that the theories and conspiracies presented in the documentary were not going to reach any reasonable or satisfying conclusion for me. I was right. What did end up being shown in the movie’s closing minutes was actually interesting, however.
There was a screening of the movie in which the print was shown superimposed over another print of the movie played in reverse. The effect leaves some interesting coincidences but ultimately lead nowhere in terms of giving weight to any of the conspiracies. I still wouldn’t mind watching the entire movie in that way.
Ultimately, that one bit of interesting footage does not redeem this stinker of a conspiracy documentary. Even if you find yourself buying into one or more of these theories, the lack of concrete arguments leads me to believe they are all easily discredited.
I would have recommended this movie solely on the charisma of the conspiracy theorists but there simply is none. One interviewee somehow manages to repeatedly interrupt himself with awkward and, very out of place, laughter. In two separate sequences, another interviewee is interrupted by their child loudly playing in the background. The first time the interviewee actually stops talking and addresses the interference. We’re then treated to dead air as he goes off-mic to tend to his child.
These two interviewees could actually be the same person. I don’t know because making them faceless voices on one side of an interview made them all blend together for me. Men and women.
It’s this kind of sloppy and unprofessional presentation that would make the movie lose all of its credibility. Lucky for the filmmakers, they didn’t have any credibility to lose.
Simply put, don’t bother watching Room 237. If you want to, however, you can pre-order the blu-ray (due in September).
Have you seen Room 237? Leave me a comment below and let me know what you think. Of course, you can also follow me on Twitter @ObsessiveViewer, like the blog on Facebook and subscribe to The Obsessive Viewer Podcast on iTunes or download episodes directly on The Obsessive Viewer Podcast page of the site.