Part of the joy of being a fan is finding odd and obscure gems that you end up falling in love with. For every Star Wars, there is a Battle Beyond the Stars. For every Batman, there is a James Batman. Here at Fandom, we like to go hunting for some offbeat and off-the-wall films and television shows that might just become your own secret treasures. Strap yourself in and expect the unexpected, because this week’s Weird Watch is the conspiracy theory documentary Room 237. (Last week: House (1977))
What is the “meaning” of a movie? What is the purpose of a film and how is that purpose filtered and reshaped when it’s consumed by an audience? Why do we care about movies so much? Can we end up caring too much to the point of delusion? Where do we draw the line between admiration and obsession? Is there even a difference?
All these questions and more are explored in Room 237, a documentary that utilizes Stanley Kubrick’s revered adaptation of Stephen King’s The Shining as a jumping off point for a bizarre examination of art and its appraisal by popular culture in the modern age. Director Rodney Ascher interviews a number of people and allows them to express their wildly different interpretations of the film. This sounds like boring film school snobbery but Ascher isn’t interested in that. He refuses to show any talking heads, leaving only these opinionated voices and corresponding imagery for you to process.
Though a cursory viewing would seem to be solely about Kubrick’s film, Room 237 digs into much deeper and stranger areas of our relationship with art. Why is it that two people can watch a film and walk away with two completely different readings of the subject? Why does one person strongly believe that The Shining is a coded message for Kubrick’s involvement in staging the Apollo 11 moon landing, and another person believes just as strongly that The Shining is about the genocide of Native Americans? Which one of them is right? Are both of them right? Are neither?
Ascher taps into The Shining‘s dreamily oppressive aura by letting shots and analyses linger for lengthy periods of time, forcing you to soak in the fearful symmetry of Kubrick’s haunted house tale. Unlike a normal documentary where the purpose is educational or investigative, Room 237 dwells in a world of purest speculation. Often, this leads to perspectives and concepts that are so profoundly odd that they manage to transmogrifry into something resembling a magical truth. At one point, a fan of the film discusses an experimental screening he put on where he ran the film forwards and backwards simultaneously, superimposing the two images over each other to see what might occur. The results are eerie and mesmerizing in equal measure, leading to moments of synchronicity that feel like they must have been intentional. But they couldn’t have been. They absolutely couldn’t have been. Yet there they are.
In The Shining, room 237 (217 in King’s novel) is the room that Danny Torrance is told by Dick Hallorann, the Overlook Hotel’s chef, to stay out of. Is the documentary’s title alluding to the dangers of entering into an obsessive analysis of art? Is the film a critique about how viewers take on an ownership of the films they view? Is that a self-destructive path that can only lead to a misappropriation of the film’s intent? Does that intent even matter?
Room 237 will make your head spin but in the best of ways. It is necessary viewing for fans of art, film, and The Shining. It will leave you with far more questions than answers, but maybe that’s a good thing. Maybe it’s not. That all depends on you.
Room 237 is available to stream on Netflix, Amazon Instant, and Hulu.
Read more in our regular Weird Watch series here.