All the Connections Between 'Doctor Sleep,' Kubrick's 'The Shining,' and Stephen King's Books
Doctor Sleep is the latest Stephen King adaptation to see the light of day -- and man, there are just so many of them from this year, from the Pet Sematary remake to It Chapter 2 to Netflix's In the Tall Grass. The newest movie, directed by Mike Flanagan (Gerald's Game, The Haunting of Hill House), is the cinematic telling of King's 2013 sequel novel which revisits the world of The Shining, focusing on an adult Dan Torrance (Ewan McGregor), who struggles with similar demons his father Jack did, as the lingering impact of his childhood trauma sends him down a redemptive road while a new villainous threat takes shape.
Doctor Sleep isn't just a story about Dan, though. Here, a group of psychic vampires calling themselves The True Knot are introduced. Each member of this nomadic community exhibits a unique supernatural talent. But, according to their leader Rose the Hat (Rebecca Ferguson), in order for the group to live long, they must eat well. And eating well means consuming the psychic ability Dick Hallorann (Scatman Crothers) referred to as "shining" in King's original story. Rose and the gang call it steam, keeping it in thermoses to the sip vapors from -- and the best steam comes from children. So, yes, they kill and vape children.
Dan and Rose end up being brought together by a powerful young girl named Abra Stone (Kyliegh Curran). He's out to protect her from the dark forces of the world, Rose and her True Knot cohorts need Abra for one basic reason: her steam is beyond huge, and they're super hungry. And as you'd expect, Dan's long journey from trauma to addiction to redemption ends how it started, back at the Overlook Hotel.
But the Overlook as we think of it isn't exactly how it was originally written. As much as Stanley Kubrick's film has woven itself into the fabric of popular culture, there are visuals and story themes featured in his movie that were in direct violation with King's original concept, leading the author to publicly write-off the 1980 movie, notoriously calling it "a big, beautiful Cadillac with no engine inside of it."
Most of what has made that movie so iconic -- while also helping to cement Jack Nicholson as a cinematic legend, while permanently scarring his co-star Shelly Duvall, in the process -- are these exact components. And while Mick Garris (The Stand, Hocus Pocus) did his part to truthfully adapt King's story as a three-part mini-series for ABC in 1997, following closely to the events of the book and adhering to the story's strong familial themes of alcoholism, abuse, and the extent of the Overlook's insidious power (all things which Kubrick vaguely glossed over), the 1980 movie is the thing most people think of when The Shining is referenced.
Flanagan set out to connect both novels, along with Stanley Kubrick's legendary movie, in what he referred to as an adaptation of the book "that takes place within the cinematic universe that Kubrick established." So how does the Doctor Sleep movie connect to both King's and Kubrick's version of The Shining? Let's dive deep into the answer. Please don't get lost amid the spoilers -- which are indeed ahead. It may get a bit hedge maze-y in here.
What's up, Doc?
During his childhood, both Wendy and Jack gave Danny the nickname of "Doc." As Wendy explained to Dick in the original film, "We call him that sometimes, like in the Bugs Bunny cartoons." It's a fun pet name, and there's an innocent quality that comes with it when it's spoken in the book and movie versions of The Shining. What's most interesting, though, is the way in which this nickname evolves with Danny's identity as he gets older.
"Doctor Sleep" isn't just the title of the book's literary sequel, it's also an updated nickname Dan is given once he begins working as an orderly at a New England hospice. After taking it upon himself to get sober, Dan takes this job not knowing that his "shine" would come in handy. All these years of drinking and doing drugs to numb the voices and it just takes one fateful night with a dying patient to bring the positives of his power into focus.
His road to recovery is assisted by this new purpose he's given, helping the elderly patients in this facility pass away peacefully, without fear or pain. And it's here that, once again, Dan Torrance is lovingly referred to as "Doc."
The True Knot
Stephen King goes into great detail about the members of Rose the Hat's psychic vampire crew -- made up of characters with kooky names like Barry the Chunk (Robert Longstreet), Crow Daddy (Zahn McClarnon), Grandpa Flick (Carel Stryucken), Snakebite Andi (Emily Alin Lind), Apron Annie (Selene Anduze), Short Eddie (Met Clarke), Silent Sarey (Catherin Parker), and Diesel Doug (James Flanagan). In the book, he fleshes out their emotional wants and physical needs, making them more than just evil, semi-immortal child murderers. In fact, in King's text, Rose starts hunting Abra for her power not just out of ravenous greed, but because her group began dying off due to consuming steam from a victim infected with the Measles virus.
