There was no way that the man who made the monumental, enigmatic 2001: A Space Odyssey would have made a simple thriller based on a Stephen King supernatural potboiler.
Stanley Kubrick's The Shining shouldn't qualify as a simple anything. But the presumption Kubrick was up to turning the novel into some kind of intricate puzzle-box took hold in many of the people who grew fascinated with the film.
That is the jumping-off point of Rodney Ascher's Room 237, an examination of the film from the perspective of five singular obsessives who ascribe deeper meanings to the story of Jack Torrance's tortuous unravelling over the winter at the Overlook Hotel in Kubrick's 1980 film.
Ascher, something of an enigmatic stylist himself, eschews the usual talking-heads documentary form. We never see these five individuals. We just hear their theories over a barrage of images, mostly from The Shining but also culled from other Kubrick films -- Eyes Wide Shut, Lolita, Barry Lyndon, 2001, The Killing -- as well as stock footage.
The effect is like immersion into a bizarre film book from the fringes of film criticism.
Take, for example, history professor Geoffrey Cocks, who uncovers recurring references to the number 42. (Shelley Duvall watches Summer of 42 on television; If you multiply the single digits of haunted room 237, you get 42.)
So, yes, we may consider Kubrick was engaged in some sort of numerological game. But it's a bit of a stretch to come to the conclusion that The Shining is about the Holocaust because the Final Solution was devised in 1942, and Jack Nicholson works on a German typewriter.
And so it goes. One viewer is cued by the logo of background canned goods to believe the film is about the "genocide of the American Indian." Another believes The Shining to be Kubrick's disguised confession to shooting a faked moon landing for NASA.
It's entertaining and stimulating stuff, to be certain, proving that there are many ways to read a movie.
If the theorizing is a little excessive, blame the unexplained "Star Child" at the open-ended conclusion of 2001: A Space Odyssey, a tot who launched a thousand marijuana-infused interpretations for decades to follow. From his unprecedented appearance in a major Hollywood movie, audiences were challenged to interpret his meaning, as opposed to submitting to the usual Hollywood narrative wrap-up. For Kubrick fans in particular, the habit stuck.
If Room 237 proves nothing else, it is this: That kid dies hard.