The internal threats of Stephen King's books
October 28, 2014 8:20 AM   Subscribe

The closest a film has ever come to adapting King’s internal-horror aesthetic is a film King himself has publicly lambasted: Kubrick’s version of The Shining. It’s the most artful, scary, and beautifully directed of the King adaptations, and even excludes some of the novel’s more overt (and potentially silly) visual elements, such as the hedge animals that come to life and stalk the family in the yard. Yet, the film never tackles the serious human horrors that infect Jack Torrance throughout the novel, specifically his alcoholism, along with the themes of cyclical abuse and mounting financial pressure. King’s criticism of the film is that Torrance, as played by Jack Nicholson, is portrayed as unhinged right from the start, whereas the novel slowly unravels the man’s sanity, the haunted house he occupies pushing him deeper into madness and violence.

Part of the AV Club's A Week of Horrors series for Halloween.
posted by joseph conrad is fully awesome (87 comments total) 40 users marked this as a favorite
 
Of all of the possible objections King could have had to Kubrick's adaptation, that seems like the least sensical one to me.

If anything I'd read the opposite. In the book, with Jack's internal dialogue included, it seemed much more obvious to me that this guy isn't in total control of himself. In the movie, he's just sort of a Nicholson-brand sorta jerky guy until later in the movie. Granted, the clearer look inside Jack's mind really is the horror of the book, but I definitely saw him as unhinged from the start.

I figured he wanted the whole Hallorann story line in the movie. He was the coolest dude.
posted by cmoj at 8:34 AM on October 28, 2014 [11 favorites]


My wife made the same observation about Nicholson's portrayal of Jack, and I tend to agree. It took me a long time to come around to liking Kubrick's version (specifically because of the Hallorann bit) but it would have helped if Nicholson had been less jerky at the start so that his arc had more emotional heft, rather than just jerk-to-psycho.
posted by grumpybear69 at 8:44 AM on October 28, 2014


TFA title Why the horror of Stephen King’s words doesn’t translate well to film.

The 95% solution/answer is and continues to be, horrible casting.

(Now, this could be a chicken/egg issue, but all the stinkers had horrible casting, no-body actors, etc. The few excellent movies tended to a) not be horror, and b) had great casting.. I say this as someone who owns every SK book published, and a few fancier signed hardback limited editions)
posted by k5.user at 8:45 AM on October 28, 2014 [3 favorites]


I agree with a lot of this: King's horror is often about internal state, and even when there's external horror it's almost always viewed through the eyes of a narrating character.

But also: King's best novels are all about the long, slow build of dread tension; and I think that's a lot harder to pull off in film without boring the audience. (Or, in the case of King's sprawling works, without confusing the audience by cutting between multiple characters. IT and The Stand do this a lot, slowly revealing their antagonists through multiple characters' experiences.) Again this is where Kubrick's The Shining stands out: because Kubrick was not afraid to take his time in unfolding the dread. (Also, Kubrick was not afraid to pare the story down to fit it into the screen.)

The movie of The Mist also achieves the slow burn, I think; although it's helped a lot by the bottled-up setting.

I disagree with King's criticism of Kubrick too. I don't see Jack in the film as crazy at the beginning. He's weak (the drinking, the anger) and he's selfish (taking the caretaker job is all about Jack's wishes for his writing; never mind that Wendy and Danny are going to be bored out of their skulls buy it). And maybe a bit creepy: that Nicholson smirk. But not crazy yet. The hotel exploits his weakness to drive him crazy; just as it did with Grady.
posted by We had a deal, Kyle at 8:52 AM on October 28, 2014 [23 favorites]


...the film never tackles the serious human horrors that infect Jack Torrance throughout the novel, specifically his alcoholism, along with the themes of cyclical abuse...

It totally does, though. When Jack is drinking at the bar is when "the bartender" tells him to discipline his family. Also, and I can't find the link right now, Jack is clearly confusing more than one episode of Danny getting hurt together during that same scene.
posted by DU at 8:52 AM on October 28, 2014 [10 favorites]


Yeahbut, Jack's initial jerk-ness seems immediately understandable (but not excusable!) as a reaction to feeling trapped in his life with Shelley Duvall's Wendy, who is just awful and horrible and annoying and vacant. Every time we put it on around here, we're immediately struck by how unlikeable her portrayal is.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 8:57 AM on October 28, 2014 [3 favorites]


The thing that is genius about the movie version is that it starts out so, so cheesy seventies movie and gradually it wraps around the horror tighter and tighter until you're not sniggering at Jack Nicholson's over-acting or Shelly Duvall's weird costuming and flat affect but just frankly terrified.
posted by winna at 8:57 AM on October 28, 2014 [8 favorites]


Oh wait, here it is:
His strangling of Danny at the Overlook is not an isolated incident. When Danny is seen by a psychiatrist at the start of the film, Wendy explains that her husband dislocated Danny’s shoulder in a drunken rage for scattering his work papers across the floor. She explains that Jack had then told her he was never going to touch another drop of alcohol and that he’d kept his word and not had a drink in “five months”. This five month timescale is important because just over a month passes during their stay at the Overlook before Jack goes insane – so this would mean he’d been off the booze for roughly six or seven months. However, his conversation with Lloyd (himself) in the Gold Room conflicts with this timing. He tells Lloyd, “Here’s to five miserable months on the wagon … and all the irreparable harm it’s caused me.” The missing month could justifiably be written off as a logistical error in the script, but then a much more exaggerated mismatch of timing occurs. Jack, “I did hurt him once ok. It was an accident … completely unintentional. Could’ve happen to anybody … AND IT WAS THREE GODDAMN YEARS AGO!!!” This huge mismatch of time is very difficult to pass off as a script error. Combine this with the revelation that it was Jack who strangled Danny in the Overlook and a simple truth is revealed … Jack Torrance was and still is a violently abusive father.
(the "revelation" mentioned is from another chapter in the same critique)
posted by DU at 8:58 AM on October 28, 2014 [14 favorites]


Considering how many of Kubrick's movies are about men who hate women, I always figured Jack's "craziness" at the start is just universalizing his experience - men are just one small push away from murdering their wives if they thought they could get away with it.
posted by The Whelk at 9:01 AM on October 28, 2014 [5 favorites]


I re-read The Shining just so I could gear up for Doctor Sleep (which incidentally had a weird feel somewhere between The Regulators, Insomnia, and something his son might have done). I gave the film and the miniseries a spin, too.

Aside from the astonishment I had at how young King felt as a writer, with sparser prose and a definite clip to his pacing, I was reminded again how Jack was more or less fucked from long before he set foot in the Overlook. Try to imagine that Jack's sponsor doesn't come through with the Overlook gig for him and play out the rest of his life in your mind: are there any iterations that do not end badly for him?

