Why “The Shining” (Movie) Sucks But I Watch It All the Time Anyway
Photo Credit: Variety.com
I get that it’s impossible to write a movie version of a book and have it be exactly like the source material. The Harry Potter series is a great example of that. I’ve just finished listening to Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince and there were plenty of changes in the movie plot that were necessary to move the story along, same thing with the other books in the series. The films are still very much enjoyable and honor the source material for the most part.
Now let’s talk about Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining. Did Stephen King offend Stanley Kubrick at some point during pre-production of the film? Because this movie just seems like a big “fuck you” to King.
I watched the movie maybe dozens of times before finally deciding to listen to the audiobook version of The Shining (I did reference my husband’s paperback copy to revisit some details from to time). And honestly, I only finally got to reading it because we were going to stay at The Stanley Hotel for two nights for our anniversary. This famous hotel is where King became inspired to write the novel. I didn’t want to visit the hotel without having read it, but I also am a slow reader and knew I wouldn’t finish it in time. So Audible it was.
The book is brilliantly written and such a powerful representation of King’s own struggles with alcohol abuse. As a short fiction writer and an aspiring screenwriter, I found myself quickly picking up key plot points and character beats that in no way matched the film or were flat out missing, but would have added so much to the film. In fact, other than the names of the characters and the hotel, there is literally nothing else that matches the book at all. WHY?
I don’t have the answer, but I’ve thought about it enough and argued about it to so many people that I’ve decided to finally to point out the major differences and the movie’s many flaws.
I understand that my views on the movie are unpopular. But that’s why I’m here to convince you otherwise. (Not really, this rant is purely for my own amusement. I also have done at least two improv shows where my character talks about The Shining… so this is taking up unnecessary storage in my brain and I just need to dump it out before I bore another audience.)
You should know that I’m not actually referencing anything as I write this, so I may misremember some information or not recall it at all. Chances are I’m going to get some details wrong. If so, tweet at me or comment below and I’ll make the corrections.
I’ll start from the beginning. Obviously, these are all spoilers. Hold on to your butts. This is a long list.
Book: Jack Torrance has hit rock bottom. He’s a recovering alcoholic who was fired from his job at Stovington Prep after beating up George Hatfield. His uncontrolled anger was destroying his marriage. He broke his son Danny’s arm in a drunken stupor when he caught his son in his study messing with his work. Wendy has been holding a grudge since (rightly so), and combined with his history of alcoholism, she’s been teetering back and forth on whether she should leave him.
Movie: Jack just decides it’d be nice to stay in a hotel for a couple of months because he’d like to get some writing done. There are no real stakes.
Why take away Jack’s backstory? Jack’s desperation in the book is part of the reason they continue to stay at the hotel after so many red flags. This is also the last favor from his rich friend Al. If he fails at this job, he has failed his family and his marriage is over. He’d have nothing. There is no plan B.
Kubrick also changes the amount of time that Jack has been sober. I can’t remember the exact timeframe, but I do recall that being different. Why does that matter? It’s not clear.
Danny’s Backstory and Tony
Book: Danny Torrance is a very mature boy for his age. Of course, this is due to his “shining,” the psychic ability to read minds and see the future, also known as second sight. He is aware that his parents are having marriage trouble and is scared of his parents getting a divorce. He is also worried about ending up in a mental hospital forever after learning about a friend’s father who had a breakdown and was taken away. Because of this, he doesn’t tell his mother some of the awful things he’s seen (his visions) as he doesn’t want to worry her. He knows she has a lot on her mind. And he knows that his some of his questions (mainly from thoughts he hears) upset her so he decides to keep a lot things to himself.
In regards to Tony, he is first presented as an imaginary friend but later we find out that he is actually Danny’s future self. He shows Danny what is to come, warning him to stay away from the hotel. Tony shows him signs that he can’t read, so Danny is determined to learn how to read as quickly as possible so that he can understand more of what Tony is showing him.
Movie: He’s just a wee boy who has catatonic episodes with visions, though we never see what those predictions are. Tony is also presented as the imaginary friend who lives in Danny’s mouth and depicted almost as a personality disorder rather than his “shine.” There is no mention of Danny’s reading. I’m not sure we even know if he can read other than “Redrum.”
