Stephen King has a notoriously fraught relationship with Stanley Kubrick’s adaptation of his novel The Shining. King famously called the film “a big, beautiful Cadillac with no engine inside it.” King also criticized what he saw as the misogynistic portrayal of Wendy, and the casting of Jack Nicholson as Jack Torrance. (King noted that you know he’ll end up being unhinged the second you see Nicholson on film, while he wrote the character as a good man who descends into insanity). It’s surprising — how could an author take issue with an adaptation of their work going down as one of the great cinematic accomplishments of all time? — until you examine King’s relationship to the source material. In doing so, it’s easier to understand why his recent comments on Mike Flanagan’s Doctor Sleep (an adaptation of his sequel to the book) refer to the Kubrick classic as being “redeemed” in his eyes. Why would The Shining need redeeming?
King’s ties to The Shining are far deeper than one may realize. King wrote the book after his first significant success as an author and poured every bit of his accompanying anxieties into the text. Everything is there — the pressure of following up his prior works with something equally great (if not greater), writer’s block, alcoholism, the ways a career as a writer can affect your relationship with your family… reading it is basically sitting down for a therapy session with Stephen King circa 1977. It’s a story about the battle between King’s best and worst selves, and how afraid he is that the worst self will win.
This is a stark contrast to Kubrick’s film. While there are no shortage of insane interpretations of it, much of King’s original thematic intent has been set aside. Jack isn’t a writer so much as he is an abusive blowhard. The internal struggle of constantly re-finding success as a writer is scrubbed in favor of themes centering on isolation, cabin fever, and daddy issues.
Make no mistake: Kubrick’s The Shining is a bonafide masterpiece. And for those unfamiliar with King’s fraught relationship with the film, hearing that he dislikes it at all may come as a surprise. It’s easy to hear his comments on Doctor Sleep and focus on the negative (namely that The Shining doesn’t need redeeming and King’s wrong for suggesting as much) but there’s a great deal of positive to take away from his comments as well.
If the film finally warmed King up to Kubrick’s adaptation, that’s quite the feat in and of itself. Doctor Sleep director Mike Flanagan says that King told him ‘‘Having watched this film it actually warms my feelings up towards the Kubrick film.’ That bodes incredibly well for Doctor Sleep, which hits theaters this Friday.
Doctor Sleep comes to theaters November 8.