[ROOM 237 screens Tuesday July 9th at 6:45 pm at the Capitol Theatre presented by the Cleveland Cinematheque.]
Review by Bob Ignizio
You and I may be sitting in the same theater watching the same movie, but it is highly unlikely that we will have the same experience. Whenever we watch a film (or read a book or listen to a piece of music), we don't just passively receive the information that the work's creator intended for us. It all gets filtered through our own particular set of perceptions. These signals are then further processed in our minds through the filter of our own past experiences, knowledge, beliefs, and prejudices. We may agree on the basic details of plot, but what it all means and how it affects us can be drastically different.
The documentary ROOM 237 illustrates this concept beautifully using Stanley Kubrick's THE SHINING, adapted from the novel by Steven King. To this end it brings together five individuals who each have unique ideas about the film's subtext ranging from the plausible (it's a metaphor for how America tries to cover up and forget its past atrocities, like the genocide of the American Indians) to far out conspiracy theory territory (it's Kubrick's way of telling the world that he shot the fake footage of the Apollo 11 moon landing). Even the most outlandish interpretations, once they're brought to your attention, seem to have evidence supporting them, providing a perfect illustration of “confirmation bias”.
In case you haven't figured it out yet, if you were hoping for a or tribute/reminiscence of THE SHINING along the lines of what HIS NAME WAS JASON did for FRIDAY THE 13TH, this isn't the movie for you.
So can all of these people be right? There are certainly those who would say that any interpretation of a work of art is equally valid, even if it differs wildly from what the artist's actual intent was. Others, like the late Mr. Kubrick's assistant Leon Vitali, who considers much of the film to be “pure gibberish”, would beg to differ. Of course Mr. Vitali may just be in on the conspiracy and collecting hush money from NASA. And so we see just how easily the mind can find ways to hold on to an idea once it latches on to it.
I don't think ROOM 237 is trying to persuade us that any or all of the theories its subjects present are “right”. Whether one agrees with the theories presented in the film or not, the people who hold them them nonetheless offer some interesting observations about the film. More importantly, by showing the amount of effort these individuals have put into interpreting THE SHINING, we see how a truly great and complex film can continue to affect those who watch it, calling them back for repeat viewings and stimulating thought and conversation for many years to come. Although only time will tell, it's possible ROOM 237 will have that same kind of effect itself. 3 1/2 out of 4 stars.