THE SHINING might be the most confounding movie Stanley Kubrick ever made. Ostensibly a horror film, the 1980 movie has its share of problems: It's overlong, unevenly paced, uncomfortably creepy, and dramatically unsatisfying. It contains an over-the-top performance by a showboating Jack Nicholson, and an unbelievably grating one by a sniveling Shelley Duvall. But, as becomes evident the more you watch it, The Shining is a pitch-black comedy containing far more depth, symbolism, and artistry than the Stephen King novel upon which it was based.
The documentary Room 237—named after a particularly sketchy room in the Overlook Hotel—examines The Shining from the point of view of five obsessed fans. Their takes on the film vary wildly; one sees it as an allegory for the slaughter of Native Americans, while another thinks it's all about the Holocaust. While the occasional bit of insight is sprinkled among Room 237's loony conspiracy theories, for every bit of fun trivia—how the hotel's infamous carpet pattern mirrors the Colorado state flag, or how continuity errors lead to a missing chair and a typewriter that changes colors—there's some truly crackpot junk. One theorist (filmmaker Jay Weidner) claims The Shining is Kubrick's veiled confession about his secret role in faking the Apollo moon landing for NASA. Another (artist Juli Kearns) insists a tiny poster of a skier actually shows the hedge maze's minotaur, and that the windows in the hotel manager's office are architecturally impossible. (She would know. She's mapped out the entire Overlook Hotel in her spare time.)
The problem with Room 237 is that director Rodney Ascher allows for no context or analysis of these nutty theories; he simply lets their disembodied voices blather over footage from the film, offering neither condemnation nor corroboration. One could argue that Ascher is using a wholly objective approach, letting the commentators hang themselves with their own silliness. But in the end, with so many dangling questions and unsubstantiated claims, it feels like lazy, inclusive filmmaking—the very opposite of the painstaking meticulousness that characterizes Kubrick's work.