This week in movies you missed: When Cinephiles Go Too Far, the movie.
What You Missed
So you consider yourself a fan of Stanley Kubrick's The Shining. Maybe you watch the 1980 flick every Halloween and croak "redrum" every chance you get. But do you really know what The Shining is about, or what makes it a masterpiece? According to the five film critics who narrate this documentary from director Rodney Ascher, you don't know jack (or Jack).
You see, The Shining isn't actually about a haunted hotel, a psychotic writer or the dangers of cabin fever. It's about the genocide of the Native Americans. No, wait, it's about the Holocaust. No, wait, actually, The Shining is Kubrick's way of confessing that he participated in faking the Apollo moon landings on a soundstage. That's just so obvious when we see little Danny wearing his Apollo 11 sweater.
Not all the theories showcased here are quite so out there. But all the cinephiles featured in Room 237 are certain that Kubrick — whom one calls "a mega-brain of the world" — could never have created anything as simple and silly as a ghost story. Ergo, everything in the movie, including set layout, props and apparent continuity errors, must carry hidden meaning.
Why You Missed It
Released in 28 theaters, none here. Now on Netflix Instant, etc.
Should You Keep Missing It?
Room 237 is kinda frustrating, kinda fascinating. Personally, I'm dead set against the thesis of most of these critics: The Shining is dumb, and Kubrick was a genius, so all its meaning must be encoded. I believe in judging every movie on its own merits, and don't think any creator, "genius" or not, controls every detail or anticipates every possible interpretation of an artwork. (Kubrick put Calumet baking powder on the Overlook's shelves for its logo of an Indian chief? Really?) Plus, I love expertly told ghost stories. I don't think they're dumb at all.
For what it's worth, Leon Vitali, long-time assistant to the late, great director, backs up this general assessment in a New York Times piece, where he describes his reaction to Room 237 as "falling about laughing" and explains how some of those choices (including the Calumet cans) really happened.
But maybe that's not the point. After all, Ascher never says he's promoting the theories advanced in Room 237. He gives no hint of his perspective, yet makes a number of odd directorial choices of his own.
None of the five critics ever appears on screen, nor do we learn their credentials or qualifications. We have to Google them to find out if they're distinguished professors or just folks ranting on a blog. Ascher also switches frequently from one voice to another, so they tend to blend into a soup of overinterpretation. (A few of the interpretations are actually reasonable and enlightening, but I was never sure to whom they belonged.)
What do we look at throughout the movie? Footage from The Shining, obviously, to illustrate the theories. But also footage from Kubrick's other films and a slew of unrelated ones, often used to illustrate the critics' stories about their personal experiences with the movie.
The effect is disorienting: This is a documentary, yet virtually every frame depicts a fiction. Where the hell is reality? The critics' analyses begin to seem like a hall of mirrors, their apparent logic concealing a maze with no exit — much like Kubrick's Overlook Hotel.
Verdict: a movie about internet movie buffs for internet movie buffs.
Check out this parody that gives the Room 237 treatment to Ghostbusters.
Also, at your next Halloween party, should you own the proper equipment, try projecting The Shining forwards superimposed on The Shining backwards. It may not mean a damn thing, but it looks really, really cool.
This Week in Theaters
Kubrick definitely did not fake the space adventure depicted in Gravity. Justin Timberlake tries his luck at online poker in Runner Runner.
At the Savoy, two recent French films, Haute Cuisine and Populaire, plus the documentary GMO OMG.
This Week on Video
If you've been waiting to rewatch '90s relic "China Beach," here it is!
Plus The Croods, This Is the End and The Wizard of Oz on Blu-ray.