It's a pretty common theme with King that supernatural Capital E Evil needs a baseline of the banal, malign little e evil to develop. No moustache-twirling, no maidens tied to train tracks, just human weakness and years of abuse will suffice. The "Elevator! Elevator!" bit broke my heart all over again as King reminds us that you can love someone who is quite bad for you, someone who doesn't even have naturally ill intent. Little Jacky loved his father that way and so little Danny will love grown-up Jack, too.

I don't know how you can work Jack's inner turmoil into a film that's under three hours: his obsessive reworking of a play which seems to turn on its own creator, his vision of a tell-all book about the Overlook which could be his key to real success, the feeling that his family had come too soon and could only slow him down, his resentment at perhaps being a little too smart for his circumstances.

I think, as I said before, that Nicholson was cast as a way to telegraph all of that without the audience wondering why we are seeing a guy poring over stacks of old newspapers, why he's chewing up aspirin like breath mints, why he's having flashbakes to his bloodstained father, the drunken orderly. Yes, the casting of Duvall was not optimal: we never see why she rushed into the arms of Jack Torrance (hint: her mother was terrible in a different but still awful fashion from Jack's father). And we are not allowed even a glimpse into Danny's attempts to work out this very strange world he is in, despite being the key to resolving the novel.

Kubrick understood he couldn't make this happen in a studio-allowable length (for a horror film) and did the best he could at scaring us at the Overlook, and for all of the criticisms that it wasn't the book, he certainly managed to make us afraid.

Great party, wasn't it?
posted by adipocere at 9:02 AM on October 28, 2014 [22 favorites]


I haven't read the novel, so I may be talking a bit out of my ass here but... Kubrick's film seems to me to be more in the gothic tradition, where the internal horrors are exteriorized through the Overlook. The documentary Room 237 covers this in their analysis of the Hotel's impossible architecture. I'd never thought about it consciously or been able to verbalize it before (I'm not a great spatial thinker), but the dread of the film comes in large part from the uncanny feeling of wandering around a space that isn't really possible in the real world. The amazing tracking shots of Danny as he rides his bike through the hallways put the audience right there.

I also recall a comment Nicholson makes in Stanley Kubrick: A Life in Pictures about the scene where Jack is throwing a tennis ball around in the big common room. He says that it was his idea for a way to show Jack losing his grip on reality, something about doing activities indoors that should normally be done outdoors.
posted by Saxon Kane at 9:03 AM on October 28, 2014 [8 favorites]


Oh god, Room 237 is a weird movie. We were pretty into it until they brought up the whole moon landing stuff, and then I didn't believe anything the documentary was trying to say anymore.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 9:09 AM on October 28, 2014 [6 favorites]


I read and love the book (as I do much of King's writing), and I also absolutely love the movie for different reasons. I think this article does a decent job of framing the challenge of adapting King's work to the big screen.
I may be all alone on this one, and frankly it's been an astonishing 17 years since it came out, but I thought the TV mini-series adaptation of The Shining with Steven Weber was actually quite good, again in different ways from the movie.
It was much more faithful to the book, and the mini-series format lends itself well to King's drawn-out style. Lastly, and this may be a function of having first read the book in my early teens, I don't think the moving hedge animals bit takes away at all. I actually really enjoyed that part of the book. Looking back on them, I wonder if they served as inspiration for the Angels in Doctor Who.
posted by staccato signals of constant information at 9:12 AM on October 28, 2014 [4 favorites]


I have to say I am really, really NOT looking forward to the movie version of 11/22/1963. That book is so great, I don't want to see it ruined.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 9:14 AM on October 28, 2014 [4 favorites]


Room 237 is a great documentary about how people construct elaborate interpretations out of very limited evidence. The main problem, IMHO, with all the conspiracy theories is that they rely on conscious authorial intent, rather than a more nuanced understanding of aesthetic meaning. That said, I think Kubrick was probably fucking with the conspiracy theorists with Danny wearing the Apollo 11 sweater: "Oh, you think I filmed a fake moon-landing? Well have fun with this!"
posted by Saxon Kane at 9:15 AM on October 28, 2014 [6 favorites]


Wow, I don't know what this reviewer is smoking, but I know I don't want any of it.

In all of these films, and countless others, the medium demands an external, visible threat, one that can make an audience jump, shiver, or scream...

No, no, NO, it most certainly does NOT! The scariest movies are the ones that show the least. What you can't see is far more frightening that what you can. The idea that you have to make teenaged girls jump, shriek, and then giggle every 180 seconds is the #1 thing that's wrong with most of what calls itself "horror" these days. Horror movies have to induce a sense of, well, HORROR, for lack of a better word. If I can accomplish the same thing with a surprise tickle or an ice cube down somebody's shirt as I can with my movie, I don't deserve to call it "horror," and this reviewer doesn;t get that fundamental concept.


Yet, the film never tackles the serious human horrors that infect Jack Torrance throughout the novel, specifically his alcoholism, along with the themes of cyclical abuse and mounting financial pressure.

The Shining is a gorgeous, frightening horror film, and yet it can’t possibly convey the human horrors that make the novel such a durable statement.

Wat, WHAT?!? That's what makes the movie work so well. It constantly treads that fine line between the human and inhuman. It shows over and over and over again how willing we are to look away from the everyday horrors that happen behind closed doors. Dear Lord, the movie even works as horror if you don't, as Kubrick didn't, believe in ghosts!

Jack and Wendy are the closest depiction of my parents I've ever seen on the large or small screen. Take away some of the spectral visions and the psychic phenomena, and you might as well be watching a documentary about my early childhood. (We didn't live in a hotel, but in a huge, cold house with an unused apartment). Jack's alcoholism, social and familial resentment, and the inadequacies he overcompensates for with anger because he isn't equipped to deal with them are freaking palpable, as is Wendy's denial and codependence. There are scenes in that movie that are so familiar they'd be painful to watch if they weren't such great catharsis.

I'm not a big fan of Stephen King's writing because of his tendency to overexplain to the point where what he's saying ceases to become interesting. He sucks out all the mystery and suspense, and I feel like I'm being talked down to. The reason Kubrick's The Shining works so well and is so compelling is because Kubrick avoids those pitfalls and shows rather than tells. But he makes you lean in to watch. You have to pay attention. That's the art of storytelling, Kyle Fowle, you nitwit.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 9:15 AM on October 28, 2014 [21 favorites]


When I was a young King fan I also had questions about Kubrick's interpretation of the character, but now I see why he made the change. The subtext of the film is the history of violence that is always-already present in American life, hiding in plain site, that we all ignore and that we're all doomed to re-enact.

