Critics' Pick

Room 237 (NR)

Documentary 104 April 5, 2013
By Steven Erickson
Here's the kind of theory that the five interviewees in Rodney Ascher's Room 237 have come up with about Stanley Kubrick's The Shining: One believes that it's an allegory about the genocide of Native Americans. Another that it's instead about the Holocaust. Or that it's Kubrick's coded confession that he faked the moon landing. Director Ascher adopts a radically nonjudgmental approach, allowing viewers to be seduced-- or not-- by his subjects' ideas and lose themselves in a delirium of interpretation. The methods of the theorists are less like the work of film critics than those found on a conspiracy theory site like vigilantcitizen.com, which argues that Lil Wayne videos glorify CIA mind control programs. The theorists are heard but never seen; most of the images come from The Shining itself (the copyright negotiations probably could make the subject of a whole other film). Even if the theories don't persuade you, the film fascinates. It's revelatory about the nature of spectatorship in an era when technology allows audiences to watch films frame by frame. When much of the American public believes that President Obama is a Kenyan-born Muslim, Room 237 evokes the appeal of conspiracy theories while refusing to endorse or completely disavow them. And without ever referring explicitly to academic theory, it engages with some of the grand ideas that have preoccupied it over the past 50 years. And it's fun.
Rodney Ascher Buffy Visick, Bill Blakemore, Geoffrey Cocks, Juli Kearns, John Fell Ryan, Jay Weidner Tim Kirk IFC Films

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