The shining is – in my expert, and untouchable opinion – the greatest horror movie, and one of the most iconic movies of all time. So how does Stephen King – the original author – not see it the same way? Why does Stephen King hate The Shining??
Stephen King’s famous hatred of the movie version of The Shining has to do with the direction, acting choices, and themes that Stanley Kubrick made that differed from his original intent.
With the coming release of the Shining sequel, “Doctor Sleep”, it’s worth looking back on this monumental movie, and this displeasure shared by its creator. We’ll break this all down, but it just seems crazy that one of the greatest horror movies ever made is not loved by the greatest horror writer of all time.
We’ll also cover some of the themes that the movie goes into, but we could be here forever so we’ll just touch on them. The focus of this will be on some specific reasons why Stephen King hates The Shining.
*cue iconic intro music from The Shining… (which is actually taken from a Gregorian Chant called “Dies Irae”, you can listen to it here on YouTube)
A Quick Recap On The Shining
If you’ve never seen this movie, leave here and never come back. I’m kind of joking, but also kind of not. At the very least, stop reading this and go watch this unbelievable movie.
The plot of the Shining revolves around the Torrence family; father Jack, mother Wendy, and son Danny. Little Danny seems a bit disturbed, and he has an imaginary friend that talks to called Tony.
Jack is a writer, and part-time alcoholic, who has taken a caretaker job at the Overlook Hotel. He and his family will spend the winter there while it is closed, keep an eye on the place, and give Jack time to write.
During his job interview (after we see him reading Playgirl magazine – seriously, look at the scene again) he finds out that there was a brutal murder at the hotel years ago by a man who murdered his family. This guy apparently went stir crazy, but they also share that they built the hotel on an old Indian burial ground.
Things start out well enough, but then some weird things start happening around the hotel. Danny sees some creepy af twins, a tennis ball rolls in front of him seemingly from nowhere, and Danny has met an elderly man who also has “the Shining”. This is a way of being able to talk to people through your mind and it’s when we get introduced to the great Scatman Crothers as Hallorann.
Danny has foreseen some of the terrible situations that will unfold at the Overlook, but they slowly start coming to fruition. Jack is unraveling a bit, and he encounters a ghost bartender in the hotel’s grand ballroom. We later find Danny bruised and shaken and Wendy believes there is a crazy lady staying in room 237.
Jack has another encounter with this ghostly woman and then arrives at a full New Year’s Eve party attended by hundreds of people in the same ballroom. Jack meets the ghost of “Grady” (the last caretaker) and is told he must “correct” his son and wife. Danny has reached out to Halloran using the Shining, which makes him spring into action to get back to the hotel.
Jack has now flipped and is taken out with a baseball bat by Wendy. Wendy locks him in the fridge pantry but finds out Jack has sabotaged any way for her and Danny to escape. We get the famous “REDRUM” scene while Jack chops down the bathroom door to get to Wendy.
Hallorann shows up – only to be murdered by Jack – who then pursues Danny through the winter night into the outdoor hedge maze. Danny is able to out foil his dad who eventually succumbs to the elements. Wendy and Jack escape and our last shot shows a group picture in the ballroom from 1921.
And Jack is seen in the picture.
Getting The Shining Movie Put Together
So the original book was written in 1977, and Kubrick and novelist Diane Johnson developed the movie. It was mainly filmed in England and made use of unknown technology such as the “steady cam’ which allowed for more immersive shots bringing you deeper into the scene. The steady cam is now an integral part of movies and sports broadcasting.
The movie was released on May 23, 1980, and actually came out to some mixed reviews – besides King’s. It ended up making around $44 million against a budget of $19 million (which had grown out of control) so it was a decent money maker.
Like many classic films, it took years for the impact of The Shining to better resonate with people. It is now considered one of the most influential, and greatest, horror movies ever made. It has many iconic moments that have become part of pop culture and that most everyone knows – even if they’ve never seen the movie. Some of these include:
- Nicholson looking through the door and saying “here’s Jonny!” (which he improvised)
- The elevators of blood
- “Hello Danny” spoken by the ghost twin girls
Here are some more fun facts: Also up for the role of Jack: Robert De Niro, Robin Williams, and Harrison Ford. Wow. It’s amazing to picture what this movie would have been like with any of those actors playing the role – and I think they all could have worked. King, however, didn’t like any of them, and actually wasn’t too fond of Nicholson – which we’ll get to in a bit.
Some Of The Themes Of The Shining
Do you have about 9,548 hours free? Great! That means you can start pouring through the books, videos, essays, and blogs all discussing the various themes of The Shining. If you’ve ever seen the documentary “Room 237”, you know how deep people have gone with what the themes and true intent of this movie was.
