I was excited to watch the film “Room 237” from the moment I heard about it.
“Room 237” is a documentary about a handful of people who have developed detailed and specific theories about another film, Stanley Kubrick’s movie version of Stephen King’s “The Shining.” These theories, according to the movie blurb I read, range from the bizarre to the even more bizarre, dipping occasionally into the truly bizarre.
I couldn’t wait.
Only one problem — I’ve never seen “The Shining.” And there’s not much point in watching an exhaustive documentary about a movie you’ve yet to see. Plus it would pretty much spoil the whole movie for me.
So over the weekend I watched “The Shining.” On my wife’s suggestion I watched it during daylight just to be safe.
It was really good.
(End spoiler alert.)
Just as the credits started to roll, I immediately started “Room 237.” In a nutshell: Kubrick was a well-documented mad genius, detail-oriented control freak of a filmmaker who never did anything by accident and who was famous for researching the seeming minutea of his films to near-insane degrees. So everything that happens in “The Shining” — every prop and piece of set decoration, dialogue and establishing shot —must surely have specific meaning and purpose.
That purpose? Well, depends on who you ask. The “Room 237” subjects believe that “The Shining” isn’t really about a (spoiler alert) haunted hotel (end spoiler alert), but actually is a not-so-thinly veiled reference to things such as The Holocaust, the genocide of the Native Americans and the fact that Kubrick was the filmmaker in charge of faking the moon landing. There are even theories about the subtle jabs that Kubrick (also “The Shining’s” co-screenwriter) takes at King in the film. Ever since its release, King has been consistently vocal about his dislike of Kubrick’s interpretation of his book. And then, the next day, full to the brim with “Shining” information, I flew off to Iowa. I even watched the “making of” DVD extras on the plane.
As I was leaving, my wife commented that she hoped, for my sake, that the hotel room where I’d be staying would be number 237. She knows me pretty well. The prospect was a creepy and exciting one, though I doubted that Room 237 in the Overlook Hotel and Room 237 in the Sioux City Holiday Inn would have much in common beyond the number. And the carpet.
Oh, and speaking of crackpot behavior, there’s this little thing that I do. Each time I check into a new hotel room I take a picture of the number on the door. It’s part of an ongoing art project that I feel confident will not be very interesting, but I’ve been doing it for years — so it’s not like I can stop now.
So after taking a picture of my room — 802 …sigh — I open the door and there, shining back at me in the dark room, is the digital clock. It reads 8:02. I whip out my phone and take a picture of it, which will some day be the main descriptor of this decade. The Gay ’90s, the Roaring ’20s, the whip-out-my-phone-and-take-a-picture of it ’10s.
OK, pretty weird. Room 802 at 8:02. Not quite (spoiler alert) break-down-the-door-with-an-axe weird, but weird enough. (End spoiler alert.) Since my phone is already out, I snap a quick picture of my shocked expression, as part of my ongoing “shocked expression” photo project — also one I have very low hopes for.
Later I head down to the front desk to schedule a shuttle ride for the next day. The guy at the front desk is named Brian Smith. I secretly take a picture of his name tag while pretending to look up something on my phone. Secretly taking pictures of front desk clerks’ name tags is not one of my ongoing photo projects, yet. But I have to do it this time.
Why? Because this is officially weird, and I know I may need proof for anyone to believe me. Because I have now entered a dimension not only of sight and sound, but of mind. Because when you start to look for connections, you find them. Because this world is only connections, and to think otherwise just means you aren’t paying attention to the right things. Or squinting hard enough.
Why? Because Brian Smith is the name of the man who famously ran down King with his van. Much the same way Kubrick ran down King’s book version of “The Shining.” The only difference being that the guy spelled his name with a “y.”
Like this: Bryan Smith.
You know, exactly the way my brother spells his name!
“Anything else I can help you with, sir?” Brian with an ‘i’ asks.
“Yea,” I lean in and whisper. “I’ve got a column idea that I need an ending for. Could you just go ahead and move me to room 237 and pretend that it was your idea?”
Barry Smith’s column appears on Mondays.
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