Jack's rampage is supposed to be clearly and utterly inevitable to the audience, as if we share Danny's clairvoyance. Like, what did you expect? "Don't go in the house!!"
posted by ducky l'orange at 9:15 AM on October 28, 2014 [5 favorites]


Jack's initial jerk-ness seems immediately understandable (but not excusable!) as a reaction to feeling trapped in his life with Shelley Duvall's Wendy, who is just awful and horrible and annoying and vacant. Every time we put it on around here, we're immediately struck by how unlikeable her portrayal is.

See here's the thing: The film, in my opinion, feels weighty and real in a way the book doesn't. Not to shit-talk the book, mind, because it's a good book, but the film is doing something different. In the film, both Jack and Wendy are carrying the weight of their entire history together and at this point their marriage is a polite fiction; they're really staying together for their kid. What you're seeing in Duvall's Wendy is the other half of the bad habits that have calcified in the time the two of them have been together - Jack is incredibly unlikable as well and these are the people they both have become in order to deal with who the other person has become. I can see where Kubrick found it a pain in the ass to get the performance he wanted out of her, but it worked and it's there: you can see the echoes of the optimism she started with and the mental scaffolding she's put up around the unpleasantness at the core of the relationship.

This is why I'm also on board with Nicholson's portrayal of Jack - I never have to ask why the two of them wound up together. It's clear that it began the same as every other relationship where the dude is a tyrant and the woman is a mouse - he almost certainly began as his best self and the relationship went from gushing love to a sort of unacknowledged state of detente so gradually that neither party had any idea it was going on. And this is the idea that brought me around to the portrayal, because King is correct that Jack starts the film basically already on the edge and it's clear - but it's a different animal than the book. In the book, he's a basically sane man who goes crazy; in the film, he's a crazy man who's trying to stay sane. The Overlook doesn't drive him crazy in the film, it just gives him a tiny shove in the direction he was inclined to head already, which fits with Kubrick's more cerebral approach - reducing the supernatural to something whose impact is negotiable instead of the massive, Lovecraftian power it is in the novel.

I do like the book but I also think a big reason King didn't care for it is that the book feels very much like it was written for the adaptation. At several points, especially in the epilogue, he writes in a way that makes it seem like he's mostly writing a novelization of a movie that hasn't been made yet.
posted by FAMOUS MONSTER at 9:15 AM on October 28, 2014 [23 favorites]


Lucky for you, roomthreeseventeen, the book will still exist after the movie comes out -- and all the same words will be there, and they'll even be in the same order! ;)

/gentlesnark
posted by Saxon Kane at 9:16 AM on October 28, 2014 [1 favorite]


When I read The Shining (after having seen the movie), what stood out was that Book Jack Torrance gets a final moment of redemption, while Movie Jack Torrance ends up frozen in an evil grimace forever.
posted by roger ackroyd at 9:16 AM on October 28, 2014 [7 favorites]


adipocere: I re-read The Shining just so I could gear up for Doctor Sleep (which incidentally had a weird feel somewhere between The Regulators, Insomnia, and something his son might have done).

I think that there was some sort of subtle cross-referencing between Doctor Sleep and NOS482, Joe Hill's book, but I haven't finished either book yet (I plan to, but I'm kind of swamped with must-reads right now).

Try to imagine that Jack's sponsor doesn't come through with the Overlook gig for him and play out the rest of his life in your mind: are there any iterations that do not end badly for him?

Well, put together King's use of his own problems with addiction in writing Jack Torrance (which he may not have been fully conscious of at the time, but freely admits to now) with King having been clean and sober for over a quarter-century at this point; Jack Torrance's childhood doesn't map to King's exactly (King's own father simply abandoned the family), but King seems to also write an awful lot of very angry characters, starting with Carrie White, and he's still (by all indications) happily married and has a decent relationship with his kids. Who's to say that Jack Torrance might not have found another job and a decent AA group and gone on to deal with his demons?
posted by Halloween Jack at 9:21 AM on October 28, 2014 [2 favorites]


It's clear that it began the same as every other relationship where the dude is a tyrant and the woman is a mouse - he almost certainly began as his best self...

Just as he did with the hotel manager. Nicholson's Jack is a very charming man when he wants to be.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 9:23 AM on October 28, 2014 [3 favorites]


I'm not a big fan of Stephen King's writing because of his tendency to overexplain to the point where what he's saying ceases to become interesting.

This is why M. R. James is one of my favorite strange story writers, and also Robert Aickman. If you explain too much it becomes explicable and less scary.
posted by winna at 9:24 AM on October 28, 2014 [8 favorites]


I actually think that the film version of 1408 is a rare example of a movie outshining (ha ha) its source material - not just in the context of King but in general for all book to screen adaptations as well.

I read "1408" prior to seeing it on DVD and was blown away by the interpretation of the material and visuals. While I usually dislike King's novels and novellas for being too run on, I am a great fan of his brilliant short stories. "1408" I did not think was his best writing (compared to the tales in his collections up to and including Nightmares and Dreamscapes)... It feels he is less focused on the straight up horror short story and more interested in other genres and forms of writing these days. That said, 1408 remains one of my favorite horror films ever.
posted by partly squamous and partly rugose at 9:30 AM on October 28, 2014 [2 favorites]


Who's to say that Jack Torrance might not have found another job and a decent AA group and gone on to deal with his demons?

My personal read is that he's not really self-aware enough to be evolving in that way, though perhaps the Overlook removes all possibility of that. The ambiguity of that is part of what I like about the film and book. Is Jack there because it's inevitable and his life has been heading that way forever? Or has it sucked him in and victimized him as well? I think the film implies they're meant for each other, but my memory of the film is dim and the book even more so.
posted by phearlez at 9:32 AM on October 28, 2014 [1 favorite]


I thought the TV mini-series adaptation of The Shining with Steven Weber was actually quite good

I have so much love for the 6 hour TV mini-series, it's hard to contain.

I first read the book a zillion years ago, and it was one of those rare books that actually gave me nightmares. (House Of Leaves is another one, for entirely different reasons.) The long slow burn and build is, IMO, timed nearly perfectly in the book, as the supernatural evil of the Hotel and the banal evil of Jack's alcoholism take their time to find each other and merge. Danny's talent and how all this is affecting him serve well to make clear that this isn't merely a booze-induced delusion but actually is something much bigger, something outside of Jack himself no matter how much it might be using him.

The way the mini-series was originally presented, in 3 2-hour blocks, really let each segment have its own mini-arc of building tension, and then the "continued next time" pause in the action gave me, as a viewer, a chance to dwell and reflect on what I had just seen and let my own personal dread build during that pause.

It probably helped that I knew what was coming, but that pause in the story really let my own involvement with the story ratchet up my own personal tension about what was next.

By the time the final segment came on, I was fully primed, and I was entirely not disappointed. I think it may be the best Stephen King filming I've seen, because it delivered so much of exactly what I experienced in reading the book in a visceral way.

