Room 237 ★★

What would happen if you approached that weird guy on the street corner who wears mismatched shoes, glasses with one lens removed and a sandwich board that says “I know the truth” in hand-drawn letters, and asked him, “what are your thoughts on The Shining?”

I’ll admit that it was physically impossible for me to get through this film in one sitting, because this film is frustrating and boring in equal measure, and the way it indulges the complete over-reachings of its subjects makes me want to bury an axe in someone's chest. It’s frustrating because while these theories may be interesting on the surface, it’s glaringly obvious how they fall apart when they come out of someone's mouth, let alone when contextualized with actual footage from the film.

A minotaur? Kubrick’s face in the clouds? A subliminal message explaining Kubrick’s involvement in faking a moon landing? Make me a list of your prescriptions, I truly want to avoid whatever meds you’re taking.

Symbolism in any art form is more difficult to refute than it is to first notice. It’s subjective. We would read works of fiction back when I was in school, and then discuss the symbolism within the narratives, and everybody’s opinion was fair game. But we can all relate to having that annoying try-hard in the class. The kid who would inject her own arduous theory about what the book was trying to say, to which the teacher would reply, “Sure, I suppose that’s one way of looking at it,” before drawing the class’s attention back to more grounded pursuits. That’s this film - the kid at the front of the class who spends far too much time inside her own head, but isn’t afraid to waste everyone’s time sharing her ideas.

There are some well-crafted moments in the film, which seek to illustrate a few pieces of “evidence” with visual interest, but as a whole this documentary never becomes what it needs to be. It juxtaposes voiceovers of its subjects explaining their theories with visuals (mostly from Kubrick’s oeuvre of films), adjusting frame rates and creating visual metaphors and analogies with its footage choices. A lot of this juxtaposition is impactful and visually interesting, but all of it lacks a singularly driving purpose - there’s never any contextualization of why any of this deserves credence. There’s no perspective provided to what we see and hear - no titling, narration or backstory, and we never get a remotely grounded perspective for contrast.

The filmmaker, Rodney Ascher, seems completely opposed to injecting his own voice or interpretation, which results in the film giving equal weight and credibility to all of these theories. There’s an amount of impartiality required in making a truly journalistic documentary film, but there’s a point where integrity suffers from indulgence. And this film is all about indulgence.

If you liked The Shining and the meticulousness of Kubrick’s creations, you won’t leave the experience without insight. There are quite a few instances where the curtain is drawn back to reveal the manner in which sets, shots and orchestrated movements are not as simple as they first appear, and in these moments the film is able to actually resonate with the rational part of my brain.

But on the whole, the film is a draining experience. It seeks to immerse us in an obsessive and often conspiratorial way of thinking and analysis that is incredibly trying. And the worst part about Room 237 is that, for all of the love it seems to have for the film it explores, it may actually have a detrimental affect on it - I worry that when I watch The Shining again it will be nearly impossible to turn off a running commentary of ridiculous ascriptions and irrational symbolism.