One person believes "The Shining" was Stanley Kubrick's commentary on the Holocaust. Another points out clues that reveal the film is really about the genocide of Native Americans. Someone else claims the movie was the late filmmaker's way of letting us know the Apollo 11 moon landing was faked, and he directed it.
In "Room 237," director Rodney Ascher never shows us the faces of the people analyzing "The Shining." There are none of the usual talking heads you'd expect: Instead, he uses clips from the movie, as well as some of Kubrick's other films, with just the occasional bit of animation or dramatic re-enactment to stress a particular point.
Ascher treats all these insane theories seriously, but that doesn't mean you have to. "Room 237" isn't a work of cinematic criticism, although it does prove you can find meaning in anything if you stare at it long enough. The film's true subject is obsession - a love of movies, specifically - and he has found the perfect subject in "The Shining," a picture few people liked upon its release in 1980 but that has since lodged itself permanently into popular culture.
Is there anyone who hasn't seen "The Shining?" Our familiarity with the movie - with Jack Nicholson's iconic over-the-top performance; with the geometric patterns of the Overlook Hotel's rug; with that ax bursting through a bathroom door, a terrified Shelley Duvall screaming inside - makes Room 237 intriguing even if you don't buy any of the theories being floated. Ascher uses slow motion and freeze-frame to reveal details you probably haven't noticed before.
One speaker in the movie asserts Kubrick was a "bored genius" when he made "The Shining" (he had a reported IQ of 200) and amused himself by inserting little Easter eggs throughout the movie (the magazine Nicholson is reading while waiting for a tour of the hotel? "Playgirl"). You don't have to buy any of the nutty theories in "Room 237" to appreciate what Ascher has accomplished: He makes us reconsider a widely seen film from a new and strange perspective that leads to even greater mystery and fascination. Why does that typewriter keep changing color, anyway?
• Not rated.
• Director: Rodney Ascher.
• With: Bill Blakemore, Geoffrey Cocks, Juli Kearns, John Fell Ryan, Jay Weidner, Buffy Visick.
• Running time: 102 mins.