I love the Kubrick film. It's effective in ways that very few other horror films ever are. But if you want the build from banal dread into full-blown horror that so many King novels deliver so effectively, that mini-series of The Shining is really hard to beat.
posted by hippybear at 9:35 AM on October 28, 2014 [5 favorites]


Just want to mention - some good discussion going on in the article's comments.
posted by Chrysostom at 9:39 AM on October 28, 2014 [1 favorite]


I've come to really love Nicholson's performance and feel like the movie wouldn't work if Jack Torrance started off as a nicer, less-unhinged guy. At the beginning we know that Jack is a dry-drunk, a child abuser, unemployed and a failed writer. Chances are he got fired from his teaching job over the summer and here we are at the beginning of winter and he's so desperate for any work that he takes this job at the hotel.

He's a drunk, a failure and a pretty unlikable person but, here's the thing, he's not a homicidal maniac. What we see in the movie is the hotel and its resident spirits giving him that little push over the line. The transformation wouldn't be believable if he'd started as a clean-cut nice guy. All that stuff was already inside Jack, all the hotel does is let him unleash it.
posted by octothorpe at 9:43 AM on October 28, 2014 [5 favorites]


Who's to say that Jack Torrance might not have found another job and a decent AA group and gone on to deal with his demons?

Well, you can read about Jack's contempt for AA — which he refers to as "the wagon" — in the book at length. It's part of Jack being a little too smart for his own good (not that I'm a fan of AA myself). Another job? His teaching career is completely dead, not just at Stovington, but at any place liable to do even a cursory background check which might care about teachers beating students into bloody pulps. In the book he grimly contemplates whether or not, should he lose the Overlook gig, whether he can even get a job at a gas station (it might have been enough to feed a family then, or not) over the winter. Wendy wonders if she would have to go back to her dreadful mother (who would have a lot of triumphant gloating) with Danny in tow.

The comparison to King is interesting but doesn't really wash out: Torrance's father was way worse than mere absence. Tabitha King also seems a hell of a lot more supportive than Wendy (who is someone who only ends up developing her strength later in life).

Most versions of Jack's future feature alcohol, underemployment, some more violence, and an early death, just from his trajectory so far. It's what makes him so delicious to The Overlook, so useful, such a perfect tool.
posted by adipocere at 9:54 AM on October 28, 2014 [6 favorites]


The few excellent movies tended to a) not be horror, and b) had great casting.

Case in point: Cronenberg's Dead Zone (with Martin Sheen and Christopher Walken). Admittedly, there's a bit of gore, but that doesn't make it a horror movie.
posted by Captain Fetid at 9:55 AM on October 28, 2014 [1 favorite]


I'm living the rest of my life pretending I never read Doctor Sleep, and that Doctor Sleep was never even written.
posted by jeff-o-matic at 9:55 AM on October 28, 2014 [2 favorites]


I actually think that the film version of 1408 is a rare example of a movie outshining (ha ha) its source material ...

COMRADE! I absolutely agree - I also read the story before seeing the film, and for me, it was almost like the story felt too.....short, almost? When reading it, even though he was in the room for an hour, it felt like he was only there ten minutes. So the impact just felt lessened. Whereas in the film, you are unquestionably there for the full hour, so it was much more of a punch.

Plus you got to see John Cusack flip his shit and actually lose a fistfight with a minibar fridge.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:58 AM on October 28, 2014 [2 favorites]


I saw "The Shining" again recently. The strongest (and possibly the creepiest) scene, to me, is the scene in the kitchen between Halloran and Danny. In fact, every time Scatman Crothers is on screen the movie improves quite a bit.

It's probably my least favorite of Nicholson's performances outside of "The Departed," and I'm a Nicholson fan - I like to imagine that somewhere on the cutting room floor lay a good performance but Kubrick chose the hammiest bits.

Finally, the spousal abuse is now unwatchable to me: when I was a kid and saw the movie the first time it didn't quite register, not enough life experience yet.

Started the book again recently and I had to put it down. Not only was I creeping myself out but that book is profoundly SAD.
posted by Sheydem-tants at 10:00 AM on October 28, 2014 [2 favorites]


I saw the miniseries of The Shining as well, and....actually, I found that it sort of flogged the "Jack is a drunk" bit a little too hard. I mean, yeah, it's a major part of his character, but the miniseries seemed to really emphasize that, to ABC-Afterschool-Special levels.

I think it was produced when Stephen King was still in his major post-rehab "drugs are bad mkay" phase, and actually chalked it up to that more than anything else; he had a big hand in its production and may have amped that angle up moreso as a sort of Personal Testimony, to the point that it started detracting from everything.

If he'd made it today that would probably be different. But as it is, that's why I prefer the movie.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:04 AM on October 28, 2014 [2 favorites]


King refers to the author of The Shining as a “well-meaning alcoholic” for a reason: King was using the tools of his trade as a horror novelist to try to understand the nature of his disease and the corrosive effect it had on the people in his life, particularly his family. Underneath the ghosts and blood and supernatural fright in The Shining lies a human core: a father’s terror that he will lose control and hurt his family. King wrote a book about alcoholism from the inside out, as an addict. Kubrick made a film about alcoholism from the outside in, a film that doesn’t extend King’s deep empathy to Torrance and his condition. King felt deeply for Jack Torrance. He identified with him more than is probably healthy, whereas Kubrick views him from the same cold, clinical distance from which he sees most of his characters. There is a pronounced lack of interiority to both the film’s depiction of the character and Nicholson’s performance. Kubrick pins Jack Torrance to the wall like a butterfly, one of his prized grotesques, rather than inviting audiences to identify or empathize with him.
posted by maxsparber at 10:07 AM on October 28, 2014 [13 favorites]


What you're seeing in Duvall's Wendy is the other half of the bad habits that have calcified in the time the two of them have been together - Jack is incredibly unlikable

You're right, but I wouldn't have seen that because Nicholson is always really unlikeable to me (especially because he always seems to play Jack Nicholson). I see what people like about him and his work, but the inner asshole always shines through too much for me to really care what happens to anyone he plays.

It's clear that it began the same as every other relationship where the dude is a tyrant and the woman is a mouse - he almost certainly began as his best self and the relationship went from gushing love to a sort of unacknowledged state of detente so gradually

Really?! I don't remember how things started in the book, but from the movie I would have thought that Jack and Wendy weren't very serious and then he got her pregnant with Danny so they married. Dude is resentful.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 10:12 AM on October 28, 2014


@Shaydem-tants: Not only was I creeping myself out but that book is profoundly SAD.

