Stepping Into Room 237

Okay, my turn!  I've posted some reviews of the documentary Room 237.  Michele asked me in a discussion about her review if I had seen the movie.  I had not.  Well, lucky me, I found it on Netflix.  Hard to pass up for free.

The movie leaves me dizzy.  Too many opinions all jumbled together.  It doesn't help  that  the movie relies solely on voice recognition for you to try and keep up with which crazy person is talking at the time.  I found myself thinking, "Now is this the moon guy, or the Indian guy?"

Here are my notes:

  • Watching this documentary is more fun after reading The Girl Who Loves Horror review!  Yep, I laughed harder.  And indeed, cans of baking soda with American Indians on the label  do seem to be increasing.
  • Watching this, I can see why Mr. King would want to separate himself from the movie!  Indeed, the movie does not reflect his book.  
  • Conspiracies are fun.  It’s exciting to feel like you’re in-the-know; that you have deeper knowledge of something everyone else just took at a surface level. One guy says, “You have to be a fanatic to find all this.”  Yes.  Or just creative.  Because you’re not finding anything – you’re inventing it.
  • The guy who thinks The Shining is about the genocide of American Indians says, “I thought afterwords, how come I saw this and no one else did.”  I DUNNO!  If you're the only one who sees the pattern in the carpet, maybe it’s not intentionally there.
  • When paranoid people tell us they think the government will audit them because they think Stanley Kubrick created fake moon landing films – it makes them sound paranoid.  

So what do I think?  1. I think these people need to get a job and stop watching The Shining all day.  2. These people think Kubrick way over thought this film.

Here's a few lines from a guy who  thinks The Shining is really about the Holocaust -- Because the typewriter is a German brand.  “That struck me, why a German typewriter.”  And the number 42 is seen throughout the film, because in 1942 the Nazi’s decided to exterminate the Jews.  It is also significant that the typewriter changes color in the film."

I get the feeling each crazy was interviewed individually.  Imagine a convention of these people. what of the typewriter guy met the patterns in the carpet guy and they met the moon faker guy.

Do I like the film?  The short answer is no.  I think it’s funny, and in that sense it’s enjoyable.  But just listening to crazy people read nutso ideas into a film gets tiresome.  My brain is mush having watched this.

Room 237 moves from being funny to boring.  One crazy person is worth a good laugh.  A crazy guy in a story keeps the humor rolling.  Si on Duck Dynasty is fun.  But if everyone in a film is crazy, it leaves the viewer feeling overwhelmed.  I hope Obama Care covers psychiatric care, I know some people who need it.

My preparation: Seminary.
I’m well acquainted with crazy interpretations of seemingly straight forward accounts from taking religion classes at the University and simply hanging around enough seminary students.  Some people do to the Bible what these folk do to The Shining.  In fact, sometimes the History Channel studies the Bible exactly the same way Room 237 studies the Kubrick film!

Crazy stuff I hear. . . (that’s WRONG, do not think I’m endorsing this!) -- It was really aliens who lead the Hebrews through the wilderness; Lazarus was really the apostle Jesus loved, not John ; There is a secret number code embedded in the Bible; 666 is. . . you name it.  It's stuff seminary students or religion majors discuss in the basement of dorms or in the cafe over 30,000 cups of coffee.  Double predestination.  Pretribulation rapture.

My experience with college and seminary students (not teachers) lead me to a simple decision: I would accept symbolism being read into Scripture so long as I believed the author intended to use symbolism.  But I refuse to read symbolism into everything.  When doing exposition, context matters.

This is why I get frustrated with readers who see symbolism in everything King; or in this case, Kubrick.  Of course, these people actually think Kubrick  intended to put all this crazy stuff in  his movie.

Symbolism is a powerful thing for us humans.  We use symbols in the marriage ceremony; in the elements at the Lord's Supper; as a nation in our flags.  But when everything is a symbol, then symbolism is emptied of its strength.  It loses it's bite.  Save symbolism and secret messages for the times when the artiest is actually sending us secret messages.  King does it all the time, but readers look goofy if that's all they see.  The story is lost in the search for deeper meaning.

