Movie love crosses over into movie stalking in Room 237, an amusing documentary about obsessive fans of The Shining and their various interpretations of the Stanley Kubrick horror film.
Director Rodney Ascher never fully shows his subjects, perhaps because their wild theories are the focus of the film, not the people sharing them. And those theories are all over the place. One person claims the movie is an allegory for the Holocaust. Another sees it as a rumination on the genocide of Native Americans. A third reads it as a confession by Kubrick that he was the man behind faked footage of the Apollo moon landing.
Two of these strands come together in a single shot from The Shining, in which Jack Nicholson stands in the hotel’s pantry, with shelves lined up behind him. One person points to the can of Calumet baking powder, with its Native-American chief logo, as evidence of the genocide theory, while the Apollo conspiracy theorist notes that the shelf includes a can of Tang. The devil, you see, is in the details.
In a way these two theories comically cancel each other out, but Ascher doesn’t emphasize that because Room 237, to its credit, isn’t interested in making its subjects look like deluded fools. Instead, the movie seems genuinely interested in their ideas – and, above all, in the obsessive movie love that gives birth to them. Even when the conspiracies are at their wackiest – yes, someone suggests watching The Shining backwards – the documentary remains genially intrigued. And wouldn’t you know it: when an experimental filmmaker projects a backward-running print of The Shining over a forward-running print, the super-imposed images add a layer of revealing richness to the original film.
Uh oh, I think I’ve been sucked in.