Here are just a few of the considered true themes of The Shining:
- The purpose of the movie was to show the destruction of the Native Americans by white Americans, and the decimation of the people. There are references within the movie regarding the Indian burial ground, and a lot of Native American motif throughout the movie – including a lot of specific artwork
- The movie was an admission of guilt because they involved Kubrick in helping fake the moon landing. Using room 237 is because the moon is around 237,000 miles away from earth. Danny is also seen wearing an Apollo spaceship sweater
- The theme of the movie deals with the Holocaust
- The usual battle between good and evil that exists in every person
- The power of the mind and that everything that happened in the hotel was a figment of their imagination
- The crisis of masculinity, sexism, racism, and corporate America
Again, we could be here for days. There are questions regarding if there really were ghosts because every time Jack sees them, he’s been looking in a mirror. But this could just reflect the internal struggles of Jack and the opposition to himself that are occurring internally and psychologically.
One Of The Best Interpretations Of The Shining: The Red Book
I only recently stumbled across this YouTube video by Max Derrat which has, what I think, is one of the best interpretations of The Shining out there. This analysis might be right on the money due to the appearance of a red book.
In the scene when Jack is interviewing for the job, a red book appears on the desk in the room. The book is at an odd angle which makes it seem like it’s supposed to be noticed. If you know anything about Kubrick, it’s that there aren’t any shots or scenes left to chance. Everything you see is there for a reason.
With this red book, it’s got connections to the psychology of Carl Jung. This narrative, along with Kubrick’s, is about striking a balance between the supernatural and psychological. The idea here is that the Overlook hotel is actually the primary character in the movie and that it’s the external representation of the internal unconscious mind.
The theory explains that there are three states of consciousness:
- The conscious
- The unconscious
- The hypnogogic
The hypnogogic state exists between the two where it blends the other two together, and this is what the hotel represents. The Overlook is in this hypnogogic state in that it bleeds together the contents of your unconscious and humanities collective unconscious – hence the blood out of the elevators.
In the hotel, psychic content from the mind comes alive. When Danny and Halloran ‘shine’ together, it’s a connection between their unconscious, and it’s thought that the hotel can do this too. The problem is, it’s sending violent connections to Jack as we believe the hotel to have a “collective unconscious”. This is a type of unconscious that has primitive origins. We seem to have a human default mode to be violent and it’s built into us. This same mindset is built into the Overlook hotel which is sharing it with Jack – and Grady and the past incidents of violence.
This all adds up because of the killing of the natives that leaves behind a psychic energy in the hotel – which, again, gets passed on to Jack. The hotel’s ability to shine is also why Danny can see those visions of all the death that will eventually come true.
The hotel also shares this energy by showing us images that are part of our primitive conscious and that we can identify such as blood, decay, and death. This is also called an ancestral experience and is probably why we see the blood, the decaying old woman, and the skeletons in the ballroom.
So that’s a rough summary of it: The hotel has an evil subconscious that can connect these thoughts by shining into the unconscious of other people. And this own battle happens within our own minds.
So if you haven’t gathered by now, this movie is pretty iconic. So why did Stephen King hate it? The good news is we have a lot of answers from his own mouth. In an interview from TCM’s Documentary, “A Night At The Movies: The Horrors Of Stephen King”, we get some answers:
Why Stephen King Hated The Shining
1. He Didn’t Think The Characters Were Developed Enough
King believes there isn’t a real character arc throughout the movie the way there is in the book. He believes this specifically with the character of Jack. In the book, Jack Torrence starts out as a normal guy and then has a real descent into horror and madness.
In the movie, it appears that Jack is unhinged right from the get-go. Something seems off about him, and it doesn’t take long for him to unravel. King didn’t like this because Jack didn’t get to follow this path that he had set out for him in the book.
Basically, King’s Jack is about the journey into the anger of a man and Kubrick’s Jack represents the evil of mankind.
I understand this point, but that will always be the issue in a feature film. They have around 2 hours to tell the story and not a lot of time to devote to character development. If this was a ten-part Netflix series, you could fully flesh out the characters. In a movie, you have to get things moving pretty quickly, and there’s a lot of other story to tell.
Anytime you go into a movie based on a book you have to think of it as an adaptation rather than a recreation. This is probably the best thing you can do to enjoy each thing as its own separate entity. The average book may take you 8 to 10 hours to read, so obviously, there is so much more detail that can go into it. With a movie, they have to pretty much throw you right into the story and the world.
2. He Didn’t Like The Casting Of Jack Nicholson
I mentioned this before, but King thought that Nicholson was too famous an actor to be in the movie. Nicholson had just come off “One Flew Over The Cuckoos Nest” and was now a pretty high profile actor. King thought this would detract from the movie they were now watching this star perform as opposed to watching Jack Torrance. This was a big reason why Stephen King hated The Shining.