This is why King stories and books work for me. The good ones are at least as much tragedy as they are horror. Horror in movies has a long, cheap exploitive and tawdry past. Not so much with tragedy.
posted by jeff-o-matic at 10:12 AM on October 28, 2014 [4 favorites]


I feel King is both outstanding at characterization and at getting us to recognize and empathize both with his "heroes" and his villains. Very few of us don't have an outstanding weakness of some sort, or many, and I think part of the discomfort we feel when reading his better works is that while we're outwardly confident we'd act like Hero A does in the book, there's the nagging suspicion we'd really end up being Villain B.
posted by maxwelton at 10:15 AM on October 28, 2014 [3 favorites]


I don't remember how things started in the book

"Jack Torrance thought, 'Officious little prick.'"

One of my favorite opening lines to a novel ever.
posted by hippybear at 10:17 AM on October 28, 2014 [8 favorites]


(The idea that you have to make teenaged girls jump, shriek, and then giggle every 180 seconds

I really, really wish we were not socialized to imagine the "bad consumer" as a teenage girl all the time. Who is responsible for music being bad? Teenage girls! Who is responsible for all the horror movies being stupid? Teenage girls? Who is ideologically a tampon, per radical project Tikkun? Teenage girls! Who is materialistic and gross yet still infuriatingly sexy, per Adbusters? Teenage girls! It's like, if you want to demonstrate that people are doing it wrong, say that whatever they are doing is done in order to please teenage girls, because teenage girls are ipso facto stupid and trivial and have bad taste and aren't intellectually serious. And of course, everyone is marketing to teenage girls now, not the coveted white dudes between 15 and 35, right?)
posted by Frowner at 10:35 AM on October 28, 2014 [60 favorites]


--(The idea that you have to make teenaged girls jump, shriek, and then giggle every 180 seconds

-I really, really wish we were not socialized to imagine the "bad consumer" as a teenage girl all the time. Who is responsible for music being bad? Teenage girls! Who is responsible for all the horror movies being stupid? Teenage girls? Who is ideologically a tampon, per radical project Tikkun? Teenage girls! Who is materialistic and gross yet still infuriatingly sexy, per Adbusters? Teenage girls! It's like, if you want to demonstrate that people are doing it wrong, say that whatever they are doing is done in order to please teenage girls, because teenage girls are ipso facto stupid and trivial and have bad taste and aren't intellectually serious. And of course, everyone is marketing to teenage girls now, not the coveted white dudes between 15 and 35, right?)


Sorry, just going by what I see with my own eyes at the cinema. If it was middle-aged Latino Catholic priests with pencil-thin mustaches I witnessed reacting the same way, I'd have said, "The idea that you have to make middle-aged Latino Catholic priests with pencil-thin mustaches jump, shriek, and then giggle every 180 seconds."

If it's any consolation, I'm quite sure that a significant proportion of the girls I've observed have engaged in this behavior simply because it's what they believe is expected of them, and because their male companions seem to enjoy it. Whatever the reason, the fact that I reported it has nothing to do with imagination or ideology.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 10:45 AM on October 28, 2014 [1 favorite]


The thing that is genius about the movie version is that it starts out so, so cheesy seventies movie and gradually it wraps around the horror tighter and tighter...

Oh I don't know, when Wendy walks into the ballroom and, noting its decor, asserts "Oh! Pink and gold are my favorite colors!" ...that's both hilarious and horrifying.
posted by psoas at 10:49 AM on October 28, 2014 [1 favorite]


Most movies are filled with impossible architecture, by virtue of them being filmed on sound stages. Where is the essay on the impossible architecture of The Princess Bride?
posted by empath at 10:55 AM on October 28, 2014 [3 favorites]


Surely you mean the inconceivable architecture.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 10:58 AM on October 28, 2014 [23 favorites]


Is the architecture in Asia?
posted by hippybear at 11:00 AM on October 28, 2014 [1 favorite]


I used to give more credence to King's complaints about Kubrick's version of The Shining. I mean, I love the film and have always loved it, and of course King is welcome to dislike it. But I used to give more weight to his complaints...until he made the miniseries, and until my last couple re-reads of the book as a much older and experienced person.

The slavish recreation of book details in the miniseries, to the story's own detriment, reinforced for me that King tends to equate fidelity, accuracy in detail, with a good adaptation. As opposed to understanding the nuances of adaptation, and that an adaptation is not the book and should not be the book--especially in this case because of the vast differences between such an interior story style vs. film as such an exterior medium. (Plus, the casting of miniseries-Danny in particular was soooooo terrrrrible.)

But also, my last couple rereads of the book reminded me that Jack is not a nice guy at the beginning. I think Stephen King thinks he is, or at least used to think he is, because Stephen King (as he admits now) was basically writing himself right into the book, the self with the still active drug and alcohol problem, but also the self who wasn't ready or willing to get help and didn't think he should have to. So he can't help but identify with the guy and see him as basically a good and nice fellow. Reading the book, though, from the intial line already quoted and onward in that opening scene, we see that Jack is already a simmering torrent (har) of sheer rage. Rage, impatience, control, blaming others for his problems and for reminding him of his problems, etc. He's a walking talking dry drunk, and the dryness is already shown from the get-go to be a white-knuckle affair. The horror to come is already latent in him (and well laid down from the time of Jack's own childhood), and not sleeping, but ready to go, like a long fuse coiled up and ready for the match.

Granted, the film's performances are much more stark and gothic than the 'everyday Americana' of King's style, but they suit the tone and approach of the adaptation to a T, in which everything's dialed up to its height and boiled down to its essence.
posted by theatro at 11:00 AM on October 28, 2014 [6 favorites]


I must admit, roomthreeseventeen, I have a whole Thing about how much I disliked 11/22/1963. I surprised myself with how much I disliked it. But I'll spare you. (And confetti sprinkled down throughout the land...)
posted by theatro at 11:02 AM on October 28, 2014 [3 favorites]


I'm a long time Stephen King reader, having started at 13 with a forbidden Pet Sematary and working my way through everything he's done. Over the last five years or so it's been more of a nostalgic thing, because his voice is so familiar, and a completionist thing, because I must read them all. There are times he falls down ("Dreamcatcher"), and I have favorites panned by others ("The Talisman" - WOLF), and I have yet to read the last Gunslinger book because that series was such an up and down ride (yes, I have it, and I will! Just not...right now). He's one of the few authors I'd absolutely love to see in person someday.

Now, The Shining. I loved both the book and the movie. But they were quite different to me. I'd heard SK didn't like (soft term) the movie, and that Jack Nicholson wouldn't have been his choice. But I've seen all of the SK movies (and miniseries, except for Under the Dome) and liked none of them. The dialog seems forced and corny, the casting is always weird, the tales just don't work for me on the screen. It makes me wonder if my imagination is doing work on the side to help me enjoy his books in a way that can't be done in a film/TV version somehow. Which of course leads me to, "Maybe he isn't such a great writer?" Over the years I've settled for, "Maybe film/TV just isn't a good place for his tales." I think reading his books requires that you use your imagination, your visualizing, your importing of tone and color and depth to his words somehow. There is perhaps something magical in the process of bringing the words into your mind and interpreting them, something that gets slaughtered, messily, when you're viewing the same thing acted out on screen. The reason I love The Shining as a movie is because it *is* different. It's just enough different that you could believe Kubrick is sharing his interpretation, his coloring, his perception of the book in a way that brings it across to viewers. Maybe the disastrous films and shows are a result of trying to be true to a book that requires supporting imagination.

