SPOILER WARNING! The following article contains major spoilers for Doctor Sleep. If you have not yet seen the film, please continue at your own risk!
When Dan Torrance makes his way back to the Overlook Hotel in Doctor Sleep, he discovers that the building has been completely abandoned by a human presence, but actually still has some action going on inside of it. Specifically, a venture down one of the halls past the establishment’s many iconic hallways leads the movie’s protagonist to the famed Gold Room where he has a conversation with someone he hasn’t seen in a long time: his father, Jack Torrance (played by Henry Thomas).
It’s a shocking scene, both because it’s where the film brings back The Shining’s most iconic character (with a new actor playing the part), but also because it’s a hyper-emotional moment for the story’s hero. It’s an impressively made sequence, and as I learned sitting down with writer/director Mike Flanagan last month, it’s one of the filmmaker’s favorite scenes in Doctor Sleep. Discussing moments he’s excited for audiences to see on the big screen, Flanagan explained,
It's the Gold Room scene. That was the reason I wanted to make the film. That was the scene I was the most worried about, that I always assumed to be the most polarizing scene of the film. I'm sure it's going to be. But that's the one, whenever he starts walking up the hallway, and the lights are going on above him, whenever I'm in a theater with an audience, that's when I sit forward and just start studying them just so specifically.
While there are surely many filmmakers today who would have taken a more visual effects-heavy approach to Doctor Sleep and perhaps tried to create a digitally de-aged Jack Nicholson, that wasn’t the way that Mike Flanagan wanted to go with his film. Instead, similar to how the movie has Alex Essoe play a version of Wendy Torrance similar to Shelley Duvall, and Carl Lumbly portray a very Scatman Crothers-esque Dick Hallorann, the production opted to find a new actor for the part.
You might not recognize him at first because of the wig and sideburns, but Mike Flanagan enlisted the services of Henry Thomas to play Jack Torrance in Doctor Sleep – the director and actor having previously worked together both on Ouija: Origin of Evil and the Netflix series The Haunting Of Hill House. It’s not a massive role for the E.T. The Extra Terrestrial star, as the role is limited to the aforementioned tete-a-tete that he has with his son, and some very quick flashbacks to Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining, but it absolutely makes an impact.
In fact, according to Mike Flanagan, the character’s appearance results in audiences having an interesting audible reaction. Having observed audiences watching the film, the writer/director noticed that there is a certain sound that people make when Jack Torrance arrives on screen for the first time in Doctor Sleep, and while he’s not entirely sure how to interpret it, he loves how the progression of the scenes plays out – with the cinematography at first suggesting that we might not actually see Jack, but then the edit pairing Jack and Dan together in a single frame:
There's a noise people make, and I don't know what it means yet. I haven't seen it with enough audiences to know what it means, but there's kind of a really neat moment, when he first says 'This was your brand,' and it kind of teases it. But when it cuts to our medium wide profile two shot, which is a very familiar frame if you're really a student of The Shining, you've seen that shot before. But there's this kind of equal parts, kind of an exhalation, and this little... I don't know if it's a moan, or a groan, and that's what I'd love to solve. It might be both.
Just because of the scale of what’s being attempted, the Gold Room scene in Doctor Sleep does have the minor effect of briefly taking the audience out of the movie, and that seems to be something that Mike Flanagan totally understands. At the same time, though, it was very important in the editing process for Flanagan to keep that reaction to a particular minimum.
You are meant to be surprised by the presence of Henry Thomas as Jack Torrance, but once that particular awe wears off, the hope is that audiences wind up becoming emotionally effected by what is one of the most powerful scenes in the film. Said Flanagan,
What I love is the moment after people get over the 'Jack Torrance of it, and there's, I think, a beautiful scene about sobriety, and generational, you know... a conversation so many of us, I imagine, wish we could have, and not only for those of us who have lost parents who want to talk to them again, but also any of us who have ever had to have a real kind of introspective dialogue with our own weakness. I love that scene.
The pride that Mike Flanagan feels for the sequence is absolutely palpable, and it’s actually exciting to see a filmmaker so happy with his work – particularly because of the outrageous position the movie sits in as a part of pop culture history and a sequel to one of the most beloved horror films of all time.
You can watch Mike Flanagan discuss the Jack Torrance scene in Doctor Sleep by clicking play on the video below!
Doctor Sleep, which stars Ewan McGregor, Rebecca Ferguson, and Kyliegh Curran, is in theaters now, and if you enjoyed the film, you’re definitely going to want to stay tuned here on CinemaBlend in the next couple of days. In addition to more from my interview with Mike Flanagan, we also have more for you coming from my conversations with the movie’s stars, so be on the lookout for more stories, and continue to support this excellent cinematic achievement as its continues its run at the box office.