(Re-posted from October 2013)
I had the privilege of seeing Kubrick’s The Shining for the first time within about three days of finishing King’s book. A local historic movie theatre called The Esquire apparently screens it as a midnight showing every October around Halloween. Not only was this DE-LIGHTFUL timing, but what a treat it was to see this iconic and very visual film in high def on a full screen, much less with the book so fresh in my mind. To add a dash of seasoning salt to this whole business, the kooky documentary Room 237 had just been added to Netflix, so I also watched that after reading the book but before seeing Kubrick’s film.
I know, it was a real week full of Shining for me there, but what more perfect time than Halloween month?
I specifically refer to the film adaptation as Kubrick’s, meaning it ‘belongs’ to him, whereas the book (obviously) belongs to King. I say this in the sense that, as many have observed before me, Kubrick took King’s story and made it very much his own. There are many major changes from the film to the book, all the more clear when going from one to the other in such a short amount of time. I probably don’t need to list some them here, but guess what?
I draw attention to the following not in a critical sense, but merely in a factual sense, and for the benefit of those who have not read the book.
First of all, there is no hedge maze in Stephen King’s book. Nada. Nothing even close. Oh, yeah, in the book there are demonic hedge animals that attack both Danny and Jack, but who could have pulled off that special effect in 1980? Plus, it would have been hard to get right… Some things are better left to the imagination. Other changes to the film that do not occur in the book: Jack doesn’t get seduced by the nasty bathtub lady, nor does she ever manifest herself as young or beautiful. Jack raises hell on Wendy and Danny with a roque mallet (I know, me neither. It’s like what is used in croquet); no axe is ever mentioned in his destructive last thirty pages. The bullet-ridden mafia men Danny sees in the Presidential Suite are absent from the film, whereas the famous scene of the twin girls chopped up and bloody in the hallway appears nowhere in the book (although it is mentioned that the previous caretaker of The Overlook murdered his family with an axe). Jack never says, “Here’s Johnny!” in the book. There is no blood wave from the elevator. Danny does talk out of his finger, but rather has an invisible friend named Tony who appears in full body form and suggests Danny do things which are usually foreboding and sinister. The line ‘All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy,’ is never used. Hallorann does not die (in fact he saves Wendy and Danny on a snowmobile). The Overlook Hotel does not freeze over, rather the boiler in the basement explodes and it burns to the ground. Ullman is way more of a pretentious prick (which is hardly important, but notable). Jack finds numerous scrapbooks in the cellar full of newspaper clippings relaying horrible incidents at the hotel over the years; this is left completely out of the film.
Those are the main ones that come to mind. Some of them seem like pretty reasonable changes for sake of keeping the pace of the film up and not lingering on less-than-crucial information, or leaving out elements that would be honestly hard to reproduce on film. Yet other changes are very strange indeed, and seem to reflect the state of mind Kubrick was in while making this movie. The man was clearly a creative genius, though an extremely particular artist and sometimes rather obsessive and mad, though not one tic or titter appeared in his films by accident. It is these reasons that make the film as a unit all the more fascinating. The more you know about Kubrick, the more interesting and mysterious his choices on The Shining become.
It has been noted many times over that he often incorporates elements that either explore or distort sexuality (notice the rather phallic-shaped carpet patterns in the hallways and Room 237? A bit of a stretch, but once you notice it, you can’t not see it). The connection has also been made that Jack is a centaur of sorts, guarding (and terrorizing) his labyrinth, with Wendy and Danny being his captives. This is one of the most curious changes to the story, for while it does not occur in the book, it still encompasses, in a way, the theme that Wendy and Danny are trapped in this remote place with Jack, and in the end he does hunt them for blood. Plus, the folklore of a centaur and his labyrinth is a mysterious concept all its own.
I mentioned in the book review that I felt the novel is primarily Danny-centric, while the film is very Jack-centric. While Jack Nicholson played the part fantastically and is a fascinating enigma to watch in most any role, he really only captures the crazy side of Jack Torrance. This, I believe, is simply due to how Nicholson interpreted the character personally (or perhaps together with what Kubrick wanted Jack Torrance to be). They were making a scary movie after all, so Jack was going to act kinda crazy in the start and go downright ape-shit crazy by the end. This is only a bit of a shame because in the novel Jack is a very sympathetic character whom we are sad to see unravel. However entertaining (and often darkly humorous) his performance was in the film, he’s really just ‘the crazy guy.’
That said, I feel that this is one of the rare occasions where a great book and a great film can be accepted and appreciated as separate entities, with very little ‘loss’ from one being translated to the other. For all its differences from the novel, The Shining as a film stands on its own because of great dialogue, heavy foreboding for the duration of the film, gorgeous cinematography, and deep, suggestive undertones that can be interpreted endlessly.
Before I finish, three curiosities. First, The Shining was, in fact, not filmed at The Stanley Hotel in Estes Park, Colorado. This is a popular misconception, especially among Colorado natives, and is probably rooted in the fact that the crappy, made-for-TV 1997 remake of The Shining was filmed at The Stanley. Kubrick’s film was shot primarily on a sound stage in Hertfordshire, England, and the exterior shots of the hotel are of Timberline Lodge in Mount Hood, Oregon. It is true that King stayed at The Stanley once in 1973, and it has been claimed that the hotel was his inspiration for The Overlook, though I’m not sure that has ever been confirmed by King himself.
Secondly, the window. Specifically, the window in Ullman’s office at the very start of the film, the first time we see Jack walk in to meet with Ullman about taking the job of hotel caretaker. If you watch the film, notice: in the layout of the hotel lobby, there is clearly a hallway geographically behind Ullman’s office. We even see this hallway in later shots, both when Danny is riding his Big-Wheel through the lobby, and again when Wendy is looking for Jack, running chicken-like and with knife in hand. In other words, Ullman’s office ought to be completely walled in, and yet when Jack enters, there is a large, bright, very prominent window directly behind the desk. Consider this: that scene was a pre-built sound stage, not a real hotel, so this inclusion of the ‘impossible’ window was particular and intentional. Most folks (I presume) would never even notice, even watching the film multiple times. What was Kubrick saying with this hidden clue? Perhaps he was hinting that things in this hotel are more than a little off-kilter…
Lastly, the final shot of Jack in the ballroom picture from 1921. Again, not in the book, but a beautiful close, suggesting (to me) that the hotel ‘absorbed’ Jack Torrance into itself, as it has probably done to many others before him. Kubrick ends this film with a puzzle, giving viewers something to discuss while walking out of the theatre, and an odd little itch to watch the thing again to maybe figure it out.