ROOM 237 (2013, Rodney Ascher): 4/10
One of the theorists in Ascher’s documentary about people who read massive amounts of stuff into every detail of Stanley Kubrick’s 1980 horror masterpiece THE SHINING points out that the red key sticking into the lock of the titular room says “ROOM No 237,” with the only capital letters being R-O-O-M-N. He claims that the only two words you can make with those letters are “room” and “moon,” thus proving Kubrick’s film is foremost about faking the moon landing. One word he doesn’t seem to realize can come from those letters is “moron.”
And that’s basically the gist of this circus show (though it’s true that this particular crackpot comes across worse than the others), and Ascher makes no bones about laughing at these people for the most part. (He includes audio of one theorist interrupting his analysis to stop a screaming child, ends the film with a guy revealing that he’s been unemployed for some time, and lets the moon-landing weirdo hang himself by indulging in further paranoia about the government watching his every step). So, if Ascher is scoffing at the people with too much time on their hands who have read way too much into THE SHINING, then what is this documentary? It’s obviously not a way to understand Kubrick’s film — it’s a look at the subjects themselves, and letting us marvel at their head-slapping idiocy (in many places — some of their points have a lot of merit, but the ones that are the most valid also reveal little about the film itself; they just point out accurate continuity errors).
This essentially turns the film into a cinephile version of The Jersey Shore: shining a light on buffoons and giving their lunacy a voice. It basically allows one tinfoil-hat-wearing conspiracy theorist after another to commit one of psychology’s most basic cognitive biases: the Texas Sharpshooter Fallacy. People who want to look for coincidence and meaning in multiple occurrences of a theme will find them, and ignore all evidence to the contrary. If you are obsessed with NASA faking the moon landing, you’ll find evidence of it in a horror movie starring Jack Nicholson. If you read a lot about minotaurs, you’ll find minotaurs all over this film. It doesn’t mean the film is about these things — it means people are desperate to find meaning in things they can’t understand. Okay, fine. But this revelation about human psychology isn’t particularly enlightening, even when connected to how people interpret films. There is something cool about how once a movie is released, artistic intent becomes lost or irrelevant, leaving the work itself to provide its own meaning. But the best film criticism and analysis discovers things in a film that are universal to audiences — things that communicate and suggest, things that broaden or illuminate a common wisdom that the filmmaker has shared with the world; ways in which an artist has found a way to make something personal or individual become something universal. ROOM 237, on the other hand, is a carnival show about the dark side of film analysis: a parade of deluded idiots who have tragically convinced themselves that whatever crackpot shenanigans are bouncing around inside their brains have been validated by cinema’s great perfectionist master.