The availability of home video and the Internet explains the kind of crackpot glory rising from “Room 237,” a compendium of theories about the meaning of a movie. There’s no other way the people who’ve given so much thought to these things could have developed their ideas with such completeness.
The movie in question is “The Shining,” the 1980 film directed by Stanley Kubrick, from the novel by Stephen King.
It’s the perfect receptacle for these theories, because a) Kubrick was acknowledged to have been a smart and meticulous crafter of his films, and b) the film is genuinely mysterious on a level that seems to operate well beyond (beneath? above?) its story line about a family that travels to a snowbound hotel for the winter and encounters ghosts and madness there.
But still — “Room 237” isn’t about “The Shining,” not really. There are some interesting observations scattered around, but this documentary has a subject of its own: the need for human beings to believe that things mean something.
And so we meet five people who have thought about “The Shining” a whole lot. We don’t see them, we hear their voices; what we see are scenes from “The Shining,” as well as other Kubrick films and a few random titles.
Torrents of clues have been noticed by these people. One has found evidence that the film’s repeated motifs indicate Kubrick’s awareness of the destruction of American Indians. Another is obsessed with the way the movie’s Overlook Hotel (the exteriors were filmed near Mount Hood, but the interiors created on a London soundstage) does not make geographical sense—its hallways and rooms do not line up in a way that is physically possible.
One commentator is convinced Kubrick includes clues about the Nazi Holocaust. But the most far-fetched interpretation (which is also, inevitably, the most confidently argued) is that “The Shining” is Kubrick’s exploration of his own role in faking the Apollo moon landings.
You laugh. But did you ever notice those jars of Tang on the shelves in the Overlook storeroom?
The theory goes that Kubrick, with his experience in outer-space images from “2001: A Space Odyssey,” was hired by NASA to create footage of America’s own moon missions.
The tension in the marriage between Jack Nicholson and Shelley Duvall in “The Shining” can thus be seen as a reflection of Kubrick’s own remorse when his wife found out about his role in the fraud.
Don’t get me wrong: In some weird way, “The Shining” actually is about everything in the universe. But probably not the way these folks think.
In amateurish but spirited fashion, director Rodney Ascher allows these theories to play out; to his credit, he doesn’t ridicule his overheated contributors. But their intense focus on making sense of this movie is about them, not Kubrick.
There’s much to be said about “The Shining,” a brilliant film, and nothing wrong with interpreting a great movie on your own terms. But these sorts of declarations about Kubrick’s intentions and hidden meanings show us just how conspiracy theorists become conspiracy theorists.
“Room 237” (3 stars)
Documentary look at five people who have developed elaborate theories about Stanley Kubrick’s intentions and hidden meanings in creating his 1980 film “The Shining.” There’s some kind of crackpot glory coming out of the film, which is much more about the human need to believe that things mean something than it is about Kubrick.
Rated: Not rated; probably R for nudity, subject matter.
Showing: SIFF Uptown.