Doctor Sleep Put Some Stephen King Back In Stanley Kubrick's Shining

One of the most impressive things about Mike Flannigan's adaptation of "Doctor Sleep" is how it acts as a cinematic olive branch of sorts to Stephen King readers while also honoring the iconic Stanley Kubrick adaptation of "The Shining" that came before.

King's dedicated readers (and famously King himself) have been angry about the Kubrick film since day one. Trust me, I've done a ton of research into King over the last couple of years since starting a podcast show called "The Kingcast," and if you go to YouTube and watch any of the dozens of archival live talks the author did around the time "The Shining" was coming out, you'll hear his fans complaining about how Kubrick ruined the book over and over again.

What constitutes a "faithful adaptation" varies from person to person. For some, to qualify requires a slavish scene-by-scene recreation of the original novel, and to others, just that the filmmakers got the feel and tone of the book right. Since it's hard to quantify, there will never be a definitive judgment on Kubrick's movie's success as an adaptation, but even its most die-hard defenders will acknowledge that the director went his own way for a lot of the film's runtime, most notably with story's central character, Jack Torrance, and the explosive ending which results in the haunted Overlook Hotel burning down.

Balancing two masters

To say Mike Flanagan had an uphill battle on his hands taking on a sequel to "The Shining" is an understatement, especially when you consider he was adapting King's sequel novel which doesn't acknowledge the Kubrick movie's deviations in any way — but you can't make a sequel to "The Shining" and leave out Kubrick all together.

When you think of that tightrope, it's a wonder the movie turned out coherent, let alone good. And the movie's more than good, at least in my humble opinion. Rebecca Ferguson plays the film's heavy with so much personality and charm, anger and cruelty that you really believe she is capable of the horrendous things her character does over the course of this story (poor, poor baseball boy). Ewan McGregor brings all the pathos of a grown up Danny Torrance, a haunted (literally) man walking the same path as his father did before him. Kyliegh Curran brings in a fresh viewpoint as a young girl even more powerful with "the shine" than Danny was at her age.

Flanagan seemingly made a decision early on that he would have to balance two masters: King and Kubrick and set out to make a movie that honored both of them. So the visual style of "Doctor Sleep" is Stanley Kubrick through and through whereas the text and themes are textbook Stephen King.

The visuals of Kubrick

It's hard to miss the visual nods to Kubrick in this movie. Flanagan mimics entire shots, like the famous aerial helicopter shot of the road leading up to The Overlook Hotel, and sometimes he'll be more subtle, like how he frames Danny's meeting with Bruce Greenwood's character to be exactly like Jack Torrance's meeting with the Overlook's manager, Mr. Ullman, in the beginning of Kubrick's film.

Flanagan may lean on Kubrick visually, but the whole thing is written as a love letter to King. There are many liberties taken with the book "Doctor Sleep" but every single one is done to give King's "Shining" characters a redo of sorts.

Let's take the ending, for example. In the book "Doctor Sleep," Danny has the same idea to bring Rose the Hat to The Overlook Hotel, but there's a tiny complication: at the end of "The Shining," Jack Torrance regains enough control over himself to reject the evil of the hotel and to overload the boilers, blowing the whole thing up. He dies in the process, but his sacrifice is a final act of attrition and love that allows his wife and son to escape.

In the book, the final confrontation happens in the burned out remains of where Overlook Hotel once stood. Less cinematic, but fitting as a sequel to the novel. Also, Danny survives the encounter and goes on to mentor Abra.

The text of King

Flanagan's film is all about Danny facing the same temptations his father did and making different choices. The first time we meet adult Danny, he's hit rock bottom, captured by the same addiction demon that his father wrestled with. Through the support of strangers and also very likely the negative example his father set, Danny is able to join AA and stick with it. He controls his inner demons in a way his father could never manage and that comes to a head when he's confronted with the visage of his father, having transitioned from caretaker to the bartender role in ghostly form. Jack Torrance tempts him with booze just as Lloyd the bartender did for Jack back in the day and Danny is able to refuse, choosing to remember the love his father had for him instead of the intimidating nightmare the hotel is trying to use against him.

In that way, the movie is as much a redemption for Kubrick's Jack Torrance as anything else. Danny uses the example his father set, both good and bad, to not repeat his father's mistakes, so it's wholly fitting that Flanagan literally gives Danny the heroic redemption moment that King first published in 1977.

Kubrick's film is cold, both figuratively and literally ... I mean, it ends with Jack Torrance, fully insane, chasing his son into a hedge maze, getting lost and freezing to death. King's novel was warm, also figuratively and literally: His version of "The Shining" ends with fire, Kubrick's ends with ice. Mike Flanagan brought the warmth back to the world of "The Shining" that so many constant readers missed in the 1980 film and was able to do so while still embracing the imagery and innovation that Kubrick brought to the world.

King speaks

There's a whole other tangent to go on about how Flanagan also weaves the central theme of King's Magnum Opus "The Dark Tower" into "Doctor Sleep," but if I start going down that road we'll be here another hour, so I'll save that for another nerdy King article down the line. Suffice it to say, Mike Flanagan knows his Stephen King. He loves his Stephen King. And "Doctor Sleep" is a masterful adaptation that fully brings King back into the cinematic world that Kubrick established.

Don't take my word for it. Here's King himself, talking with Entertainment Weekly's Clark Collis:

"I read the script to this one very, very carefully because obviously I wanted to do a good job with the sequel, because people knew the book 'The Shining,' and I thought, 'I don't want to screw this up.' Mike Flanagan, I've enjoyed all his movies, and I've worked with him before on 'Gerald's Game.' So, I read the script very, very carefully and I said to myself, 'Everything that I ever disliked about the Kubrick version of The Shining is redeemed for me here.'"

If you somehow missed "Doctor Sleep" give it a go. Watch the Director's Cut if you can find it. It's one of those director's cuts that is half an hour longer but feels half an hour shorter thanks to better pacing. You'll get equal doses of King and Kubrick in a cocktail only Mike Flanagan could whip up.