But with King’s sequel Doctor Sleep now out, I thought it would help my enjoyment of that to revisit his vision of the Overlook Hotel rather than go into it with mixed-up memories of what happened, and I’m really glad I did.
I was probably about 13 or 14 when I last read The Shining, and I’ve seen the film several times since then, so it’s no surprise Jack Nicholson looms large over it for me, particularly as that is the version that has seeped into all aspects of popular culture.
Unfortunately, it’s also a version that seems to have annoyed King more than any of the multitude of really bad adaptations of his works, even though it’s one of the most effective horror films ever made. It’s certainly a lot better than the TV movie adaptation he wrote to try and reflect the book more accurately.
I could never understand his objections until I re-read (ok, I cheated and listened to the audiobook) it. Kubrick did a lot of things right with the way he made the film version, but he also did a lot of damage to all of the three main characters.
Jack Torrence very much became Jack Nicholson (rather than vice versa), and King objected to this aspect vehemently, because instead of being a flawed father who gets manipulated and possessed by malevolent spirits in the hotel, he’s half-crazed before he gets there and there’s no hint of redemption at the end for him.
You sense this was a personal affront for King, because his Jack was very much based on himself (as many of his ‘New England writer’ lead characters are, of course) and his demons at the time he wrote the book. Jack Torrence is a character of light and dark, who loves his family but carries around all of the baggage of a recovering alcoholic whose dreams of being someone meaningful have long since faded.
The good man inside him is what makes his torment at the Overlook so much more powerful than in the film, where there’s precious little connection between Jack and his family. Of course, with a family like that, it’s hardly surprising, as Kubrick seems to have little time for either Wendy or Danny’s characters.
His treatment of poor Shelley Duvall during filming is legendary, and he wasn’t any more kind to her character, who becomes a prissy, sissy hen, lacking almost all of the depth and strength of Wendy in the novel. Similarly, Danny is far more infantile, possessing his powers but mostly spending his time looking scared.
For the purposes of the film, this was fine, because while I’ve never been a big fan of the performances of either Duvall or Danny Lloyd, they barely mattered because their characters were so one-dimensional and the real magic was being done by Kubrick and Nicholson.
And it was magic, too. For all that re-reading The Shining has reminded me of why I loved the book so much, none of it takes away from my enjoyment of the film, and vice versa. But given that Doctor Sleep is all about grown-up Danny, I’m very glad that I got to spend time getting to know him as a child in a way that Kubrick wasn’t interested in exploring.
The epilogue in particularly made me excited for Doctor Sleep (surely it should be Doc Sleep?), showing us the aftermath of the experience, with Wendy, Danny and Hallorann reflecting on it and looking to the future. Dick keeps telling them that they’ll be fine, that Danny will be fine. I’m looking forward to getting started on finding out how wrong he presumably was.