In King’s mind, he thought the part would be better played by an “everyman” type actor such as Jo(h)n Voight and even considered Christopher Reeve to be ideal for the role.
I can understand this issue as I often see the same problem when big-name actors are cast in certain roles. Studios obviously want the best talent and stars to create interest in their project, but it can detract from the role they’re trying to play.
This is the issue I have with Tom Hanks, for example. He’s obviously a talented actor but I don’t see him dissolve into the character he’s playing and instead, I feel like I’m just watching Tom Hanks, the man, performing this role. I almost feel we’re watching him go through the lines as opposed to seeing him transform into this other person. A good exception to this would be actors like Daniel Day-Lewis or Gary Oldham, but a lot of that is done with makeup and costumes.
3. King Didn’t Think There Was Enough “Substance” To The Movie
This one is tough to see eye-to-eye with him on. He thought the movie was very striking and had very strong visuals, but that’s as far as it went in his mind. He compared the movie to “a beautiful car with no engine”.
He believes the striking images are surface and not substance. Again, I have to disagree, and I think this is based on not letting the movie sink in and make an impact like it first did with audiences. It took the public a while to buy into the themes and tone of The Shining as many did not love it at first either.
Now that time has passed, you can see how much substance there is in every frame of this movie. The themes run so deep just with the ones I mentioned earlier. This movie will be open for interpretation for as long as movies exist, and no one will ever be able to land on a definitive explanation to fully explain it.
I think it’s because the images are so striking they distract you from any underlying theme or motif they are trying to convey. But, over time, we’ve seen how this movie perfectly combines visuals and theme. A movie will always have to be a visual spectacle because it is a visual medium.
4. The Difference Between Warmth And Cold
This might have been the biggest issue separating the movie from the book, and it may come down to the ideological difference between King and Kubrick. At the end of the book, the hotel burns to the ground. In the movie, Jack freezes to death.
King sees this as the difference between warmth and cold. The foremost reason for this is that King sees the Overlook hotel as representing hell, so it needed to burn down in flames. The problem is Kubrick didn’t believe in hell so he didn’t want to go that route with the movie.
Kubrick preferred that Jack freezes to death and that there be no inclusion of fire or hell-like imagery. This may be at the core as to why Stephen King hated The Shining: the book is hot, the movie is cold.
5. Did The Portrayal Of Jack Hit Too Close To Home?
So to understand this, you need to know a little about the backstory of Stephen King. He has not been without his demons, but never shies away from admitting this.
The portrayal of Jack in the movie might have felt a little too familiar for King. The movie takes a different portrayal of Jack, which inadvertently mirrored that of King. In the movie, and with his own life, we have the story of a writer who is the father of a young child and has issues with rage and substance abuse.
King had been going through this same scenario too and had admitted to feelings of antagonism towards his own children. These traits were reflected in Jack and the entire thing might have been a bit too much to swallow.
So that’s a look at the reasons why Stephen King hated The Shining and let’s wrap this puppy up but look at a few last things.
Ready Player One
I just wanted to touch on this quick for a few reasons. The first is that it’s the perfect example of not expecting a movie to be just like the book. The world in the Ready Player One book is so deep and expansive and this just cannot be reflected in a film because there is not enough time.
The book has so much more backstory on the history of Wade, the Oasis, and where he grew up. This would take up almost an entire movie without letting anything else play out. Movies like this are best enjoyed when you see them as capturing the spirit of the book. You need to check out my full blog comparing Ready Player One the book to the movie.
The other thing is how Ready Player One made absolutely brilliant use of The Shining. In the search for one of the keys, the main characters are taken into a recreation of The Shining where they have to navigate through based on their knowledge of the movie. This was no in the book but to me was the best part of the movie.
It was a perfect tribute to Kubrick’s movie, and one of the best scenes I’ve ever seen in a movie.
So that’s why Stephen King hated The Shining. He brings up a few good points, but I have to respectfully disagree with his overall interpretation of the movie. The Shining is a movie that stays with you long after you have watched it, and you can’t wait to see it again.
It’s become a part of pop culture and woven its way into the fabric of cinema. Stanley Kubrick was able to take this story in a different direction and create a whole new narrative that couldn’t be found in the book. A Shining TV series was released in 1997 that was more in tune with what King wanted. However, it wasn’t very successful as it had the problem of trying to surmount one of the greatest movies of all time.
Here’s one last unrelated fact to make your 80s sci-fi head explode. The U.S. theatrical release of Bladerunner included a “happy ending” compared to the final cut and the directors cut.
Ridley Scott didn’t want/didn’t have the time to film a wilderness landscape thing so Stanley Kubrick gave him helicopter footage that he had shot for The Shining and it actually appears in Bladerunner.
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