Arts Desk

Room 237, Reviewed

Did you know that when Jack Torrance meets his new boss in The Shining, the boss’ nether region lines up perfectly with a stack of papers to make him look like he has a hard-on? Or that the rug patterns of the hotel imply sex? Or that director Stanley Kubrick inserted a photograph of himself in the clouds during the opening credits?

You didn’t? Neither did I, and I wasn’t convinced of any of these masked, often one-frame details by Room 237, Rodney Ascher’s debut feature-length documentary about five obsessives who have analyzed the film adaptation of Stephen King’s The Shining and allegedly found tons of hidden meanings. Their theories and Kubrick “jokes” include everything from references to the Holocaust to hints that Kubrick helped create fake moon-landing footage to who-cares touches such as an “impossible window.” Continuity errors are never goofs, but purposeful changes that convey profundity.

Throughout the film, these five enthusiasts are never identified before their voiceovers, so listen closely to what they sound like when they’re introduced: Bill Blakemore, Juli Kearns, Jay Weidner, Geoffrey Cocks, and John Fell Ryan. Really, though, it hardly matters who says what—they all come across as semi-kooks who have way too much time on their hands. Suddenly the little blue-dressed girls are not the scariest thing related to The Shining.

And yet—some of it is fascinating, even if merely because these people went through the trouble of digging up enough of these details (sometimes) to support their argument. Such as a blueprint of the Overlook Hotel, or just the close attention paid to how the characters move through it. Or the curious contrasts/coincidences that pop up when the film is simultaneously shown regularly and backward, as one theater presented it.

Overall, though, you’ll probably think during the doc that these five are reading way too much into Kubrick’s film. It’s a stretch to say that Jack’s hairline in the final shot, a black-and-white photo dated 1921, turns into “a Hitler mustache.” Or that it’s significant that the number 42 appears throughout, including if you multiply the digits of titular room. (Even the theorist admitted: “I may be grasping at straws here.”) Kubrick is also accused of using the scene in which Jack, whose writing is interrupted by his wife, goes off on a tirade is really the director admitting to his own wife that he faked Apollo 11 footage. (And the distance from Earth to the moon? 237,000 miles! At least according to this bunch.)

A few of the details the commenters point out are kinda weird, such as when the bold pattern of a lobby rug changes direction during the scene in which a ball rolls up to Danny. (That would take some work, so it would be somewhat unreasonable to chalk it up to a continuity error.) But mostly these thematic allegations come across as arrogant, with the group assuming they know exactly what the director wanted to express. As one guy says of the hints, “They’re there regardless of author intent.”

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