Doctor Sleep: How Different Was The Movie From Stephen King's Book?
You might not realize this on the surface, but the new Ewan McGregor film Doctor Sleep is a sequel to Stephen King’s classic novel, The Shining. In addition, Doctor Sleep director Mike Flanagan has made sure that his film connects to – and builds off of – Stanley Kubrick’s 1980 film of the same name.
When it comes to film adaptations and the works of Stephen King, though, Hollywood has been hit and miss. Sometimes, a director and screenwriter stay incredibly faithful to King’s vision, leading to satisfying horror adaptations such as Misery, Carrie, Gerald’s Game and the recent, two-part It. Other times, the source material of a Stephen King novel or series is completely ignored or reworked to the point that you can’t even recognize the story any more, and we get a movie like The Dark Tower. Yikes.
Doctor Sleep falls much closer in spirit to those adaptations that faithfully interpret King’s words. It retains the plot and tone of King’s book, but then pivots HARD in that final act to connect directly with Kubrick’s film. We wanted to run through some key places where Doctor Sleep, the movie, nails the book… and then the places where it detours away from the source novel to be more more like the Kubrick film that so many audience members love.
The True Knot Still Feeds On Steam
The movie starts in a different fashion from the book, but gets to a very important central theme of the sequel, and that’s the fact that The True Knot feeds off of the “steam” of people who have The Shine.
I’m sorry, what? OK, the True Knot were not in The Shining. They are a new group of traveling, vagabond vampires. Hippies, almost, who live forever because they feed on steam, which is released when the Knot tortures people who possess the power of The Shine. People like Danny Torrance (Ewan McGregor), and Abra Stone, who we will meet later. In the movie, we open with Rose the Hat (Rebecca Ferguson), the leader of the True Knot, capturing and torturing an innocent girl while the Knot gathers and feeds off of her steam. Pleasant.
Danny Takes Deenie’s Money
When we first meet Dan Torrance (Ewan McGregor) on screen in Doctor Sleep, he’s every bit the crumbling alcoholic that King crafted for the pages of his book. Dan drinks to dilute the power of his Shine. The drink is also ruining his life. He’s usually unemployed, and he frequents dive bars and the lowly patrons found in them.
One of them is Deenie, a one-night stand Dan wakes up next to, with little memory of how the night before went. Danny checks his wallet, realizing the dup blew all of his cash on cocaine. Knowing he needs funds, Dan takes money from Deenie’s purse… even after he realizes that she has a very young child who probably will need food. It’s an act that haunts Dan in both the book, and the movie.
We See Teenytown… And The Train!
Dan Torrance eventually has to settle down, and in the book (as well as in the movie), he does so in the quiet New Hampshire town of Frazier, where he finds stability, for once in his life.
Dan’s first job in town is running a tourist attraction, a railroad that takes riders through the nearby woods and mountains. It’s an important component of the Stephen King book, and was delightful to see the Teenytown train show up on screen, even if it’s not as big for the third act as King made it out to be.
Dan Doesn’t Meet Abra As A Baby…
So, Dan Torrance (Ewan McGregor) has been wrestling with his Shine since he escaped his father’s clutches in The Shining. But in this story, he’s going to meet another kid who is realizing that she has powers just like his. In the book, Dan starts to pick up on Abra’s powers very early on, like when she was a baby. There are moments in the Stephen King book when Abra puts her parents on her heels by making a piano play Beatles songs, and more, Dan senses this, even though he is miles away from her.
… But Abra Does Do The Cool Spoon Trick!
However, little by little in her life, Abra does things that convince normal people of her powers. One of those tricks occurs at a birthday party, when a magician is doing little tricks to impress gathered children. Abra (Kyliegh Curran) basically says, “I can do that.” And in her family’s kitchen, she makes every spoon in the house elevate to the ceiling. It’s a great moment in the book, and Mike Flanagan keeps it in Doctor Sleep.
The True Knot Kills The Baseball Boy
It’s one of the most memorable scenes from the book, and also one of the most gruesome sequences in the new Doctor Sleep movie. “Baseball boy,” as Abra calls him, is an innocent Midwestern kid who has the gift of the Shine, and basically uses it to read a pitcher’s mind and hit most balls thrown his way. He attracts the attention of The True Knot, and the feast on him. But Abra senses the attack from miles away, and is traumatized by it. Later, Abra uses the baseball boy as a way to convince Dan that the Knot exists, because he’s able to go and dig the boy’s baseball glove (and body) up. It’s a disturbing scene in Mike Flanagan’s Doctor Sleep movie.
