FEARNET Movie Review: 'Room 237'



It's a big day for a young movie geek when s/he realizes that certain (or even most) movies work on "multiple levels." A 12-year-old film fanatic probably doesn't know what "subtext" means, but a smart kid only has to watch Pink Floyd: The Wall or A Clockwork Orange once or twice before realizing that there's a lot more going on than just the surface-level story. (I once spent an hour as a kid trying to "explain" 2001: A Space Odyssey to my very bored friends.) All films are art, of course, and beyond the pleasures of simple entertainment there lies an eternal realm governed by Viewer Interpretation. In other words, a movie like A Clockwork Orange has A) a surface story, B) a pretty obvious layer of subtext that speaks to the cyclical nature of man's proclivity for violence, and C) {insert your own interpretation here.} Nobody would "correct" you for seeing a piece of abstract art as something specific, and nobody should feel strange about finding unexpected themes and ideas inside of a particularly intelligent or creative film.

If any of the previous paragraph makes any sense to you, there's a very good chance you'll enjoy Room 237, a documentary that focuses on some of the most bizarre interpretations you'll ever come across. Stanley Kubrick's 1980 horror film The Shining is the subject at hand, which means that Rodney Ascher's smoothly entertaining film will be of major interest to those who adore Kubrick, Stephen King, or the fine art of picking apart a beloved film with such a fine-toothed comb that you simply have to wonder about the relative sanity on display here. It's one thing to interpret The Shining as an indictment of the nuclear family or perhaps a rumination on the eternal nature of evil, but the folks interviewed in Room 237 find parallels between The Shining and A) the massacre of Native Americans, B) proof that the Apollo 11 moon landing was fake, C) the Holocaust of WWII, and D) something about minotaurs. Yes, minotaurs.

But while the interviewees' evidence is flimsy and their theories are frequently bizarre, there's something truly fascinating about watching a well-known film through the skewed perspective of another person. Plus, as film buffs know, Stanley Kubrick was a notoriously meticulous director who took dozens of takes and crafted his sets with a ridiculous amount of detail, and it's this knowledge that makes all of the "crackpot" theories and anecdotes so strangely compelling. For example: I sincerely doubt that Mr. Kubrick was trying to make a statement about the Holocaust in this movie, but it's still amusing to follow the details with a person who does believe that. If Mr. Ascher stumbles in one regard, it's that he allows his interview subjects to ramble on a bit too long. Several of the fans' theories start as weird, become novel or amusing, and then grow freaky or tiresome. On the upside, Room 237 retains objectivity quite well, boasts several great movie clips, and features a fantastic throwback score that old-school horror fans will appreciate.

Marred only by a little bit of rambling, and therefore a slightly overlong running time, Room 237 is a uniquely appealing treat for film buffs in general, and horror movie aficionados specifically, but it also makes a quiet, salient point about the value of artistic expression. A film is a work of art, and I don't care how wacky your interpretation may be, it's still valid if you believe it.



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