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Fantastic Fest Review: ROOM 237 Is An Intriguing, Flawed Experiment

Brian takes a look at the documentary about THE SHINING obsessives. 

Fantastic Fest Review: ROOM 237 Is An Intriguing, Flawed Experiment

Incidentally, the first time I ever became aware of obsessive behavior was when I was about 9 or 10, a co-worker of my mother's told me that her brother watched The Shining just about every day, which even as a kid I found ridiculous. Maybe it's just my own neurotic hatred of repetition (even my favorite films didn't get watched too often before I started HMAD), but to me it just seems like there are way too many things to do with your limited lifespan to watch a movie on a nearly nightly basis. But people do, and thus it's fitting that Room 237 is, if memory serves, the first documentary I've ever seen about people who obsess over a movie so much that they start coming up with their own outlandish theories as to what it is really about.

There are only five or six participants in the film, which is a bit of a bummer as I would have liked to have heard more theories, even if they just amounted to a few words on a particular moment or scene. I mean, it's not like there's ever going to be MULTIPLE documentaries about Shining obsessives, so it strikes me as a missed opportunity that they couldn't find someone to offer up his thoughts on what the hell is going on with that dude in the room with the guy in the teddy bear suit. We also never see any of these folks who are talking over the film, another thing that irked me a bit - obviously everyone in the movie is coming off as a bit of a crackpot, so seeing them might have helped their cause, as I'm sure most or all of them are perfectly normal people (it also would help remember which theory belonged to which person). A faceless voice telling you that the film is a metaphor for the slaughter of Native Americans is insane, but if you see a guy sitting in his typical office, wearing a nice sweater and sipping a bottled water telling you that, maybe it sounds a little more plausible.

And yes, that is one of the actual theories presented here, and in my opinion not even the craziest. To the credit of all participants, they clearly took the time to pore over the film and find things that backed up their claims - it's not like someone just says "The movie is a metaphor for the birth of Jesus" and lets you figure out how he came to that conclusion. In fact one of the most interesting things about the movie is seeing how certain scenes are used over and over as we hear two or three different interpretations of the sequence. Depending on whom you're listening to, Danny playing with his trucks in the hallway is referencing World War II or Kubrick's admission that he helped fake the Apollo moon footage.

That one's actually my favorite (and even though it's probably the most insane, it's also the only one I actually started to believe). The guy stresses that he doesn't doubt that they went to the moon, just that the footage we've seen is faked. According to him, Kubrick bought the rights to The Shining because his wife found out that he was involved with the faked footage, and thus the movie serves as both his apology to her and his "thinly veiled" admission about what he did. Evidence? The much ballyhooed changing of the room 217 to 237 is not because the hotel didn't want that actual room being tied to the horrible events that happen in it, but because the distance from the moon to Earth is 237k miles. And note that Danny has an Apollo 11 sweater on when he sees the room! The guy unfortunately makes an ironic mistake, when he says that the room key has "ROOM No. 237" printed on it, and that the "only other word" one could spell with those capital letters is MOON. Well, you can use all five of those letters and spell "MORON". Whoops.

This is pretty much how all of the theories work - someone gets fixated on a random prop or wardrobe choice, and creates an entire story behind it. The Camulet baking powder that's on the shelf? Camulet means peace pipe, so the movie is about the slaughter of the Native Americans. The photo of Nicholson fades in a certain way that makes it look like he has a Hitler 'stache because the movie is about World War II! And I can't remember the theory it supposedly refers to, but the poster of a skier in the game room is apparently not a skier, but a minotaur.

Other than the Apollo stuff, the most interesting thing in the movie is the dissection of the film's sets, how rooms have windows when every other scene shows that the room is in the middle of the building, or that staircases lead nowhere. There are also strange continuity errors that seem like they would HAVE to be intentional, like a sticker that disappears on Danny's bedroom door. This stuff I totally believe; I'm sure some of it is just a mistake in the set building, but it makes total sense that Kubrick would try to disorient us on a subconscious level, and that's a wonderful way to do it. Certainly makes more sense than a guy inexplicably using a haunted hotel movie to tell the story of World War II.

Horror fans will be delighted at one aspect of the movie's strange decision to be created entirely out of existing footage with new voiceover, however. While most of the footage is from Kubrick's filmography (I think every one of his films is represented), they use a lot of the early theater shots from Demons to represent a crowd watching The Shining or whatever in a movie theater. At first I thought it was just some wishful thinking, as it was just a wide shot of the back of their heads and I was like "is that Demons? No, can't be..." but then they use closeups of the main girl and that one asshole that took his wife to a free screening for their anniversary. Also, if you're a fan of the amazing short film "The S From Hell," make sure you stick around until the very end of the credits.

Obviously, if you're a fan of The Shining or of conspiracy theories, it's definitely worth a look. Whether or not you agree with even a single one of these people is sort of irrelevant - it's just fascinating to see how much effort someone will put into dissecting the (possibly/probably not intentional) meanings of a movie. That it happens to be a movie that is considered one of the greatest horror films ever by many just makes it all the more appealing to us horror nerds. I wish they had a little more fun with it, and again the lack of actual interview footage was distracting, but it's certainly a interesting "alt" way to enjoy the world of the Overlook Hotel.

Brian Collins's photo About the Author: Brian, aka BC, has been watching horror movies since the age of 6, and twenty years later decided to put it to good use, both as a writer for Bloody-Disgusting as well as launching his own site, Horror Movie A Day, which Roger Ebert once read and misunderstood the points that were being made.
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