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The Shining: King vs Kubrick

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Film Studies
Wordcount: 1672 words Published: 18th May 2020

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Renowned director Stanley Kubrick was an excellent filmmaker of his time who drew his inspiration from various literary works which he transformed into his own. Due to Kubrick’s distinctive style, many authors do not appreciate his adaptation of their novel. A prime example of this is Kubrick’s adaptation of The Shining which author Stephen King openly detested. In a Rolling Stone interview, King proclaimed “the book is hot, and the movie is cold; the book ends in fire, and the movie in ice.” Stephen King’s and Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining present starkly contrasting storylines with differing intents, forms of media, and demographics; ultimately revealing society’s diverging preferences for movies and literature.

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Kubrick adapted King’s literary masterpiece by simplifying the once articulate story into a handful of archetypal characters and plot points. While the cinematic story was vastly different – and arguably less developed – Kubrick constructed his own version of the story, turning it into an easily enjoyable cinematic classic that received wild popularity. This can be seen in his renditions of the three main characters who make up the Torrance family: Danny, Wendy, and Jack. In the book, Danny is portrayed as an emotionally adept child with strong relationships with his mother and father. These relationships are much more prevalent in the novel, which contained the final confrontation scene between Danny and Jack. In the novel, Danny proclaims, “You’re it, not my daddy. You’re the hotel. And when you get what you want you won’t give my daddy anything because you’re selfish” (King 428). After saying this Danny was able to bring his loving father back for a moment of redemption, in which Jack was able to say goodbye. In Kubrick’s film, Danny is significantly more distant and detached from the emotional drama regarding his family and the Overlook. The book made the Overlook hotel go after Danny and his ‘shining’ power, making Danny the unknowing initiator of the hotel’s madness. Whereas in the movie, Danny was reduced to a quiet, helpless, and scared victim instead of the essential character that he was. This transformation into a stock character, while often ineffective, allows the audience to focus on the horror genre rather than the psychological developments.

Wendy Torrance became an entirely different character in the film altogether. The changing of her physical appearance directly correlated to her change in character: instead of being the warm, vibrant, blonde she was in the book, Shelly Duval’s cold, pale, and dark features amplified the horror genre of the film. The viewers immediately were under the impression that Wendy would be involved in something tragic. Despite those distinctions, Wendy’s character differences went beyond the surface as well. In the film, Wendy was portrayed as a common housewife. As King stated in a BBC interview, “she’s basically there to scream and be stupid and that’s not the woman I wrote about”. The Wendy Torrance King illustrated was a woman struggling to do what was best for her family. She was multi-dimensional and complex, dealing with personal struggles while balancing family needs from a young child and unstable husband. Her intentions slowly developed as she began to value Danny much more than Jack who as becoming more and more unfamiliar. Towards the end of the book, Wendy was actively fighting off her husband, despite the mental and physical pain so she could protect her child. In contrast, Kubrick makes her struggle simplistic and insignificant, ultimately reducing her purpose in the story.

The character differences regarding Jack Torrance most significantly affected the conclusion of the film. From the exposition, Jack was shown to be unstable in the movie. During his job training, Ullman (the hotel manager) told Jack about the Overlook’s horrific past only to receive an impassive response. No sane man could simply fell nothing of the brutal and violent murder of an entire family, an immediate hint of Jack’s character, allowing no empathy towards Jack. The once loving father fell quickly into the act of a deranged murderer rather than caring for his once-beloved family. Throughout King’s novel, Jack maintained a twisted sense of logic that lead him to believe he was helping his family, only to reach his turning point when he threw away the crucial part to the snowmobile, their only means of escape. After a long internal debate that King summarizes as “trying to play solitaire with an ace missing,” (King 282), the overpowering influence of the hotel caused Jack to make the decision to stay in the hotel for the winter – ultimately deciding their fates. The book had Jack slowly become tempted by the crude luxuries of alcohol and power until he no longer retained any sanity. The Overlook then took advantage of the spirits that had taken over Jack’s body to begin their pursuit of Danny and the shining. King’s Jack truly cared for his family, even calling out to Danny “Doc, run away. Quick. And remember how much I love you” (King 428). In this brief moment, Jack was able to show his dwindling humanity, relaying one final message to his son. In the movie, this raw, emotional scene of self-sacrifice is disregarded. The book continues to delve into great detail over Jack working in the basement with the boiler – the initial moment in which the hotel takes hold of him. Ironically, it is later revealed that the boiler triggers Jack’s demise, blowing the Overlook up into flames with Jack inside. In the movie, Jack expresses little interest in the challenging machine; Wendy does. This further enunciates the simplification of Wendy Torrance’s complex and fascinating character, alongside those of Danny and Jack.