Or maybe I'm just full of crap. I don't know. It's a good article. Me, I'm just hoping they never touch The Talisman for a film/TV adaptation. Because I like the version I get when I open the book.
posted by routergirl at 11:09 AM on October 28, 2014 [4 favorites]


Well, for The Princess Bride, one would look at the landscape, rather than architecture, and I'm certain one could write a fairly interesting analysis of the significance of the various fantasy tropes of the quest narrative it employs -- dangerous forests, hidden underworlds, etc.

The issue with The Shining is somewhat similar, although different in key ways. It's not so much about creating fantasy locations that the hero journey's through. The Overlook's architecture is notably strange, curving in on itself in physically impossible ways -- while presenting itself on first glance as someplace firmly within the real world -- creating a sense of claustrophobia that resonates with the experiences of the characters. The above mention of House of Leaves is an appropriate comparison, I think, because of the similarly Gothic nature of the house, with its hidden, impossible depths. There's certainly the possibility that some impossible features of the architecture of the Overlook were a result of carelessness on Kubrick's part, but I think it is one of the few really compelling readings in Room 237 about the significance of the meticulous design that went into crafting the film's aesthetic. (as opposed to, for example, the people who think that the whole movie is Kubrick's confession of faking the moon landing, which is just silly)
posted by Saxon Kane at 11:18 AM on October 28, 2014 [2 favorites]


Oh, and worth mentioning - I did love the Shawshank Redemption, but again, they took a short story and pulled it out like taffy into a really smart film.
posted by routergirl at 11:19 AM on October 28, 2014 [1 favorite]


I really, really wish we were not socialized to imagine the "bad consumer" as a teenage girl all the time. Who is responsible for music being bad? Teenage girls! Who is responsible for all the horror movies being stupid? Teenage girls? Who is ideologically a tampon, per radical project Tikkun? Teenage girls! Who is materialistic and gross yet still infuriatingly sexy, per Adbusters?

Who made Steve Guttenberg a star? Wait that was the Stonecutters.

But yeah, well said, I was about to make that point myself.
posted by sweetkid at 11:26 AM on October 28, 2014 [1 favorite]


My pick for alternate cast:

Kurt Russell
Adrian Barbeau
Redd Foxx

And Paul Reubens as "Danny"
posted by clavdivs at 11:29 AM on October 28, 2014 [3 favorites]


adipocere: Well, you can read about Jack's contempt for AA — which he refers to as "the wagon" — in the book at length.

I remember the part that you're talking about, but a) I didn't identify that directly with AA--I'll have to go back and re-read that bit--and b) IIRC by that point the Overlook had already begun to get its hooks into him. Probably the biggest problem that Jack Torrance had, even more so than his alcoholism and the rage left over from his childhood, was his pride; one thing that really sticks out for me from the book was Jack contemplating their leaving the Overlook, and not just the financial hardships that would follow (I'm pretty sure that that's when he contemplates his possible future as a gas jockey; that was probably pretty significant to King, who before he sold Carrie had to take side jobs to supplement his teacher's income, a la another teacher with anger issues and wounded pride, Walter White), but also the humiliation. And I think it was the pride that the Overlook used more than anything else to get a grip on him.

And, yeah, it's certainly possible that that would have been his downfall in the long run. The first step of the Twelve Steps is admitting that one is powerless over alcohol and that one's life has become unmanageable, and then there's the moral inventory of the defects of character that the alcoholic has to deal with--one of the AA books describes pride and fear as being two of the biggest impediments to recovery. But then, Jack had to swallow a lot of pride just to ask for the Overlook job in the first place, and as I've already said, almost from page one, he's increasingly under the Overlook's influence. In addition to the evil aura, he's also isolated from any sort of support for recovery, even (largely) his buddy from the school.

The other factor as to the likelihood of Jack Torrance recovering, of course, is figuring in King's own recovery status at the time of writing; he wasn't, of course, and like a lot of other alcoholics that were and are still "out there", probably didn't think too highly of AA at the time. (I certainly didn't when I first tried it.) The stories that he's written since recovering that have mentioned AA--"The Library Policeman", Song of Susannah, Doctor Sleep--tend to be more favorable.
posted by Halloween Jack at 11:35 AM on October 28, 2014 [4 favorites]


If you take drugs, take some magic mushrooms and watch The Shining. You won't regret it.
posted by marienbad at 11:43 AM on October 28, 2014


(Sorry, just going by what I see with my own eyes at the cinema. If it was middle-aged Latino Catholic priests with pencil-thin mustaches I witnessed reacting the same way, I'd have said, "The idea that you have to make middle-aged Latino Catholic priests with pencil-thin mustaches jump, shriek, and then giggle every 180 seconds."

But you're saying that the movie producers are making bad movies so that the girls will jump and giggle - that somehow it's the fault of the bad taste of the girls that the movies are so bad. And that it's complete, sincere and wrong appreciation of the badness of the movies that makes the girls jump and giggle - not ironic appreciation, or nerves when they're on dates, etc. I also wonder about your sample size, and how you correlate giggling teenage girls with good versus bad movies. Are teenage girls silent in good movies? Do teenage girls avoid good movies because their taste is bad? Is the definition of a good movie one which is unattended by teenage girls or one in which they do not laugh? And again, how do we show that the nature of the movie is driven by the need to make teenage girls laugh rather than the laughter of teenage girls being an accidental result of the badness of the movies? Leaving aside, of course, the fact that teenage girls enjoy lots of different kinds of movies according to their characters and interests.)
posted by Frowner at 11:44 AM on October 28, 2014 [6 favorites]


I would pay cash money to see someone attempt a Dark Tower movie. It would probably be a total abject failure, but hopefully in the fun-to-watch, Dune sense of the phrase.
posted by Itaxpica at 11:49 AM on October 28, 2014 [1 favorite]


But you're saying that the movie producers are making bad movies so that the girls will jump and giggle - that somehow it's the fault of the bad taste of the girls that the movies are so bad.

No, I'm not saying either of those things.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 11:49 AM on October 28, 2014


Leaving aside, of course, the fact that teenage girls enjoy lots of different kinds of movies according to their characters and interests.