The suggestion that the carpet had some kind of sexual energy in its swirl patterns is really just a slap at the viewers intelligence.  It's a cool pattern, but I wasn't thinking sex until someone started finding it in the carpet.  But hey, my eleven year old spots monsters in the carpet -- I guess she's right on track to play ball with these people.

Cartoon characters on the door -- the big one being dopey.  But when we see the door again, dopey is gone.  Could it be a symbol that Danny is no longer a dope?  NO!  It's a continuity error.  But I do think dopey is near by.

Too much symbolism can cause you to lose sight of the intended beauty. Does it matter that according to the floor plans there shouldn't be a window in the office?  No!  Because they're not doing a movie where you are supposed to keep up with the floor plan.  Kubrcik was making a movie about a haunted hotel -- and a window opens the scene up!  Frankly, it keeps the viewer from feeling like it's all happening on a set.  Have these people not seen Star Wars?  I'm pretty sure there were few windows in the original Cloud City floor plan, but Lucas added them later because they opened the scene up.  Kubrick has a window in the office for the same reason, because it opens the movie up.  It's good movie making, not symbolism.

So. . .
What is the secret message hidden in The Shining?  Is it about Indian burial grounds?  Is it about the Apollo moon landing?  Should we try and play the movie forward and backward at the same time?

The secret message is: Stanley Kubrick likes messing with crazy people.


  1. You make some great points here. And I agree with you, mostly. I especially agree that context is everything.

    I'm going to save most of my analysis for my own post on the movie, but for now, I can say this: I rewatched the movie tonight -- "The Shining," that is, not "Room 237" -- and I frequently found myself thinking of the theories the folks in "Room 237" were positing. And I found myself agreeing with them less and less in almost every way.

    One brief example: one dude makes a huge deal out of the number 42 being omnipresent in the movie, and mentions that it is obviously -- OBVIOUSLY! -- a reference to the Holocaust, on account of how 1942 was a big year for that series of atrocities.

    Now, can I say for sure that Stanley Kubrick didn't have the Holocaust on his mind while making this movie? No, I can't. After all, he spent years and years trying to make "The Aryan Papers," which would have been a movie ACTUALLY about the Holocaust. It was a subject he obviously cared about. So hey, who knows; maybe it DID inform "The Shining." If so, he did nothing interesting with it.

    And anyways, what's to say he didn't have some other intention for having the number 42 pop up? Ever heard of Jackie Robinson? First Negro man to play big-league baseball? Care to take a guess what his jersey number was? Yep. 42 Say, is there any casual racism in "The Shining"? Uh huh. Does one character at any point use a baseball bat to beat another into submission? Yep. Is "Jackie" a nickname for "Jack"? You betcha.

    Do I for one teeny, tiny second believe that Kubrick did any of that on purpose? Absolutely not. I don't even believe he did it subconsciously. You can, if you like; not me.

    My problem with conspiracy-theory types like these people is that they insist on seeing only what they want to see. And I'll grant you that we all do that to one extent or another. But when you apply it to literary criticism -- or film criticism, in this case -- then you owe it to yourself to ask a simple question when examining evidence like the German typewriter or the missing chair or the pattern on the carpet: is there any other way to interpret this? In almost every case in "Room 237," the answer is yes; and the problem with those peoples' theories is that for them, the answer was always no.

    The reason I think "Room 237" is, in and of itself, a brilliant piece of filmmaking is that I don't think it wants you to be on these peoples' side. I think the movie is making a very simple statement: once you begin to see patterns in things, it is difficult to stop, regardless of whether you are right, wrong, or crazily wrong.

    I'd expected to hate the movie, but instead, I found it to be mesmerizing.

    As for "The Shining," I still think it's genius. No matter WHAT you think it's about!

  2. This comment has been removed by the author.

  3. I watched Room 237 on Netflix last night. I didn't like it. I'm not sorry I watched it though. It was interesting to hear all of those theories, but I just find it hard to believe some of those things really meant what those commenters were saying. Not only that, I find it hard to imagine that Stanley Kubrick planned all of those small details into the movie.