The major changes in The Shining’s plotline in both stories diverged through the portrayal of Danny’s shining power. The first notice of Danny’s abilities in Kubrick’s film was found in Danny’s imaginary friend Tony. As King wrote, Tony could only interact with Danny, giving deeper insight into the child’s thoughts and intentions. Because of this, Tony developed into a friendly confidant for Danny as they were mostly alone at the hotel. Kubrick had Tony communicating with Wendy and Jack to save time and convey a similar message, further diminishing Danny’s role as a character who could no longer express himself. Kubrick also largely avoided the topic of the shining itself while King did not, Dick commenting “you shine on, boy. Harder than anyone I ever met in my whole life,” enticing Danny to use his visions and ability to read people’s thoughts in order to grasp an understanding of the atrocities occurring at the Overlook (King 80). Danny was even able to communicate with his parents about his visions with far more maturity than expected from a five-year-old. Comparatively, in the movie, Danny’s shine served as a greater weakness than strength. The shining made Danny seem like a foolish and irrational child while the reality was the opposite. King wrote Danny to have exceptional awareness of his surroundings, having Danny cry out towards the evil entity that took over his father “I know it! The boiler, Daddy forgot the boiler! And you forgot it too!” as the first to recognize the distinction between Jack and the hotel (King 430). With his abilities in the novel, Danny was able to survive thanks to Tony informing Danny he would remember something his dad forgot; ultimately saving Danny and Wendy, allowing them to begin peaceful lives in the epilogue.

The Overlook Hotel is given two vastly different roles between movie and film. In the film, the hotel is the physical location bearing a wicked past that begins to influence Jack, not taking very long for Jack to comply with the idea of killing his wife and son. The spiritual hallucinations in the hotel tempt Jack with enticing luxuries offered by the Overlook. Kubrick’s Jack displayed little depth or hesitation as he delved into insanity. His descent into a madness happened quickly, allowing the storyline to quickly pick up as Jack’s sole intent was to kill his own family. The novel presented the inescapable evil that made up the Overlook hotel which slowly influenced Jack through his gradual revelations of the hotel’s haunted history. With every story, Jack discovered, the further he fell into uncontrollable hate, madness, and insanity. His terrifying need to ‘their medicine’ to Danny and Wendy drove many of Jack’s manic actions as the story drew to an end. While both stories presented the Overlook hotel in vastly differing styles, they shared the manipulative role it played.

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Both movie and book received massive success for their individuality. Both Kubrick and King are experts in each of their fields – something heavily highlighted in both of their works. Kubrick chose to focus on the simplistic isolation and colder aspects of King’s novel, more adept for a quick and entertaining film. This creates a distance between the audience and the characters in the film, amplifying the cold approach. With King’s novel, the audience is made to grow attached to the characters due to the gradual development and suspense, waiting to discover their ultimate fates. While the film both comes from and greatly contrasts the novel, both can exist as their own works, cherishing their unique objectives and success.

Works Cited

  • King, Stephen. The Shining. Hodder, 2018.
  • “Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining.” Warner Home Video, 2008.
  • “Stephen King Returns to The Shining with Doctor Sleep.” BBC, 19 Sept. 2013.
  • “Stephen King: The Rolling Stone Interview.” Rolling Stone, 31 Oct. 2014, www.rollingstone.com/culture/culture-features/stephen-king-the-rolling-stone-interview-191529/.


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