For example, during this past watch I noticed a bunch of things I never had before. Could The Shining be an indictment against marriage and fatherhood interrupting "my plans?" Perhaps. Or maybe it's just the story of one guy, not trying to make a broad statement. I could just as easily say the movie is about not playing ball in the house (crazy Jack who interacts with ghosts starts right after he’s throwing the tennis ball against a wall). During the scene where Jack enters Room 237, I thought Danny was using his shining ability to summon the evil spirits of the hotel against his Dad (spurred on by Jack’s reaction when Danny asked him if he’d ever hurt him or his mom). I never had that reading before. I always just thought Danny was shining to Hallorann to help him and his mother. This viewing, I thought Hallorann sensed that Danny and his dad were having a battle of wills and thought "Oh no, Danny doesn’t know what he’s just done." Once you open the jar of ghosts, there's no stopping it. This would explain why Grady says to Jack (in the bathroom) that “He’s attempting to use that talent against your will." The end of the movie (spoilers) opens the great debate as to whether Jack is absorbed by the hotel or if present day Jack was a reincarnation of 1921 Jack (which would explain why he felt like he was at the hotel before). To this point, I argue: does it really matter? The feeling of "what is going on?" is always more satisfying than knowing WHAT IS GOING ON in a horror movie.
The major failing of Room 237 is that it doesn’t give a shit about The Shining on a textual level, only its alleged subtext. To give you a better idea of what it’s like watching Room 237, here is a text conversation I had with a friend of mine as I was watching it:
Me: I’m watching room 237 On Demand and I hate it...why are critics loving this?
Ed: Something about how a movie can keep being relevant despite being 33 years old
Me: I’m going to write about it and the shining…critics are wrong…room 237 is like talking about a movie with a crazy person
Ed: Yeah. I think the documentary is more about the craziness it inspires than whether it reveals anything about the movie.
Me: My big problem is that most of the theories are just what these people are bringing to it from their own lives…no one talks about movies like this
Ed: Well, people who suspend disbelief for a little long.
The film details conspiracy theories and not interpretations of The Shining. Among the theories bandied about in Room 237 are that The Shining is about the genocide of the American Indian by the Whites, or a meditation on the Holocaust, or Kubrick’s admission to helping in the staging of the Apollo moon landing. Those are the most interesting and plausible. The most absurd (which take up the majority of the movie) are that it’s got to do with minotaurs, ghosts with repressed sexuality, impossible floor plans of a fake hotel etc. It’s a waste of time, and there’s a lot of back patting where it is not deserved.
Many interesting theories about what is going on in The Shining are completely ignored in Room 237. It’s shameful that I can find them on the FAQ section of IMDB, but the director chose to ignore a more meaty discussion of the movie. For example, one critic saw The Shining to be study about the family unit going terribly awry. Another said it’s about man’s predilection for violence through the ages. Or the white male hegemony buckling under its own weight. Or an interrogation of why audiences come to horror movies to see suffering and death. Why talk about those, Room 237 posits, when we can talk about minotaurs, phallic symbols, impossible windows, giants clearing a forest, movers carrying light loads and the fact that people are wearing shirts with numbers on them?
I’m fine with a documentary being about the cinema obsessed. There’s one called Cinemania that does this, and it’s terrific and scary to boot. But where Cinemania shows the downside to devoting your life to watching movies, Room 237 never even shows us its interview subjects, so we can’t see how this obsession with The Shining has affected them or the people around them. And it’s a one-sided discussion. No one challenges these people’s points.
The movie has a really interesting first 20 minutes. Director Rodney Ascher has a lot of fun mashing up movie clips from Demons, Eyes Wide Shut, etc. to make visual jokes. The music is great in the movie -- very reminiscent of Phantasm -- and it front-loads with the best theory (involving the American Indian connections). After that initial bit of fun, the movie runs out of steam quickly and becomes tedious. Then it goes on forever to the point where you want to turn it off and just watch The Shining already.
What the hell is Room 237 even about? Is this a movie about the cinema obsessed? The Shining as a movie? How filmgoers watch and interpret movies? Is it satirizing people who look for meaning in movies? The movie never says and has no clear point of view. The closest it comes is in a really troubling reduction that "We all know from postmodern film criticism that author intent is only part of the story to any work of art." But in Room 237, they completely ignore author intent in favor of a one-sided conversation. It’s like if you commented to this column, telling me what I meant to say and then when I tried to answer back you just told me to shut up. It’s putting words in the author’s (Kubrick's) mouth. If you want to know more about the hidden meanings and analysis of The Shining I would recommend you check out two documentaries: Stanley Kubrick: A Life in Pictures and the making-of doc on the DVD of The Shining, directed by Kubrick’s daughter.
Sometimes a movie is just a movie. It’s like what’s happening with Paul Thomas Anderson with The Master: maybe it’s just a story about people and not interested in making a comment on the human condition, Scientology or, in the case of The Shining, evil itself. Kubrick, like Anderson, is not allowed to make one of these straightforward exercises, I guess, because he’s an "important filmmaker." There has to be more! That’s our fault as an audience. If you over-intellectualize it, what have you gained?
• "The feel of the experience is the important thing, not the ability to verbalize or analyze it."
As I was prepping to write this column I went to my parents’ house for dinner. My Mom collects antiques. Look what I found in a display case. The Overlook Hotel is following me - - and not on Twitter!