the shining miniseries 2

King and Kubrick

In The Shining mythos, there already exists a duality of names: two Jacks (Jack Torrance and Jack Nicholson), two Stanleys (Stanley Kubrick and the Stanley Hotel), and two Steves (Stephen King and Steven Weber). Perhaps there is, likewise, room for two equally valid adaptations of the story, without having to set up some false dichotomy where one is good and the other is bad.

Both interpretations of Jack Torrance remain perfectly legitimate. In a sense, they complement each other, like twins in a hallway, or reverse mirror images (Redrum!).

Kubrick’s film is timeless, the work of a full-fledged auteur, who has inspired both academic and conspiracy theory — as the fascinating documentary Room 237 attests. Meanwhile, with King serving as executive producer and penning the teleplay, he could probably be considered the true guiding hand behind the miniseries. Hence the inclusion of his name in the title.

In the end, these two adaptations are simply informed by different artistic viewpoints; and the version you prefer may depend largely on whose viewpoint you identify with more. It all comes down to the philosophical divide between King and Kubrick.

King likes to tell the story about how Kubrick once made a transatlantic phone call to him from England, just to ask, “Do you believe in God?” When King said yes, Kubrick replied, “No, I don’t think there is a God,” and hung up.

In a 2014 interview on NPR’s Fresh Air, King further related how Kubrick once said to him, “Stephen, don’t you feel that anybody who tells a ghost story is basically an optimist because that presupposes the idea … that we go on into another life?”

It may seem strange to think of an author like King, the master of the macabre, as an optimist. But much like Ray Bradbury, there is very much a streak of optimism, even sentimentalism, to King’s writing. His novella The Mist, for example, literally ends on the word “hope.”  Contrast this with the bleak ending of Frank Darabont’s 2007 film adaptation, and it immediately becomes clear that King’s horror-writer ruthlessness only extends so far.

For King, ghosts are real, capable of exerting influence on human beings, if not outright claiming their bodies as vessels, a la the Black Lodge spirits of Twin Peaks. Like Leland Palmer, Jack Torrance receives absolution in the end, and so his spirit can be there for the schmaltzy ending at his son’s high school graduation.

It is interesting to note how Kubrick’s film ends with Jack Torrance lying dead in the snow, whereas Stephen King’s The Shining climaxes with Jack Torrance allowing the hotel’s boiler to overheat and explode. As King himself put it, “The book is hot, and the movie is cold. The book ends in fire, and the movie in ice.”

If Kubrick lives on in his work as a man who “thinks too much and feels too little” (as King maintains), then perhaps author Mark Browning is right in characterizing King as a man who “feels too much and thinks too little.”

They are two sides of the same coin. And so ultimately, the whole King vs. Kubrick debate is unnecessary. At the end of the day, The Shining is like one of those great songs that has produced a well-known cover version, and even a later re-recording by the original artist (not to mention a sequel, King’s 50th novel, Doctor Sleep).

Appreciating King’s vision does not mean you have to abandon your love for Kubrick’s vision. A fan should be able to enjoy both tellings of the story.

Perhaps the flawed gem that is Stephen King’s The Shining could never hope to match the greatness of Kubrick’s film. Yet it still stands as a worthy companion piece, one that has been unfairly dismissed and deserves a reappraisal.

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