How Doctor Sleep Connects to The Shining
With The Shining sequel Doctor Sleep – directed by The Haunting of Hill House's Mike Flanagan – arriving in theaters November 8, we thought we'd shine a spotlight on what makes this particular project unique, as Stephen King adaptations go, and how it connects back to the first book and movie. And it's much more than Doctor Sleep just being a decades-later follow-up. (Read our review of Doctor Sleep here.)Stanley Kubrick's The Shining is one of the most well-regarded horror movies of all time – a standout not only of the genre but of cinema itself. It's also arguably the best adaptation of a Stephen King book.
Ah, but there's a catch. King famously resented the movie, as Kubrick's film left a bunch of details from the novel out. Eventually, an adaptation much closer to the book came out in 1997, as a three-episode TV miniseries, and while it was a ratings hit there was no way Kubrick's version of The Shining was ever going to be seen as anything other than the definitive Shining. The rub here, for King, is that it's actually because of Kubrick's vagueness, because the film lacked those harder explanations of the Overlook Hotel's powers, that it's considered one of the scariest films ever.
In 2013, King released his book sequel to The Shining. But how do you adapt this particular book into a movie when the classic movie based on the first book doesn't exactly… cover a lot of the first book?
We'll avoid major Doctor Sleep spoilers here, so just consider this a primer that sets up the movie.
THE DOCTOR IS IN
First up? The bare basics of the book, Doctor Sleep.
The story rejoins Danny Torrance, the son of ill-fated, rampaging Jack (er, John) Torrance from the original story. Danny, as you'll recall, has an unformed and hazy batch of psychic powers. He "shines," as cook Dick Hallorann explained in the O.G. film. It's a term used to explain a type of crossover into a spirt realm. The Overlook Hotel, where Danny's father gets a job as an off-season caretaker, also "shines." Meaning that it's a place of powerful, and possibly malicious, psychic energy.
All these years along, Danny is not doing well. He's become an alcoholic like his father, as the ghosts of the Overlook Hotel continue to pursue him. Danny's life receives a much needed jolt, and rejuvenated purpose, when he meets a young girl who "shines" named Abra. He then sees it as his mission to protect her from those who'd (literally) feed off her unique and powerful energy.
The trick now, for writer/director Mike Flanagan, was to make this Doctor Sleep story exist in the same cinematic universe as the Kubrick movie. The original film has things, and does things, that aren't in either of King's books. It killed off Halloran, who's still a character in the Doctor Sleep novel. It invented the visuals of the "Grady Twins" ghosts. In fact, most of the iconic elements from the film weren't in King's pages. The blood-filled elevator. The "All Work And No Play Makes Jack A Dull Boy" moment. The hedge maze. The "Here's Johnny!" door smash. All created by Kubrick.
Several things about Kubrick's adaptation irked King, like the fact that Jack's possession and subsequent descent into madness felt ambiguous whereas in the book it was very much known that the hotel was targeting him. Most of all though, the running theme of alcoholism and addiction were sort of glossed over. Oh, you can definitely pick up on the fact that movie Jack was an abusive drunk, who broke his son's arm during a booze-fueled fit, but the book makes it way more of a central focus. And it showcases how the Overlook uses Jack's addictive personality as a vulnerability. The hotel's target is, and always was, Danny. The boy who "shines." Jack, as Danny's father, was just the easiest way to get to Danny and kill him.
Flanagan, who previously directed an adaptation of King's Gerald's Game (which impressed King and helped convince him to give Flanagan his blessing for Doctor Sleep), was tasked with honoring, basically, two different versions of The Shining. Of mixing King's new story with the stark and stunning hallmarks of Kubrick's work. "My strategy was to honor what Kubrick did, and to approach this like an authentic sequel to the film that he made," Flanagan said in a behind-the-scenes featurette, "while also trying to honor themes from the novel The Shining that didn’t make it into the film."
THE DEMONS OF DRINK
As mentioned, Kubrick's Shining didn't exactly hone in on the themes of addiction and abuse that were prevalent in the book, but Doctor Sleep will continue along that path, tackling Danny's inherited demons – both emotional and literal.
"Alcoholism and addiction and recovery, that's what Stephen King's writing about really," star Ewan McGregor, who plays adult Danny, told IGN recently. "In The Shining, he's writing about alcoholism and addiction either from the point of view of the father, who's the alcoholic, or the son, who has an alcoholic father.
"In Doctor Sleep, he's writing about sobriety and recovery," McGregor added. "I think that's one of the things Kubrick let Stephen King down about, is that his novel was about that. About an alcoholic living in a place where he couldn't drink and he felt like the film didn't reflect that enough. My character becomes an alcoholic himself. Not being able to live life on life's terms, he drinks it all away."
So, as you can see, Doctor Sleep might wind up feeling very different thematically, but it's going to still directly connect to Kubrick's hard cinematic visuals. Flanagan, with King's approval, is putting the Torrance family's demons, and demons of drink, up on the big screen.
Doctor Sleep opens on November 8, 2019, in U.S. theaters.
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