This article, and the conversation we're having surrounding it, is about one particular type of movie, and the expectations of the audiences who attend that particular type of movie. The author lists a series of reactions he believes one certain type of movie should elicit in the audiences who attend that particular type of movie. Since that's what we're talking about, how is it relevant to the discussion what other movies certain people enjoy, or what their reactions are to those other movies are?
posted by The Underpants Monster at 11:55 AM on October 28, 2014


Hollywood ruins books. This is the given we start from so that anytime Hollywood gets it right (Fincher, L.A. Confidential, Lord of the Rings) we are fooled into forgetting how rare such instances are. As authors go, Stephen King has had better luck than most: Carrie, Shawshank Redemption, Pet Sematary, The Dead Zone. In The Shining, Kubrick was Kubrick. Kubrick ignoring your source material is as great a blessing as the Marx Brothers ignoring their scripts. (The screenwriter S.J. Perelman once stood up in the theater to inform the viewers when the Marx Brothers actually used one of his lines.)
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 11:58 AM on October 28, 2014 [2 favorites]


The surest proof I've ever seen that King should never be involved in TV/movies of his own work was Golden Years. Bad science, bad writing, bad makeup, bad acting galore (including from King himself).

The only salvageable part was the surprising number of good supporting actors, usually totally miscast: Felicity Huffman in an early role, playing against type as a sort of femme fatale; Stephen Root as a sort of Beltway Milton.
posted by ivan ivanych samovar at 12:22 PM on October 28, 2014 [1 favorite]


It's been a while since I've read the book, but it seems weird to me that King would label Torrance as a sort of mildly-screwed up alcoholic, because I seem to remember before they get to the overlook the most likely future for Jack is suicide, and a big part of the dread is that because he is telepathic Danny knows this, but is too young to understand it.
posted by Ray Walston, Luck Dragon at 12:46 PM on October 28, 2014 [2 favorites]


Why the horror of Stephen King’s words doesn’t translate well to film.

I don't see what the issue is here. The man knows how to plug right into our deepest fears and it doesn't matter how badly a film screws up, inescapable horror is built in from the start. I mean, how could weight loss not be terrifying?
posted by Naberius at 12:54 PM on October 28, 2014


Don't forget Stand By Me/The Body.

His non-horror translations have been the strongest, IMHO.
posted by el io at 1:05 PM on October 28, 2014 [1 favorite]


Agreed, el io, Stand By Me was excellent.
posted by routergirl at 1:09 PM on October 28, 2014


Yeah, I think most King adaptations failed because they were either no-budget made-for-TV affairs, or short stories that would have made amazing short films but were never meant to be full-length features. I wonder what some of those adaptations would be like if they were made now, in the age of high-budget high-concept pay-cable serials. Man, to see The Stand or It get the HBO treatment. I'd pay to see that.

But for the most part, I think the OP is on-point. In order to give audiences what they're perceived to want, directors play up on the "genre horror" elements and neglect the slow-burn psychological aspects that give King stories their emotional heft. The problem is that King does throw in genre horror elements, but they're generally vehicles for something larger. Case-in-point : the spider at the end of It. Yes, the novel does feature a giant spider. But the point isn't the spider; it's what the giant spider represents : this otherworldly evil visited upon the planet, a counterpoint to the wise old Turtle (which most likely ties into the Dark Tower universe). However, the people who adapted It for television were all like, "Oooh, giant spider! This is a horror movie, and horror movies have monsters, so let's make a big deal about the giant spider!" And so you have what should be a very complex scene boiled down to a bunch of kids killing a giant spider.

Thing is, King includes just enough of these genre elements in his novels that, if you want to focus in on them and make a cheap, superficial adaptation, you totally can. I've always thought of King as a dramatist who uses genre elements as tools. I think a lot of people who adapt his work miss out on that.

The Shining works as a movie because Kubruck could give a shit what audiences wanted. He was going to make the movie his way, and it totally works. That's why he left out the animated hedge monsters. If The Shining adaptation were made by the same sorts of people who made his other adaptations, the hedge monsters would have been included, and totally played-up. That final chase sequence alone would have taken up like a half hour.

King dislikes the movie because he's too close to the source material. Period. I mean, yes, obviously he wrote the book. But he's gone on record talking about how intensely personal that book is for him. Is there any adaptation he would have approved of, other than one he made himself?

As a side note :

I'm not a big fan of Stephen King's writing because of his tendency to overexplain to the point where what he's saying ceases to become interesting. He sucks out all the mystery and suspense, and I feel like I'm being talked down to.

THANK YOU for putting into words something I've been trying to express for years.

I've read nearly the entire body of King's work, although I read most of it as a teen. He was my first favorite author. Since then, I've moved on to a whole world of literature : DeLillo, Murakami, Pynchon, Barthleme, Bulgakov, Rushdie, Bolano, and yes, Mark Z. Danielevsky, Shirley Jackson, and Joe Hill. However, I've mostly kept up with King, reading his new novels and collections as they come out, usually as reprieves between more "serious" works. And what gets me every damn time is how such a smart writer can be so preoccupied with talking down to his audience.

I mean, you can tell he's smart. (Most of) his novels feature complex, well-drawn characters whose dialogue crackles off the page. And yet, he's never content to just allude to anything. When he wants to draw your attention to something, he draws a big, fat circle around it and says, "oh by the way, yes, this is important, and yes, I am totally referring to something I mentioned earlier in the story."

Like the way he'll include the characters' inner thoughts in the narration, often (in parentheses). This is the sort of thing I thought was cool as a teen that make me wince as a more-mature reader.

He totally doesn't need to do stuff like that! A novel (to my mind) is more enjoyable when the author lets the reader fill in some of the blanks. Makes you feel closer to the characters.

And I maintain that King talks down to his audience, because his short stories are WAY tighter and usually exclude these kind of shenanigans. They definitely give the impression of being written for a more-sophisticated audience.

I really wish he would write a novel the same way he writes his short stories. At this point in his career, there's really no need for him to appeal to a mass audience. He could totally go off the reservation if he wanted to and write something for the literary snobs. My only conjecture as to why he doesn't is that he simply doesn't want to. I think he's accustomed to the adulation that cones from having a mass audience.

Finally, I'll note that his son, Joe Hill seems to get this. His books seem to feature the same quality characters and psychological tautness of King's novels, only without the audience-pandering giveaways.
posted by evil otto at 1:12 PM on October 28, 2014 [2 favorites]


Huh. No mention of Misery so far? Because if you want to talk about casting making a Stephen King adaptation work or not...
posted by Navelgazer at 1:33 PM on October 28, 2014 [7 favorites]


In the introduction to Four Seasons (from which Stand By Me, Shawshank Redemption etc.) are drawn he describes himself as the "MacDonald's of literature." Which he is. The utterly perfect consumable. Why?

"The man in black fled across the desert and the Gunslinger followed."

