Stephen King's Hatred For Stanley Kubrick's The Shining, Explained
Reviews are trickling in for this weekend's Doctor Sleep, which serves as a sequel-of-sorts to Stanley Kubrick's masterful The Shining, but there was one review in particular that horror fans were anxious to hear. That would be Stephen King's, the author behind both source materials. While King has generally been favorable about many adaptations of his work (even some of the weaker ones), the world-renowned writer has long held a grudge against the late Kubrick's film. So much so that King has built a reputation over the years for not liking Kubrick's movies, when actually, it's mainly The Shining that didn't suit his fancy. But why is it that King doesn't like what is widely considered to be one of the best films ever based on his work?
Everyone is entitled to their own taste, of course, but it has often puzzled Stephen King fans that the author hasn't sung his praises for the adaptation, even though both critics and audiences have turned around on the film and claimed it's a classic of the horror genre. While King has softened somewhat on the film, he still hasn't warmed up to it, even with the impending release of Doctor Sleep, a film he has surprisingly praised, unlike its predecessor. But why exactly does King have ill feelings towards The Shining? While it ultimately comes down to personal opinion, King has offered breadcrumbs that inform his negative feelings about this beloved film.
Stanley Kubrick's The Shining Goes Against What Stephen King Tried To Accomplish With The Book
In the grand scheme of things, the main reason why Stephen King doesn't like Stanley Kubrick's adaptation of his third novel is because King believes it goes against what he set out to do with his book. And with The Shining in particular, the author took it personally. For those who don't know, The Shining is one of King's most personal stories. The novel explores a struggling writer/ex-teacher whose history of alcoholism has resulted in him being jobless and on the verge of divorce with his long-suffering wife. He also has a fractured relationship with his only son, Danny, who is telepathic and sees supernatural visions. A drunken assault resulted in Danny being injured. Our main character, Jack Torrance, hopes to fly straight.
While Jack Torrance is a troubled character, he is also someone who values his family and wants to do the right thing, even if his addiction prevents him from loving his family properly. It's when he accepts a job in the snowy mountains in an abandoned Overlook Hotel that things take a turn for the worse for our characters. The hotel unleashes the demented side of Jack's character, driving him off the edge of insanity and seeking to kill the people he loves the most in a blind rage. The hotel has a hold on Jack, and it causes him to unleash terror onto his family. This mirrors King's relationship with alcoholism, and his own fears of hurting his family while deeply intoxicated. It's an addiction that King thankfully overcame.
But what happens to Jack Torrance by the end of both versions of The Shining is one of the biggest ways they differ significantly from one another. In King's book, our lead character returns to his loving self and warns his family to run away before he murders them both. In the movie, the character simply freezes to death. In other words, Jack Nicholson's Jack isn't redeemed.
Stephen King Doesn't Care For The Film's Version Of The Characters
In Stephen King's view, Stanley Kubrick's attempt to explore the building insanity in Jack Torrance's character directly violates the core foundation of his novel. The writer sees Jack as a decent man caught in a bind with his vices and the terrors that unleash in the hotel. In the movie, however, most particularly with the casting of Jack Nicholson, we never doubt for a moment that Jack is a madman. It's simply a matter of when he will wreck havoc. When we see Nicholson in the job interview during the first scene in the movie, we're looking at an unhinged man, by King's admission. We don't see the rise of a stable man turned destructive by his newfound surroundings. Rather, we see someone who is just waiting for the moment they finally pop.
In addition to Jack Nicholson being too maniac too early on, Stephen King has also been negative towards Shelley Duvall's take on Wendy. While he might not be entirely dismissive of her performance, which is undoubtedly impressive and committed, he doesn't care for how the movie makes her seem weak compared to the book. He considers Wendy to be a more dynamic and personable character in the book.
In the movie, however, he thinks she is simply a mother constantly fearful of her raging husband. Gone, in his view, is the independence and depth he wanted from her character. More specifically, King said in an interview that Shelley Duvall's Wendy is, "one of the most misogynistic characters ever put on film. She's basically just there to scream and be stupid. And that's not the woman I wrote about." More than simply a bad character, he believes she's poor representation.
Stephen King Doesn't Like The Detached Humanity In The Movie, Even Though It's One Of The Movie's Most Praised Aspects
In Stephen King's view, the movie lacks the warmth and humanity that he brought to his book. The movie version was, by comparison, more cynical and bleak, which rubbed King the wrong way. It didn't have the compassion he wanted for the characters, practically in how personal it was, and that was definitely evident by the end. Even though it's one aspect that's praised, it's something that has left a rather sour taste in King's mouth over time.
Stanley Kubrick's detachment from the material presented a very stark, haunting experience, one that was built on its atmosphere and quiet terror. But that wasn't what Stephen King necessarily wanted. It resulted in a morbid experience that rang hollow and false for the author, making him mad.
While Stephen King has often seen the good in the movie and TV series adaptations of his work, even the ones that take dramatic liberties with their changes to the material, Stanley Kubrick's deliberate defiance towards King's novel and what the book was meant to represent remains a sore subject for the author. He has been quoted several times throughout the years about his negative feelings toward the film. While he's been more harsh on the film at some points in his life compared to others, it's clear that this position on the film remains the same.
Stephen King's distaste for Stanley Kubrick's The Shining was so notorious that he championed the 1997 miniseries adaptation, even making a cameo in it to show his blessing. While that adaptation has notably way less fans than the movie, it's one that he has celebrated far more readily than Kubrick's movie. And to his credit, The Shining film wasn't warmly received upon release. Critics were mixed on it and it wasn't a box office smash. It took time for the movie's moody intensity to cast its spell, though it's safe to say that Stephen King remains un-bewitched by its call.
Let us know what you think of The Shining movie in the comments below, and be on the lookout for Doctor Sleep, which hits theaters this Friday, November 8.
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Will is an entertainment writer based in Pittsburgh, PA. His writing can also be found in The Playlist, Cut Print Film, We Got This Covered, The Young Folks, Slate and other outlets. He also co-hosts the weekly film/TV podcast Cinemaholics with Jon Negroni and he likes to think he's a professional Garfield enthusiast.
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