This review was originally published on February 2, 2012…
When examining art, you can find meaning or allegory in almost anything. Not only that, but with careful creativity and academic gymnastics, you can graft a meaning onto a piece of art that coalesces with whatever it is you’re trying to say. Whether or not the meaning you’ve culled out of a poem, book, painting, song or movie is completely correct can almost never be truly proved or disproved which is why, for me, serious film studies have always been somewhat indigestible. And I say this as a “film scholar,” having received my Masters Degree in Cinema Studies, which is to say I read and watched the assignments and jumped through the hoops necessary to earn that degree, but in the back of my mind I always wondered if it was all bullshit.
Still, I love studying film and looking at meanings hidden within frames even though I still find the idea of “semiotics,” when boiled down to a Cliff-Notes version of a definition means that true meaning in film can be defined by studying the signs that are present onscreen which create a sort-of unanimous language, is ridiculous because obviously there are many different languages in different countries and if a filmmaker is expressing his or herself, they are not using a singularly defined and accepted form of symbols to make a point. Their background and experiences as well as the person receiving them via the film can differ wildly, thus a true answer or the meaning of a symbol can never be defined.
At least, that’s my take on it. But rather than get into my personal gripes with certain areas of cinematic academia, let me just say the documentary “Room 237” is a fun and wildly engaging look at various in-depth analysis of Stanley Kubrick’s film “The Shining” and what the things seen onscreen mean to different people.
In the film, director Rodney Ascher examines the insights of five people of varied backgrounds who have all seen secret signs, symbols and meanings in “The Shining” that have lead them on wildly differing paths in search of what Kubrick’s film “really” means. If you are a fan of film study and/or conspiracy theories, you can do no better than this film as the theories imbedded within hold just enough water to be curiously insightful yet are also so batshit crazy, there’s no way they can be true. Or, can they?
In a way, “Room 237” is a film about film theory and criticism in that yes, what is being said could be true but if you ask someone else in another area of expertise where their obsession or area of interest lies, the film can mean something completely different but equally believable. Or equally full of crap as sometimes, as the old adage goes, “a cigar is just a cigar.” But no matter what you believe (or, don’t) “Room 237” is a fascinating watch for casual film fans all the way to hardcore film devotees and everyone in between.
In his film, Ascher uses footage from “The Shining,” as well as various other Kubrick films and some films that have nothing to do with Kubrick at all, to tell these varied stories. We never see a talking head or a face behind these ideas as they explain their stance, the entire film is told through film clips. I don’t want to give away these theories as that’s part of the fun in watching the film but I will say I own a DVD called “Kubrick’s Odyssey: Secrets Hidden in the films of Stanley Kubrick” by Jay Weidner which is one of the storylines in “Room 237.” I bought it after stumbling across Weidner’s website and was just too intrigued to let it pass.
In his doc, Weidner proposes NASA hired Kubrick to fake the moon landings in exchange for carte blanche in terms of accessing NASA for research on “2001: A Space Odyssey” and to assist with future interference from studios on all his projects (ie; there would be no studio interference ever again). But the catch is, Kubrick is not allowed to tell anyone about this deal, not even his wife. Weidner then claims that “The Shining” is Kubrick’s mea culpa for faking the moon landing as well as for lying to his wife and that many images onscreen are Kubrick coming clean in order to clear his conscience.
Weidner’s film is a perfect blend of paranoid conspiracy and completely amazing and intriguing insights that create a perfect conspiratorial brew. While you busy yourself doing spit-takes at the insanity of the proposals being made, you somehow can’t help but wonder if Weidner is onto something. Thus is the entire experience of “Room 237.”
I loved this film and hope it finds a way to get out into the world. It’ll be tough, as Ascher and company will have to fight for “fair use” in terms of the clips being used but I’m also fairly certain they can use the new rules of fair use in terms of using them for educational purposes as “Room 237” is not only fun but highly educational.
To me this film looks at what in-depth criticism of art really means, which is basically: everything or nothing at all, it’s in the eye of the beholder. But at the heart of every conspiracy theorist is a desperate hope that they are right and having seen “Room 237,” I can’t completely discount every person’s take on the film or at least not every part of their insight. As a result, “Room 237” is an incredibly engaging watch. You don’t have to be a die-hard film fan to fall into this adventure but, even if you are, the ride is equally as fun.