Measles isn't mentioned at all in Flanagan's movie, which is probably for the best. At a running time of 2 hours and 31 minutes, it seems you can only pack so many details into such an undertaking before it becomes too much to bear.
Even without the little details that helped fully develop these characters in the book, Flanagan does a fantastic job in bringing these monsters to life, giving them a hint of morality, making them almost feel a bit empathetic. After all, they're just trying to survive. But yes, they hunt children. And yes, they were not far from the Overlook Hotel in 1980 when all the ax-wielding chaos transpired. Somehow they missed Danny back then. Could the haunted structure have blocked their view of the boy? Probably.
Overlooked, no more
The third act of Flanagan's Doctor Sleep is where the story takes a drastic deviation from King's original source material. Dan and Abra stage their big showdown with Rose and the rest of The True Knot at the Colorado spot where The Overlook Hotel once stood. You see, in King's version of The Shining, as well as in Mick Garris' mini-series, the haunted hotel gets burnt to the ground at the story's end. But it was left in-tact in Kubrick's movie. Taking some creative license, Flanagan does his best to meld King's Shining finale with his sequel story, bookending all the events that transpire throughout both novels, while maintaining the film's signature Kubrickian aesthetic.
In the movie, this means Abra and Dan, along with his best friend Billy (Cliff Curtis), stage their showdown with Rose's crew at some park in the middle of nowhere. This change works… kind of. Adding the Overlook as a looming character in Doctor Sleep presents the idea of closure to Dan's own childhood trauma, and a bit of fan service to audiences everywhere, but the park sequence where each of Rose's minions are gunned down feels a bit cheap, as if it undercuts the whole story being told.
That said, we can't honestly see how Doctor Sleep, in its current cinematic form, could successfully exist without the hotel appearing in some sort of context. It's poetic, really. Kubrick may have left the structure standing, but all these years later, Flanagan put Dan in Jack's shoes, igniting the building after his big confrontation with Rose -- and the building's spirits which he unleashed from the lockboxes in his mind -- putting the hotel out of its misery, while succumbing to his death in the fiery bowels of the boiler room.
You can call it fan service or staying faithful to various well-known pieces of the subject matter, but Flanagan takes the audience on a nostalgic ride in the movie's third act. It's here where much of the movie's tie-ins take place, from the camera zoom over the island in lake from The Shining's opening credits sequence to "REDRUM" to the familiar song cue of Al Bowlly's "Midnight and the Stars and You" to the Grady girls and even to the casting of Alex Essoe (Starry Eyes) and Roger Dale Floyd as young Wendy and Danny who appear in flashbacks throughout the film.
We'd be remiss if we didn't mention an earlier scene which depicts Dan interviewing for the hospice job and how, aesthetically, it's framed and set-designed to mimic Jack Torrance's own job interview scene in The Shining.
From the beginning of Doctor Sleep, we see Danny being haunted by the ghosts of The Overlook. Mrs. Massey, the bloated naked woman in Room 237's bathtub (it's Room 217 in King's books), torments the boy. In both the book and the movie, these events take place. And while Dick Hallorann does appear to Danny and teach him the psychic ability to create lockboxes in his mind, and then trapping these shine-hungry monsters in them, the big difference between the literary and cinematic renderings of the story is simple: Dick dies in Kubrick's movie, but he survives in King's book.
Since Dick died in The Shining, the movie, his spirit is what visits Dan in Flanagan's movie. That doesn't change too much as the film progresses, except it does set the stage for Dan's death and return to Abra as a ghost himself.
The biggest moment that stands out in the Doctor Sleep film is the representation of Jack Torrance and Dan's confrontation with him in the Overlook's Gold Room. It's here, in Kubrick's movie, where Jack first meets Lloyd the bartender and falls off the wagon completely. And much like Jack's exchange with the hotel's murderous caretaker Delbert Grady, where Grady insists that Jack was the actual caretaker, his spirit is now the bartender. It's fitting, really, given his own nagging thirst for whiskey and Dan's struggles with alcoholism, as well.
Jack and Dan, facing off in the exact same room where Jack and Lloyd met is a chilling scene, to be sure. But it should be of no surprise to you that this never happened in King's book. As we mentioned above, the hotel was burnt to the ground in King's 1977 novel and in his 2013 sequel, it's still gone. In fact, the only real appearance of Jack Torrance in the book came as a ghost memory to Dan as he and Abra prepared to take on Rose and her gang. Call it fan service, or something else entirely, but the confrontation between father and son helped to bring closure to the Torrance son's troubled life.