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Warning: SPOILERS for Doctor Sleep are in play. If you’re not caught up with the second chapter of The Shining story, we suggest you leave this room and wait somewhere safe from spoilers before you open the door. Might we suggest The Gold Room? There’s a killer drink special, if you happen to know the bartender.
In writer/director Mike Flanagan’s hotly anticipated Doctor Sleep, the second chapter in author Stephen King’s saga beginning with The Shining, there’s a deep exploration into themes that both the book and movies in that universe have reveled in for decades. Special abilities of the mind, as well as the ties that bind us to both family and our past histories, come to life in a story that works in both King’s novels and the film universe connected to the 1980 film by Stanley Kubrick.
Those are not easy spaces to occupy at the same time, but somehow, Mike Flanagan did it with flying colors. Taking the events of both literary and cinematic canon, and merging them into one, Doctor Sleep crafts an ending that does quite a lot when it comes to its theater-friendly form. But even more surprising is how, and why, it differs from what audiences were given in Stephen King’s 2013 novel.
This is the last call for those trying to avoid spoilers, as The Overlook Hotel is open once again, with Danny Torrance (Ewan McGregor) and Abra Stone (Kyliegh Curran) about to set foot in its haunted halls.
How Doctor Sleep’s Movie Ended
In the last act of Doctor Sleep, Danny and Abra chose to fight Rose The Hat (Rebecca Ferguson) in the ruins of The Overlook Hotel. Danny knows that the area is still rich in psychic activity, and all it takes is for him to release the evil spirits that haunted him throughout his life to finish her off. While Rose is overtaken by the evil spirits of the hotel that Danny's had trapped for so long, they eventually possess him in a bid to try and make him kill Abra.
After an emotional moment where she cuts through his possessed mind, bringing back the real Danny, he realizes that in order to "close the door" once and for all, The Overlook has to burn. Sadly, Danny has to remain behind to get the job done, telling Abra to leave in order to save herself. Overloading the boiler to the hotel, Danny has one last moment of peace with Wendy, his mother, before he dies in the fire.
We last see him comforting Abra, telling her to "shine on" and not to hide her gifts from the world. Abra starts to own her powers in that moment, by telling her mom that Danny and her dad are okay, and there is an afterlife where they’re at peace.
How Doctor Sleep’s Book Ended
As amazing as the ending to Doctor Sleep’s movie sounds, the ending for Stephen King’s book was way different. For starters, the end of The Shining’s novel saw The Overlook Hotel burning down in very much the same way it did in Mike Flanagan’s version of the follow-up. So instead of going to The Overlook Hotel to fight Rose The Hat, Danny Torrance and Abra Stone fought her at the campground that rests on the infamous lodge’s final resting place.
We see a sequence similar to how the book version of Doctor Sleep ends, when Danny and his friend Billy (Cliff Curtis) take on the members of Rose’s True Knot cult at the campground. Though instead of acting like a removal of the support group that Rose depends on (something that Mike Flanagan confirmed to our own Eric Eisenberg in an interview during the film’s press day), it’s more of a final showdown.
That’s just part of the larger change between the novel and film versions of Stephen King’s Doctor Sleep, as more people are actually alive at the end of the novel. Even the battle’s ending is different, as Rose is sent plummeting to her death, with the help of Abra, Billy and the spirit of his father, Jack Torrance. Danny finds himself putting his father to rest for good and surviving the events of the book to go back to his duties as a hospice nurse that comforts dying patients.
Why Doctor Sleep's Ending Change Is A Big Deal
One of the most contentious changes that was made in Stanley Kubrick’s film version of The Shining was the eventual fate of Jack Nicholson’s Jack Torrance. Rather than dying in the fires that would overtake The Overlook Hotel, Kubrick’s version of events saw Jack merely freezing to death in the hedge maze.
But Stephen King’s version of Jack from the novel sacrifices himself to destroy the hotel that tempted his darker urges, giving his family the chance to live. Mike Flanagan decided to take that redemptive ending from the book and give it to Ewan McGregor’s version of Danny. Here’s Mike Flanagan talking over some of those big changes:
Now while The Shining film still manages to be, at least in the opinions of its fans, a classic in its own right, it does miss the point that Stephen King was trying to make with Jack’s story. The movie version of Jack Torrance is more of an irredeemable killer who succumbs to madness, eventually becoming such an asshole that you want him to die. So Mike Flanagan’s new ending to Doctor Sleep redeems the legacy of the film, particularly in King’s eyes, and allows a new path to form for the future.
What Doctor Sleep’s Movie Ending Means For The Shining
As Doctor Sleep has altered its ending, giving the Torrance family the vindication it always deserved in The Shining story, the world has a new champion for those who Shine: Kyliegh Curran’s Abra Stone. Mike Flanagan admits this was his intention with this story beat, as in his interview with Eric Eisenberg, he said the following:
This truly is passing the baton, in that equation. This is about giving the world to Abra, which I didn’t think could happen. In the same way that we were leaning into the sacrificial end of Dick Halloran that Kubrick had created. I felt that if Ka was a wheel, then we have to leave Dan very much the same way.
Now that Danny Torrance has redeemed himself in the way that his literary father had done in the past, Stephen King and Mike Flanagan could continue Abra's journey as a sort of solo adventure in the films; with King being free to explore Danny in whatever context he wants in the books.
That decision gives the films and the books the ability to be their own things, but at the same time, it creates a harmony between the worlds that we’ve never seen before. Though even in cinematic death, Ewan McGregor’s Danny could still check in on Abra, much like Dick Halloran did with him throughout his life. Until he feels that it's time to leave that dream of a world, he can help her out in any way he sees fit, making sure that she and all other possessors of this great power, will Shine for all the world to see.
Mike Flanagan’s version of Doctor Sleep exorcises a demon that’s haunted The Shining legacy for some time. With Stephen King on board with the path that the films have now taken (at least in the context of Flanagan’s handling of said canon in his second chapter), there’s a clear path forward that all can take part in, should a third story arise in this corner of the author’s vast literary universe. Though If this should be the end, it’s a fitting tribute to the power of King’s books, and the prowess that Flanagan has lent towards bringing them to life.
Doctor Sleep is in theaters now, so if you want to look a little closer at what you’ve already seen, or if you read through this rundown without seeing the film first, you can catch up with Danny Torrance’s adventures in either case.