I liked that Danny was determined to learn how to read in the book. He’s wise beyond his years because of his gift, and he’s eager to grow up fast so that he can understand things.
Book: Wendy Torrance is struggling with her marriage. She and her mother are estranged. Her mother’s disappointment in Wendy is a constant thought in the back of Wendy’s mind. Her mother doesn’t think that Wendy is a good enough mother to Danny. Even when everything in her body is telling her to leave the house, Wendy still doesn’t leave because she has no money and feels like she can’t go back home to her mother. If Wendy fails at her marriage, her mother wins.
Wendy loves her son so much and is concerned about him. Jack constantly reassures her that Danny is fine, but as Mr. Hallorann says, all mothers have a little bit of shine in them, and Wendy certainly felt that something was wrong about The Overlook.
Movie: Wendy is the wife of a recovering alcoholic who verbally abuses — and eventually tries to murder — her. She’s passive for the most part until she has to save herself and her son from Jack. She’s pretty laissez about Jack dislocating Danny’s shoulder that drunken night. (Kubrick also decides to change Danny’s injury from arm to shoulder, and I don’t see a real reason to change that detail.)
In the film, Wendy might have the most depth but it still isn’t enough. She’s portrayed as a simple housewife who dismisses every obvious red flag, in denial that anything is wrong. This actually sounds more interesting than it is; her character is quite passive and timid so she takes no action until her life absolutely depends on it. However, we do see her ultimately change and go into survival mode.
In the book, we see that she is constantly worried about her son’s welfare and contemplating what is best for him while trying to save her marriage at the same time. She knows she can’t have everything but still tries to, so she doesn’t have to return to her mother seeming like a failure.
Book: Wendy and Jack are well aware of their son’s ability, Wendy more so than Jack. It spooks Wendy sometimes, and she worries about what goes on in her young son’s head.
The Torrance family goes down to Sidewinder to get Danny checked out after he has an episode (he has visions in the bathroom and goes catatonic). This worries Wendy because winter is approaching, and the road to The Overlook will close soon, meaning that if something happens to Danny when the road finally closes, they won’t have any help. (Runnnn, Wendy!)
The doctor scene in Sidewinder is important because it reaffirms that the family indeed knows he has second sight, even if Dr. Edmonds doesn’t think that. The conversations between Wendy and Jack as a result of the appointment are what provide us with that information.
One major plot point — the point where Wendy has to decide whether they should stay at The Overlook over the winter or leave to her mother’s house — is based on the knowledge about Danny’s second sight. Wendy asks Danny if they should leave, but both Danny and Wendy choose to ignore their intuition and stay. Because one: they’re in denial that Jack (daddy) would ever do anything to hurt them; and two: Wendy doesn’t want to fail at being a wife and mother.
I personally like Wendy and Jack knowing about Danny’s gift. It makes them more cautious around each other, and it makes the rest of us scream inside knowing that they’re all in danger (and they know it!) and still refuse to admit it.
Movie: As far as I can tell, Wendy and Jack don’t know about Danny’s shine. I also really hate that Tony supposedly lives in Danny’s mouth and is basically a finger puppet.
I do think it was an interesting choice to have us remain on the outside as Danny and Mr. Hallorann have their visions. It’s pretty terrifying to watch them. However, I wish we still had more information about what they see.
Jack’s Interview at The Overlook Hotel
Book: Jack has a strong dislike for Mr. Ullman. He looks down at Jack and questions his character. He makes strong statements against Jack and basically tells him that he’s only getting the job because his friend Al, insulting Jack at each opportunity. But Jack puts up with this because he’s so desperate for the job.
Mr. Ullman has a good reason for being so hard on Jack: A previous caretaker slaughtered his family and then killed himself one winter stay. Obviously, they don’t want a repeat familicide so he’s being cautious about hiring Jack with a violent history (the George Hatfield incident).
Movie: Mr. Ullman is nice and doesn’t question Jack much. He’s very trusting of a person he barely knows (remember, Al isn’t in this movie to help give Jack this favor) and doesn’t seem to put too much effort into deciding who might be a good fit to stay at the hotel all alone for months, even with Jack’s (and the hotel’s) troubled history.
