'Room 237' is worth checking out for obsessed
You don't have to be an obsessive fan of “The Shining” to enjoy “Room 237,” whose title will be recognizable immediately to those who fit that description.
What you need to be is just obsessive about something. Or to understand that mindset, the idea that something is worth devoting your time and thoughts to. Because, in “Room 237,” you will hear from people who have devoted large chunks of their lives to studying Stanley Kubrick's 1980 movie, based on the Stephen King novel.
They see things you didn't, and not just because they have watched it many, many times. They see things that, most rational people would believe, aren't really there.
But so what? That is part of the appeal of director Rodney Ascher's documentary. So, a guy thinks the whole film serves as Kubrick's apology for helping NASA fake footage of the Apollo moon landing. So, another woman finds sexual cues everywhere. Another guy finds hidden meaning when he screens the film forward and backward simultaneously.
Good for them. Sort of.
It's nuts, in the best possible way. And best of all, it gives us an excuse to look at, think about and talk about “The Shining” all over again.
Jack Nicholson stars in the original film as Jack Torrance, a troubled writer who moves with his wife (Shelley Duvall) and young son (Danny Lloyd) to work as the caretaker at a Colorado hotel that shuts down for the winter, due to the massive snowfall. They're isolated, and Jack slowly loses his mind. There are suggestions of the supernatural, but it's never clear whether it's all in Jack's head.
Full disclosure: I love “The Shining.” It's one of my favorite movies of all time. I think it's scary as all-get-out, not in a gory way but in a psychological way. Critical response was mixed when the film came out, but, over the years, the film has grown in stature and reputation.
But, even though I love “The Shining,” I have not watched it hundreds of times so that I can deduce that the man in a poster in the background of a scene in the hotel is actually a minotaur, symbolizing Jack. Or to notice that the use of a German typewriter whose name means “eagle,” or repeated references to the number “42,” signal that Kubrick made a movie about Nazi genocide. There is slaughter of Native Americans in there for good measure.
One of the reasons “The Shining” lends itself to this kind of devotion is that Kubrick was something of an obsessive himself, meticulous in every detail when it came to shooting a scene. Does that mean that the cans of Calumet baking powder stacked behind Scatman Crothers, with its Native-American-in-a-headdress logo, symbolizes anything? There's at least one person out there who thinks so.
It would be easy to make fun of these folks. But you have to admire their enthusiasm. And it is undeniably fun to see such a great movie sliced and diced and put back together in so many ways.
“Room 237” — the room in which Jack encounters the beautiful woman who turns into a decomposing crone — goes further than that. Too far, almost certainly, but that's what's so good about it.
Bill Goodykoontz is the Gannett chief film critic.