The book I remember best from high school is Moby Dick by Herman Melville.
To be clear, I don’t remember what happened in the story. I didn’t understand what was going on at all. Reading Moby Dick taught me that just because an artist is revered doesn’t mean that every piece of art he ever made is great.
My English teacher said that Moby Dick is full of symbolism and hidden meaning. Maybe it is and maybe it isn’t. Either way, that doesn’t make it a good book. A good book is clearly written, easy to understand, and enjoyable to read. Moby Dick is none of those. Herman Melville failed.
Hearing the English teacher over-analyze Moby Dick also taught me that whenever there is a ponderous, convoluted piece of art, there will be some smarty-pantses who are proud to explain the deeper meaning that they have uncovered.
That’s what the documentary “Room 237” is about.
Director Rodney Ascher went on the internet to find five weirdos who have concocted theories to explain the 1980 Stanley Kubrick film “The Shining.” “Room 237” is a study of the fascinating tendency for people to see patterns that aren’t there and find meaning in meaningless events. Each contributor is certain that he or she knows what “The Shining” is about but each is completely wrong.
Some of the theories are just simply wrong.
One guy argues that “The Shining” is about the plight of American Indians based largely on the fact that several scenes feature a brand of baking soda that has a Native American logo. Another guy argues that “The Shining” is about the Holocaust based on the fact that Jack Nicholson uses a German typewriter and the number 42 (as in 1942) shows up repeatedly in the film.
Some of the theories are HILARIOUSLY wrong.
One lady has concluded that “The Shining” is a retelling of the ancient Greek story of the Minotaur with Jack Nicholson as The Minotaur.
One guy – get this – is certain that Stanley Kubrick was hired by NASA to film the famous Apollo 11 moon landing footage on a soundstage in 1969. And the movie “The Shining” is a message to the world admitting what he has done and explaining how difficult it has been for him to hide the secret from his wife and children.
It’s amazing. Five smart people spent so much time thinking about this old movie. But none of them stumbled upon the truth: “The Shining” doesn’t have any philosophical point or deep meaning. Even Stanley Kubrick – arguably the greatest filmmaker of all time – made a few duds.
So, next time you are reading or watching something that doesn’t make sense, remember that it isn’t your fault for failing to understand it. It’s the artist’s fault for failing to make his point clear. Like that overrated windbag Herman Melville.