  4. It's the difference in being creative and being observant. If you are seeing things Kubrick actually put there, you are observant. If you are just making up patterns, you are at best creative.

  5. Here's a question it just occurred to me to ask: why Kubrick?

    Out of all the directors to latch onto, what is it about Kubrick that makes people think he speaks a coded language in his films?

    Directors and filmmakers like Hitchcock and Ford are left alone, for the most part, or so it seems, while Kubrick is turned into the film equivalent of a quizmaster.

    Is it because of his meticulous attention to detail and the care with which he handles most of his shots?

    I'm not sure I have an answer for why people do this to Kubrick, however I do know I've seen at least one vlogger play the same type of game with, of all films, Spielberg's AI.

    Again, why Kubrick?

    Search me.


    1. "A.I." began as a project Kubrick intended to direct. He worked on it for over a decade before handing the reins over to Spielberg. And then Spielberg crafted it as an homage to Kubrick (who had died in the interim). So there's really nothing weird about looking at that movie with a magnifying glass. It's a great movie, too, so it stands up to a long, hard look.

      But as to why Kubrick gets that treatment and not, say, Bergman or Lynch or Tarkovsky...I don't entirely know. Hitchcock DOES get some of it, though, and I suspect that the answer to the question has something to do with both of those directors being able to strike a balance between being avant garde AND commercial at the same time. In other words, tons of people have seen Kubrick movies; and simultaneously, since he is operating on a different level than most filmmakers, the mind has no choice but to engage with the material in a different way. One almost can't help but go into analytical mode when watching his films.

      You also have to take into the account the fact that Kubrick is a filmmaker who understands that cinema is a language, of sorts. When there is an edit in his movies, it means something, more often than not. When he places his camera in a specific position, or moves it in a certain way, THAT means something (more often than not). The music is chosen specifically; it is not haphazard, the way it is in a lot of directors' movies.

      There's nothing particular to Kubrick about that. Hitchcock worked in the same way. So does Spielberg, when he's at his best; among modern filmmakers, I could name Christopher Nolan, Quentin Tarantino, David Fincher, the Coen Brothers, and Paul Thomas Anderson as being people who direct in something approximating the same way, albeit typically not quite as well as Kubrick and Hitchcock. But still, they pull it off to some degree, at least.

      I think viewers sense that, and respond to it. After all, you get a very different experience watching "Inception" than you do watching, say, "Grown Ups." The mind cannot help but engage with it differently.

      Because so many things in the films made by directors of this sort are obviously done deliberately, and with specific intent, it becomes almost second nature to assume that EVERYTHING in the movie must have been deliberate and intended.

      TV shows are not immune to this, either. If you doubt me, check out discussions of the finale of "Breaking Bad"; or, even better, go back a few years and check out discussions of the finale to "The Sopranos." In both cases, you will find something not at all dissimilar to the sort of critical gaze that Kubrick movies inspire.

      But yes, people do seem to focus on Kubrick a bit more exclusively than on others. And to be honest, it's probably no more complicated than this: he never spoke about any of the movies. Hitchcock, on the other hand, at least spoke -- frequently -- about his movies, and gave people a place to start from in forming their own critical opinions. With Kubrick, the critic -- professional and amateur alike -- is left to his own devices.

      Which, of course, leaves plenty of room for the crazy to begin seeping in.

    2. You won't believe this, but here's link to a vid by vlogger Leon Thomas: The 10 Most Insane Direction Decisions by Stanley Kubrick.

      Most now know about the Moon Landing theory, but how many know about Kubrick and the IBM connection?!


    3. HAL = IBM plus one step up in the alphabet per letter. That's all I know. If there's more to it than that, I'm not sure I want to know.

      I gave up on that vlog when the first item on the list involved the fact that Kubrick insisted on using a green table in "Dr. Strangelove." The vlogger has that on the list on account of how, since the movie was filmed in black and white, it made no sense to insist on the table being green. This makes the assumption that Kubrick's only interest in choosing that table was what would be seen by the audience; it takes no consideration for the idea that the table being a certain color would have an impact (albeit a mostly subliminal one) on the actors performing the scene. Creating an environment for film actors to inhabit is one of the most important things a director does, so if the vlogger isn't going to take that into account, he's of no use to me.