This is also a strange choice. Basically, no one gives a shit about the qualifications. In the book, Mr. Ullman takes great pride in the hotel whereas in the movie, there’s no sense of this or explanation of why the hotel is so prestigious. Again, why have someone stay at the hotel all winter if no one seems to care about it that much?
Book: The Torrance family moves into The Overlook on Closing Day and gets a thorough tour of the hotel. Jack is told all of the caretaker duties that he is responsible for, including what to do about the boiler, which is an important detail in the book. Wendy gets a tour of the kitchen, and we meet Mr. Hallorann.
Dick Hallorann (more on him below) has a heart to heart with Danny about the hotel, and this is where we learn what “the shining” really is. He even tests Danny’s shining abilities and finds out that Danny’s is the strongest he’s ever come across. He gives Danny some advice and tells him that he may see things in the hotel, but they’re only pictures, and nothing in the hotel can hurt him (Hallorann thinks this, but the more he thinks about it over time, the less he believes it).
After Closing Day, the Torrances are able to travel back and forth to Sidewinder for a few weeks until they are finally snowed in for the winter. This is great because we know that Wendy has several chances to follow her instincts and leave The Overlook, but she’s in denial and convinces herself that her worries are nothing.
Movie: Closing Day is similar to the book in that this is where the Torrances learn all about the hotel and meet some of the staff as they leave for the winter. And Mr. Hallorann does have a talk with Danny about his shine, but again, like everything else in this movie, it’s very surface level stuff.
However, Closing Day feels absolute — this is the final chance the Torrances have to change their minds. It would be strange if the roads to Sidewinder did close immediately after, but we don’t see the Torrance family go to the town, so the assumption is that they do not leave the hotel after all of the staff is gone and the family is left to stay through the winter all alone.
Book: Upon meeting Danny, Mr. Hallorann feels a sense of responsibility to him. Danny has such a strong psychic ability but no one around him to help him understand his gift. Hallorann’s grandmother had the shine. They had silent conversations with one another when he was growing up. So it’s almost like he wants to pay it forward, and he has a good long talk with Danny in his car. He tries to reassure Danny that the house and the ghosts that live in it are harmless, but even Hallorann has his doubts.
Hallorann thinks about Danny a lot back in Florida. He has a gut feeling something isn’t right. Then he hears Danny’s cries for help and makes the long trek back to The Overlook. He flies to Denver, rents a car to get to Sidewinder, takes a snowmobile up the mountain, gets stuck, a snow plow has to get him back on the road, then he gets attacked by the hedges — he accomplishes the impossible and ultimately saves Danny and Wendy.
Movie: Hallorann has ice cream with Danny (a better option than hanging in Hallorann’s car. Times have changed.) and gives him a brief overview of what it means to have the shine.
Now, this is where it gets really weird: Why did Kubrick kill off the hero — and the only person of color (that I can recall) — just as he walks into the hotel?! Hallorann goes through all of the trouble to get back to The Overlook and pretty much immediately after entering the house is killed by Jack. The only benefit is that Wendy and Danny are able to escape on the snowcat.
Wow. Where do I even begin…?
Book: In summary, Dick Hallorann successfully makes his way from Florida to The Overlook in a crazy snowstorm on a snowmobile. He fights the hedge animals that have come to life and rescues Wendy, who is on the brink of death, and Danny. They make it just in time down in Sidewinder and get help.
Meanwhile, Jack hasn’t checked on the boiler — which he had been warned about on Closing Day and worried about it throughout the book — and the house explodes and burns down, killing Jack.
Movie: I think we all know the iconic scenes: Jack chasing Wendy into the bathroom and calling out, “Here’s Johnny!” Mr. Hallorann enters the home and immediately dies. Danny hides in the hedge maze where eventually he loses Jack, and Danny and Wendy escape. Then Jack dies by freezing to death. The Overlook remains.
With so many changes leading up to this point, I don’t see how they could’ve made the original ending work, especially considering that the whole boiler plot point was eliminated in the film. (More on all of those things below.)