But Baseball Boy Does Not Give The True Knot Measles
Maybe this was too weird, even for Flanagan’s Doctor Sleep movie? In the book, after they feast on the steam of the “Baseball Boy,” members of the True Knot begin dying off, and it’s revealed that they have contracted the measles. Some members so start dying off in Flanagan’s Doctor Sleep, but to the best of my knowledge, the disease isn’t mentioned by name.
Dan And Abra Communicate Through A Chalkboard
This is another great visual that Mike Flanagan borrows from Stephen King’s Doctor Sleep and it works really well on screen. Dan and Abra, once they “meet” in their minds, are able to communicate quite easily. But you need for the audience to be able to see their messages. Dan has a chalkboard on the wall of his apartment, and he’ll frequently wake up to messages left by Abra in the middle of the night. It was great to see that show up in the movie.
Abra Enters Rose The Hat
This, also, was one of the coolest moments in Doctor Sleep, the movie. Rose the Hat (Rebecca Ferguson) is a badass bitch. She’s all powerful, and she has the confidence that comes with basically living forever. So when she senses Abra, she’s instantly intrigued, and a little fearful. In one scene, Abra possesses Rose, and can see through her POV. And Mike Flanagan shows us that, as Rose if grocery shopping. Rose spies Abra when she sees her reflection in a glass door, but Abra knocks Rose off of her feet, proving just how powerful she really can be.
Dan And Billy Kill The True Knot
Knowing that they will be weaker once they are down members, Dan (Ewan McGregor) and his friend Billy (Cliff Curtis) lure several True Knot members into the woods where they think they are going to abduct Abra. In the book, Dan uses the Teenytown train to bring the True Knot to a remote location. In the movie, Mike Flanagan avoids that, though there is still a shootout, claiming the lives of several key characters. In the Stephen King book, Billy lives to make it the final confrontation of the book. In the Doctor Sleep movie, Flanagan makes sure that Billy dies in THIS confrontation, and his death is brutal.
Abra Gets Kidnapped
Eventually, the True Knot needs to get their hands on Abra, and this plays out basically the same way that it does in the novel. Rose the Hat’s lover, Crow Daddy (Zahn McClarnon), kidnaps Abra and keeps her drugged so she can’t use her Shine. In an effort to help her escape, Dan possesses Abra, and Kyliegh Curran does a terrific job of playing Ewan McGregor in her body without it being too comical. The sequence, both in the book and in the movie, is just meant to get the main characters to the location of the Overlook, and it’s there where the Doctor Sleep movie detours DRASTICALLY away from the events in the book.
The Overlook Confrontation
The ending of the Doctor Sleep movie is very, very different from the one that Stephen King wrote, mainly because it draws its inspirations from Stanley Kubrick’s 1980 film adaptation. In the book, as well as in the movie, Dan Torrance must return to the grounds where the Overlook Hotel stood. Only, in the movie, Flanagan recreates the fabled (and doomed) hotel, forcing Danny to confront Rose, as well as his demons, in the film’s horrifying conclusion.
That means that Flanagan is able to recreate visual aspects of The Shining, starting with a deft impersonation of a young Jack Nicholson by the actor Henry Thomas. Jack Torrance is tending bar at the Overlook, pretending to be Lloyd. And this allows Dan to have an emotional conversation with his “father” that brings closure to that storyline. Then, as Dan explores the rest of the Overlook, we encounter monsters from The Shining, notably those ghostly twin girls. It’s these monsters that eventually overwhelm Rose the Hat and tear her to shreds, though the eventually possess Dan, too.
And that leads to the biggest difference from the book and the movie.
Dan dies at the end of the movie. The Overlook is consumed by flames, and Danny dies near the boiler, an important room to both Stephen King and to Doctor Sleep. While Dan survives the novel, Mike Flanagan has him killed off, though he can still communicate with Abra from beyond the grave as the Doctor Sleep movie ends.
Those were the biggest changes that we found in the movie. There are smaller ones. Did we miss anything significant? Let us know in the comments section below. And while you are down there, give us a quick review of Doctor Sleep. On par with The Shining? Better than the book? We want to hear your thoughts, so weigh in!
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Sean O’Connell is a journalist and CinemaBlend’s Managing Editor. He's frequently found on Twitter at @Sean_OConnell. ReelBlend cohost. A movie junkie who's Infatuated with comic-book films. Helped get the Snyder Cut released, then wrote a book about it.