Room 237 (2012)

What’s in the briefcase? Is Deckard human or Replicant? Is it all just a dream? Some of the most fun at the movies is not watching the films themselves, but discussing and constructing theories about what happened and what it all means. Some films are more fertile in others in this regard and over the years The Shining has gathered some of the most bizarre and intriguing theories.

Room 237 talks with a number of people each with his or her own theory and each person argues his or her case to the viewers. The arguments range from theories that the film is about America’s history with Native Americans to the idea that the entire film is Kubrick’s confession that he faked the moon-landing footage. Some of these theories hold more water than others, but the film isn’t about the cohesiveness of these theories.

The film is about is how people interpret and understand films. Most of the theories are accompanied by more than just the actual theory, giving each theory more background by exploring the history of each individual’s experience with the film. Interpretation doesn’t exist in a vacuum, there’s a context and history that each interpreter has with the film that informs their interpretation.

As a document about the power of interpretation, the film is an intriguing exploration of how cinema is often understood in various ways. It’s one of the ways that makes art intriguing in that two people can approach the same thing and come to different conclusions. Putting those ideas in dialogue is part of what makes Room 237 intriguing.

The film’s presentation goes a long way towards helping it avoid the pitfalls of a lot of documentaries. For one, it avoids the talking head syndrome by having most of the film accompanied by footage of The Shining, other Kubrick films, and footage from other sources.

Also, the film presents a number of charts and diagrams that allow certain theories about the geography and layout of the hotel to come into play. Some of these aren’t of the best quality, but they get the point across and provide a strong visual aid for some of the arguments being made.

Part of what makes art intriguing and worth talking about is how different understandings and ideas can enhance and inform a work. It’s part of what makes criticism an important and viable part of gaining a deeper understanding of any art form. Room 237 is a fascinating exercise in what makes art worth consuming and discussing.

© 2015 James Blake Ewing