When is a documentary not a documentary? (No, not like when liars like Michael Moore or Al Gore release polemics and fairy tales with a “documentary” label.) A: When instead of, you know, documenting a subject but instead have a bunch of apparently crazy people wildly speculate as to the meaning of something, in this case Stanley Kubrick’s version of Stephen King’s The Shining, which gets some freaky interpretations in Room 237.
In case you're unaware of The Shining's plot, it's about Jack Nicholson going insane while working as a winter caretaker in a Colorado hotel with his wife and son. He's a novelist working on his latest book, but evil forces, redrum, all work and no play and here's Johnny! Well, if you think it's about evil spirits and a weird kid, you're totally wrong according to the nuts featured here. The Shining is about the Evil White Man genocide of the Injuns. No, wait, it's about the Holocaust. Hold on, it's about a minotaur! You're all wrong, it's Kubrick's confession that he faked the Moon landing!!! Oy vey.
Making the tinfoil-hatted speculation even more surreal is the use of footage from multiple Kubrick films beyond The Shining and other footage to illustrate the narration of the never-seen crackpots. The film opens with Tom Cruise in Eyes Wide Shut looking at a club window which has posters for The Shining cleverly composited into the shot. My first reaction was, "How did they get all this footage cleared?" but as things got more removed from reality, that was the least of my worries. They all seem to believe that because Kubrick was so brilliant and obsessive with detail, there is no way that anything and everything on the screen is anything but a coded message they can't believe everyone else isn't seeing.
The basic problem, other than it's nothing but a collection of obsessive Rorschaching of the movie where every picture on a wall "proves" whatever nutty concept they've projected onto it, is that it stays long past its welcome, cramming perhaps 75 minutes of content into a 102-minute box. I've seen a lengthy thing online about the Moon landing theory which went way more in depth than what gets mentioned in Room 237 and it's too bad because it's better "reasoned" than the stuff about a German typewriter meaning Holocaust. The most-interesting segment involves the juxtapositions that occur when a copy of the movie is projected reversed (i.e. starting at the end) atop a forward-running copy. The snippets are intriguing, but mostly in the way playing Dark Side of the Moon over The Wizard of Oz is.
Since movies - as with any art - can be open to interpretation, what's crazy about The Shining weirdos isn't that they're seeing something, but they've gone all the way down the rabbit hole elevating what are probably continuity errors into Rosetta Stones for their fevered imagination.
I've always read the ending of Ghost World, when Enid gets on the bus out of town, represents her committing suicide. (Go to the bottom for full explanation.) I've pitched this interpretation to several friends and no one agrees, but they acknowledge my reasoning isn't particularly kooky. The difference is that I'm not making a Federal case out of it like these shining happy people.
Score: 3/10. Skip it.
Throughout Ghost World there is a running bit where Enid (Thora Birch) encounters an old man sitting on a bench waiting for the bus. She tells him that the bus no longer runs through here, but he dismisses her saying she's wrong and one day she eventually sees the bench empty, the man gone. At the end of the movie, after pretty much thoroughly trashing her life and friendships, she packs a suitcase and goes to the bench. A bus comes along and she gets on it, riding out of town into the credits.
I've always thought the man's disappearance meant he'd died and her going to the bench and getting on the bus meant she killed herself. While putting this part together, I Googled and found a lot of people apparently share my interpretation, though the Wikipedia page reveals this: "Enid’s eventual fate in Ghost World is not explicitly shown; however, she does pack her bags and leave the city on a bus after her relationship with Rebecca ends. In a 2002 interview Daniel Clowes and Terry Zwigoff were asked if the ending of the film adaptation was a metaphor for suicide. Daniel replied "Yeah, it could be. It’s hard to figure out why people have that response. The first time I heard that I said, 'What? You’re out of your mind. What are you talking about?' But I’ve heard that hundreds of times."
Maybe his subconscious slipped it in and he can't see it, mang!