It doesn't get more dense than that without a particle accelerator. He may be an imperfect artist, but he is an archetypically perfect craftsman.

(Un)fortunately, so was Kubrick.
posted by digitalprimate at 1:40 PM on October 28, 2014 [1 favorite]


Um, why is no one mentioning the greatest Stephen King adaptation of all time?
THE RUNNING MAN
posted by Saxon Kane at 1:43 PM on October 28, 2014 [3 favorites]


I have to say I thought the film The Shining was excellent. So rewatchable and reinterpretable (watch collative learning's the spatial implications of the film's layout to be at least mildly intrigued). The only thing I missed from the book was the knowledge that the hotel itself had taken over Jack --demonstrated so ably when he destroyed his own face with the roque mallet so that Danny would know who he was now dealing with. It made Jack a victim rather than a pawn, and showed where the focus of the true evil was. Jack was more like an incompetent henchman in the movie.

However, the mini-series hewed closer to that and was mostly weak and unwatchable, inmo. There's good and there's bad. The fact that the hotel itself didn't self-destruct in its impotent rage against a psychic child that would not embrace it was also a negative in the film; the ticking clock of the boiler was a much stronger thing in the book. Although again, not serviced well by the mini-series.
posted by umberto at 1:48 PM on October 28, 2014


Um, why is no one mentioning the greatest Stephen King adaptation of all time?

The Shining was great, but my vote goes to Christine.
posted by Rash at 1:56 PM on October 28, 2014 [2 favorites]


Saxon Kane: "THE RUNNING MAN"

That's another one where the story version is very different from the filmed version.
posted by Chrysostom at 2:03 PM on October 28, 2014 [2 favorites]


And speaking of his son, Joe Hill might find himself with the same problem. Horns was a fun book with an interesting conceit - the movie was an absolute dog.
posted by rtimmel at 2:14 PM on October 28, 2014


Case in point: Cronenberg's Dead Zone (with Martin Sheen and Christopher Walken).

We talked about the movie/tv dichotomy with the Shining - anyone other than me really enjoy the Dead Zone tv series? Not without its ups and downs, but overall I really enjoyed the actors and stories.
posted by phearlez at 8:13 PM on October 28, 2014


"Llyod, how's it shaking...say Llyod if you had a kid that can see ghosts and a wife like a fu$&ing hamster what would you do?"

Llyod: "Perhaps Mr. Grady could help"

Jack:"Ya Grady, maybe Danny seen him "
Lloyd "kids, can't..."
Jack. "Lloyd..."
posted by clavdivs at 8:19 PM on October 28, 2014


That's another one where the story version is very different from the filmed version.

And then things really went off the rails with Lawnmower Man.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:20 PM on October 28, 2014 [2 favorites]


Nicholson is really the weak link of the film. I think of him as an actor the same way John Wayne was an actor--variations of the same character/person. Just tell him which door to walk through!
posted by orrnyereg at 10:47 PM on October 28, 2014


Just popped by to say I love it when MeFi talks King and Kubrick. Always a good read.
posted by Theta States at 7:33 AM on October 29, 2014


I think the film was pretty intense. Also, it has one of the most unique teaser trailers ever made, with the elevator blood-flood. Seeing this in the theater a few months before the film came out was a real WTF?

I haven't read the book. My brother's view was that in the book, the ghosts and monsters are presented as real, the supernatural bogeyman under your bed really exists, a scary bed-time story. But in the film, you could interpret the supernatural phenomena as mere psychological hallucinations, and then the plot is even more potentially plausible, and even more disturbing in it's implications.
posted by ovvl at 5:50 PM on October 29, 2014 [1 favorite]


and then the plot is even more potentially plausible, and even more disturbing in it's implications.

I still maintain Wendy let Jack out of the cold storage in the movie. It fits the horrible logic of their abusive relationship where the more she says yes and helps him and gives in, the more he hates her for being weak.
posted by The Whelk at 6:02 PM on October 29, 2014 [2 favorites]


I still maintain Wendy let Jack out of the cold storage in the movie.

There was a scene earlier in the movie where she had trouble operating the latch on the storage room. I've always thought maybe he got out because the door wasn't latched properly to begin with.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 8:37 PM on October 29, 2014 [2 favorites]


And that's why I love the movie. So many ways to interpret things.
I thoroughly enjoyed Room 237 just because it highlighted all of the little things I hadn't noticed, even if the theories seem wildly removed from practical reality.

Soooo... differing thoughts about Jack in the photo at the end?
posted by Theta States at 9:50 AM on October 30, 2014


...You know, Jack in the photo at the end never really bothered me, largely because I think I first saw the movie as a somewhat unsophisticated early teenager, and thus just sort of accepted him being in the photo at the end without much thought ("oh, so I guess the hotel sort of ate his ghost"). It's only now that as a more logically-minded adult that I think that through and realize the contradictions in that, but it still doesn't really distract from things for me.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 11:06 AM on October 30, 2014


Theta... Reincarnation? Inevitability? The hotel absorbing Jack? The hotel spawning Jack to bring in more victims?
posted by Jacen at 12:58 PM on November 3, 2014


It means he's part of the hotel now, one of the spirits that in general makes it a miserable place. The photograph doesn't necessarily represent an actual event, or moment in time, so much as the unpleasant collection of miseries (bear-suit fellatio) that make the Overlook what it is.
posted by Ray Walston, Luck Dragon at 5:44 PM on November 3, 2014 [2 favorites]


I also recall a comment Nicholson makes in Stanley Kubrick: A Life in Pictures about the scene where Jack is throwing a tennis ball around in the big common room. He says that it was his idea for a way to show Jack losing his grip on reality, something about doing activities indoors that should normally be done outdoors.

The sound design in that scene is great too: not just a soft bounce, a big echoing impact that makes Jack's pitches sound powerful and destructive. (Also: repetitive, like the typewriter, like a heartbeat.)

(The other very memorable sound is the alternating rumble and silence in the tracking shot as Danny rides over wood floors and rugs. I always found it mesmerising.)
posted by We had a deal, Kyle at 5:48 PM on November 3, 2014 [1 favorite]


(The other very memorable sound is the alternating rumble and silence in the tracking shot as Danny rides over wood floors and rugs. I always found it mesmerising.)

This always freaked out my mom -- what sort of damage those plastic big-wheel tires were doing to that hard wood floor.
posted by Ray Walston, Luck Dragon at 6:03 PM on November 3, 2014 [2 favorites]


(The other very memorable sound is the alternating rumble and silence in the tracking shot yt as Danny rides over wood floors and rugs. I always found it mesmerising.)

My sister and I used to roller-skate up and down the long halls of the empty apartment in our house at that age. That scene was like a freaking flashback the first time I saw it.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 10:16 AM on November 4, 2014 [1 favorite]


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