I work in advertising. In the past year, I witnessed a fantastic commercial we put together for one of our clients broken down frame-by-frame. You don’t usually have a commercial analyzed the way this particular commercial was, but when it was released online, there was a firestorm of people looking for symbols: Masonic, Illuminati, Satanic, whatever. Nine minute Youtube videos broke down the commercial finding things that no one in the agency was even aware of. Were we blissfully ignorant or were we just the victims of people that find things because they are looking for them?
There’s a lot of projection that goes along with just about any conspiracy. It’s sort of like looking at clouds and figuring out what they look like. It looks like something because you’re looking for it to look like something. It’s hardly accidental.
I envy the people that can get caught up in conspiracy theories. The idea that there’s so much going on underneath the surface of what we can see and what we’re being told is fascinatingly ridiculous to me. It’s the type of thinking that I see on my Facebook feed, think for a split-second that maybe the person is right, then debunk it via Snopes roughly 30 seconds later. For crazy people, the world must be a thrilling place to live.
Room 237 is a movie about said crazy people, though these people are little more harmless than the “9/11 was an inside job” people or, God forbid, Alex Jones’ constituency. No, the people profiled aren’t interested in politics (not specifically, though some of their theories have political elements to them), but are more interested in dissecting movies. One movie, in particular: The Shining.
There probably isn’t a better movie to get all wrapped up in your own fantastical theory than The Shining. The movie is batshit crazy on its own; it really doesn’t need any help to be nutty, but these people all have their own idea of what is “actually” going on in the film. Reading between the lines must get a little murky, because there isn’t a single theory that overlaps in the slightest. From being an allegory about the destruction of the Native Americans to the atrocities of the Holocaust to claiming the movie is one big confessional that Kubrick directed the fake moon landing, none of these crackpots seem to see eye-to-eye.
Again, projections play a large part in these conspiracies. The theories these people come up with are usually based on a subject they have prior knowledge about. The theorist who believes it’s an allegory for Native American genocide just so happens to know much about Native American culture, knowing the word “Calumet”, as seen on the cans of food in the pantry in The Shining means “peace pipe”. Had this man been educated in Shakespeare rather than Native American words, perhaps he’d have a different theory all together.
The documentary is presented with movie clips only; there are no talking heads and no reenactments. The theorists are never seen; merely their voices are heard. This sort of presentation separates this from, say, something you’d watch on the History Channel. It gives it an objective quality and helps the movie convey a nonjudgmental attitude towards its subjects.
As the theories vary from person to person, so too do the focuses of each theory. While the Native American, Holocaust, and Moon Landing theories are told so convincingly and presented with such organization that they seem, at the very least, not completely out of left field, there are also some theories that are just loose observations without much thesis. For example, one theory claims that the movie is meant to be watch superimposed onto itself; as one projector plays it the correct way, a second projector plays it backwards. We are meant to see a synchronicity within the movie, but the narrator merely points out when things match up on the screen without much insight into what exactly it all means.
What makes Room 237 an engaging documentary is the conviction that these people have for their discoveries and the pride they take in presenting their evidence. Do I really believe that Stanley Kubrick used this movie to tell you that he faked the moon landing? No, but the guy sure does tell a convincing story.
The point of the movie is not to send you away thinking one of these theories is gospel, but to show you how in-depth people have taken the criticism of the film. Chuck Klosterman wrote about what he called “immersion criticism” in his review and it’s an interesting read if you care to give it a look.
For any fan of The Shining, the film is an impressive in-depth look at this odd masterpiece. It’s also a fascinating look into obsessive minds and conspiracy theories that are at the same time, stretches of the imagination as well as intriguing thoughts.