“The denouement of a story occurs just after the climax and is the final moment in which there is resolution for any remaining conflicts in the plot.” literarydevices.com
Book: We get to see Wendy, Danny, and Mr. Hallorann move on after The Overlook. The details of this are fuzzy to me at the moment, but I do recall being satisfied with having a “ever since that day” moment in the book.
If you’re familiar with story spine, you know having this beat is a must-have in a satisfactory ending. It’s an appendage to the climax. It doesn’t mean we need to have a happy ending, but we (readers) like to know what happens after.
Movie: We don’t really get one other than Jack appearing in the photo taken on July 4, 1921 because he’s “always been the caretaker” or whatever. We know that Wendy and Danny took off in the snowcat but never find out if they did make it down the mountain or if they froze in their attempt to escape.
Other Changes in the Film
The following sections will be brief because I’m lazy and have some regrets about committing to writing such a long rant about a movie that was made 38 years ago. But if John Mulaney can rant about “Home Alone 2: Lost in New York” twenty years later, I can write my views on “The Shining” film in 2018.
Boiler. What Boiler?
There’s no boiler in the movie at all which makes sense considering how the ending was completely different than the novel.
The boiler is important to maintain as caretaker, or else the house will burn down. And it does once Jack loses his mind completely and ignores the boiler for too long.
No Scrapbook Either
I missed this too. We got so much backstory about The Overlook and all of the eerie things that have happened over the years. We don’t learn any of this in the movie. And it gets us to see Jack in another light when he calls Mr. Ullman to confront him about being misled about the hotel’s history, and then we see how his relationship with his rich buddy Al has changed, too.
The Masquerade Ball
There were many spooky things about this (the elevator scene!) that also would’ve been good to have in the movie. Instead, the movie strips away a lot of this detail and context.
I also loved the connection with Edgar Allan Poe’s The Masque of the Red Death which I really enjoyed reading in high school and happened to read it again pretty recently when researching short stories. I really missed this in the film, but I do think this was a reasonable detail to remove.
In the book, there really was a play that Jack was working on, and it was very personal. Jack thought it was his ticket out of their crappy situation.
The famous “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy” scene isn’t in the book either, and honestly, I think it’s just dumb. I really hope that Kubrick typed up the 500 pages himself.
Stephen King stayed in 217 at The Stanley Hotel, which is one of the haunted rooms there. But this was changed to 237 in the movie.
Update: I’ve since learned that this was because of the hotel where they were shooting. They didn’t want visitors to avoid booking that room, so it was changed to room 237 which didn’t exist.
The Hedge Animals and Maze
There is no hedge maze in the book. However, the movie made it so famous that The Stanley Hotel finally got one in 2015. And there aren’t any hedge animals in the movie, but it’s ok. I wasn’t really a huge fan of them anyway.
What’s interesting though is the choice to take the hedge animals out and put in a hedge maze instead. It’s not just a simple swap as the maze doesn’t serve the same purpose in the film — which didn’t matter anyway because the whole movie is different.
My Overall Review of Stanley Kubrick’s Film
The movie has a suspenseful soundtrack and some amazing cinematography (and so many iconic scenes), but it fails to really show any depth to each character or have any real change.
Jack Torrance is an asshole from the start. Wendy doesn’t seem like she’s been considering divorce for some time. Danny is just an annoying child with a bad haircut. It also doesn’t really explain how Jack got to the point of familicide. It almost seems like that was inevitable, and had he not done it then, it would’ve happened some other time.
The acting is horrendous, and the stories of his directing style are disgusting. For the amount of takes and breaking down of his actors, the acting is still subpar. But it’s still leagues better than the 1997 TV miniseries. (Boy is that unwatchable… just like The Stand miniseries and Pet Sematary. I watched the latter recently for nostalgic reasons. It gave me nightmares as a kid, so I was curious if it still held up. The answer is no. I can’t wait for the remake coming out in 2019.)
All of the above being said. I still love the movie The Shining and hate-watch it all the time anyway.
What would’ve made for a better movie?
I do have an answer for that, and that would be a whole other really long blog post that maybe one person would read. Let’s have drinks or coffee sometime, and I’ll tell you all about it!
Thoughts? Agree? Disagree? Comment below or send me a tweet.
Photo Credit: Out There Films
Originally published at cristysalinas.com on November 29, 2018.