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Movies can be viewed in a lot of different ways. Some people watch them for pure escapism, some to be enlightened or informed, and some movies are watched because they viewer connects them with a personal emotional experience. Still, there are people who watch some movies (or maybe even most movies) because they think they provide hidden subtext or allegories known only to the viewer. The documentary Room 237 takes one film that is very open to interpretation (The Shining) and interviews various people who all have their own personal interpretations of said film, some intriguing, some downright insane.

Let me start this review by saying that I am in no way making fun of these people for finding their own interpretations of a film, nor am I saying that searching for metaphors and subtext in art is a bad thing. Everyone knows that I often find things in films that I'm sure the director never intended and probably only exist in my own head (see my 4-part "Subtext of Schwarzenegger" series to find proof of that). It's more about how seriously people take their own interpretations and whether or not they feel that they are objectively true interpretations. It's one thing to say that The Shining is about man's brutal desire to conquer and control and to emphasize that, the film makes various allusions to the genocide of Native Americans. To say that the film is actually about the genocide of the Native Americans, and all that stuff about the haunted hotel is just there to trick us, well, that's something else entirely.

I think that's my main problem with this film: the people interviewed feel as though their interpretations of the film are objectively correct but they don't really have enough evidence to support their claims. One person claims that the film is Kubrick's confession about directing the fake moon-landing footage, but all his "evidence" is extremely flimsy and if anything, counts as confirmation bias. Another claims that Kubrick hid an image of his own face in the clouds during the opening scenes of the film ... for some reason, but I'll be damned if I can see what he's talking about.

Before I go any further let me point out the one plausible interpretation presented in this film. As I said before, one person points out that this film could be viewed as a metaphor for the genocide of the Native Americans and Jack's obsession with keeping his family in the hotel as symbolic of mankind's bloody drive to conquer. This is a good interpretation because there are several allusions to that theme both in the imagery of the film as well as certain plot points and dialogue ("white man's burden"), but it's also good because the subtext doesn't take away from the basic plot of the film, it merely enhances it. Unfortunately, that is the only good reading of this film.

The other interpretations are just bizarre; like the guy who claims that the film can be watched both forward and backward at the same time and it reveals all sorts of hidden symbolism within the film. First of all, I highly doubt Kubrick ever intended his film to ever be viewed this way. Secondly, I think this is representative of the problem with viewing the film the way these people do. They are getting all worked up over things that exist only within their own heads. The Shining is a very open-ended film with a lot of surreal elements, so naturally there must be all sorts of hidden symbolism that only the enlightened few are smart enough to discover, right? It reminds me of the people who claim that Pink Floyd intended for Dark Side of the Moon to sync up with The Wizard of Oz. They're looking for a pattern and they see it because human beings are exceptionally good at finding patterns, even if there is no pattern.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not belittling these people and I'm not discouraging finding your own interpretations to films. Just take anything you or anyone else finds with a massive grain of salt and never take your interpretations too seriously. Also, by all means, check out this film. At best, you'll find some interesting new ways to view The Shining, at worst, it's a wild glimpse into some truly unique points of view.

ROOM 237

★ ★ ★