Many documentaries have been made about the movies, but none of them are quite like “Room 237.”
The film is a work of criticism, scholarship, obsession and paranoia — all devoted to one movie: Stanley Kubrick’s “The Shining.”
Director Rodney Ascher interviews five people — journalist Bill Blakemore, professor Geoffrey Cocks, author and playwright Juli Kearns, performer and musician John Fell Ryan, and hermetic scholar Jay Weidner — who have one thing in common: an unhealthy obsession with “The Shining.”
Most discovered, or rediscovered, the 1980 movie on VHS videocassettes. Given the power to freeze-frame, rewind and fast-forward, they began seeing odd discrepancies.
To illustrate, director Ascher provides a lot of “Shining” footage shown forward, backward, slo-mo and freeze-frame, with narration from the interviewees.
A single shot of the Overlook Hotel’s kitchen provided the basis for one theory. Several cans of Calumet baking powder, positioned in specific ways, led to the proclamation that “The Shining” is really about the slaughter of American Indians.
Another theory zeroes in on Jack Torrance’s German-made typewriter and the number 42, and concludes that the movie is really about the Holocaust.
Kearns apparently analyzed the entire floor plan of the hotel and determined that certain rooms shown onscreen simply could not have existed.
Ryan cooked up a performance art idea: to run “The Shining” simultaneously forward and backward, superimposed, and then to untangle the weird, coincidental images that emerged.
The movie also deals with the long-held conspiracy theory that Kubrick helped fake the 1969 TV footage of the moon landing, and then placed clues about his involvement in “The Shining.”
The catch, and the reason it works so well with “The Shining” in particular, is that Kubrick was known as a fastidious perfectionist. Details like the changing color of a rug or a missing chair might have been mistakes — yet, according to legend, the director didn’t make such errors.
Indeed, hardcore movie buffs will no doubt find themselves believing in at least some of the ideas presented in “Room 237,” even if others come across as entirely crackpot.
Either way, the film is completely enthralling, and suggests exciting new ways of reading movies.
Like “Burden of Dreams” to “Fitzcarraldo,” “Room 237” could become an essential companion piece to “The Shining” from now on. For those who see both, it will be impossible to think about one without the other.