      Returning to the matter of other directors inspiring mania similar to that which Kubrick inspired... I rewatched one of my favorite movies tonight: "Donnie Darko." That is a movie that practically begs the viewer to interpret it. It's somewhat Kubrickian in impact, if not necessarily in tone. And like most Kubrick movies, it's a love-it-or-hate-it type film.

    4. I typed that wrong; it's IBM = HAL plus one letter up per. Oops!

      "2001" is on my list of top ten favorite films, by the way. Utterly fascinating.

    5. There is one final theory about Kubrick's adapt that I'm familiar with.

      It's not on the 237 film, but of all the theories I've heard this one at least sounds like it could be near the truth.

      It's a review of an unrelated French New Wave film, Last Year at Marienbad (1961).

      It contains this line, "Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining (1980) could almost be Last Year in Marienbad as a horror film."

      According to this theory, the viewer never actually sees any living person throughout the entire film, all the characters are in fact the actual ghosts caught in a continual loop forever reenacting the tragic events of the Overlook.

      Considering that other ghosts make an appearance, it would mean that the ghosts of the Torrances, and the story they reenact are just one of many.

      It's sort of like an interesting take on one of King's comments about haunted houses being like ethereal home movies playing in every room, memories impacted like into the structure of the building or something.

      Now to be fair, I don't know if that's something in the review I quoted from above, or whether I just literally read that into the review based on a Roger Ebert essay I read beforehand that implied pretty much the same idea (which coincidentally ties in with a review once Ebert did of a 70s version of the film Solaris (turns out the Cloony film is remake).

      Wheels within wheels.

      Here's the Marienbad review:

      Here's Ebert's Solaris review that sort of ties in (I think)?

      And here's his review of Kubrick's Shining (the key word is: as if she wasn't even there):


    6. I'd believe the whole thing was a confession to having faked the moon landing before I'd believe they were dead the whole time.

    7. I did enjoy reading those Ebert reviews, though; especially the Tarkovsky one.

    8. Yeah, the whole stage performance by ghosts does seem far out there.

      The one thing I mean to mention though in my second post but never did was how it sort of does maybe explain Kubrick's conversation with King about the afterlife, and how ghost stories always seemed inherently optimistic to Kubrick because they at least implied something after death (which would make the Shining his optimistic take on things, even if it's a worst case scenario?!)

      Another thing all three reviews reminded me of was an article yours, Reverend. It's the one called THE SHINING Alternate Endings (it's right at the top of this page for those curious as to what I'm talking about).

      I just mention it because the main characters-as ghosts theory would maybe ironically tie-in with King's original outline for the ending of his novel (thank goodness that never happened!).

      I don't really advocate either of those takes though.

      I think the Shining is simply about a family that stumbles across a haunted house, and an exploration of the breakdown of that family.


    9. I agree. That's certainly the case with the novel, and I'd say that it's the case with the movie, too.

      My problem with reading the movie that way -- as if everyone is a ghost the entire time -- is simply that there is no evidence for it. No concrete evidence, and really not even any loose evidence; it's simply an idea that someone came up with at some point, one which made them feel clever in a very facile way. And so they ran with it.

      Most works of fiction are going to have room for people to lay their own interpretations on them, of course, so I probably shouldn't be too quick to shout down ideas like this one. I can't help doing it, though; maybe I'm old-school, or just a grump, but for me, critical analysis HAS to begin and end with the work itself. Otherwise, what's to keep someone from claiming that "Star Trek" is a sequel to "Breaking Bad" wherein Walt Jr.'s trust-fund money has eventually led to the creation of Starfleet? It's a silly idea, but applying the sort of logic that resulted in that theory about "The Shining," it'd be fair game.

      On a side-note, I had the opportunity to watch "The Shining" on the big screen last week, and boy, do I still love that movie.

    10. By the way, going back to the "they were ghosts the whole time" angle...

      It's worth pointing out that Stephen King pulled that exact trick recently with "Ghost Brothers of Darkland County." Which is a spoiler for that show, I guess, but hey, so be it.