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Page to Screen: The Shining

Updated on July 24, 2015


This page deliberately only discusses the adaption and how the story changes. I have no real experience in studying the conspiracy theories and that really isn't my thing. As for other overarching theories or meanings, I will likely touch upon but won't go into great depth; I may amend that in the future, but it would be in a separate post.

Movie Poster for The Shining


The Film

Stanley Kubrick's adaptation of The Shining in 1980 is well-known for two very important and almost incompatible things for an adaption movie: it largely deviates from its source material in some of its most important pieces, and yet it's largely regarded as a fantastic horror film, potentially one of the best films of all time. Theories and mysteries about the film abound to this day with little to no answer, covering topics of Jack's appearance in a portrait 60 years earlier, the director Kubrick secretly winking to the world that he helped fake the moon landing, and whether or not the author enjoys or hates the film (perhaps both as Stephen King has said the film has failed as an adaptation and it makes him angry thinking about it, but admits at the same time that it's a highly unsettling cinematic piece).

The film largely abandons the very pivotal supernatural forces focused on in the book and instead chooses to explain things with mental illness and psychological duress from being held up in isolation in a cabin up in the mountains during the winter months. As a result of things, some things go unexplained in the cinematic adaptation and some have criticized that the plot is hidden somewhere in the film but isn't easily apparent.

The Book

Written by Stephen King in 1977, it was the household name horror author's third published novel. It featured a family of three with a writer father (as in many of King's works) named Jack Torrence who's made a series of bad choices laced with bad luck. Trying to find another break with a play he was writing, he agrees to commit himself and his family to take care of a hotel isolated in the mountains during the winter in order to finish his play and continue to support his family. His wife is an overly afraid and suspicious woman who struggles to forgive her husband for his past of alcoholism and an incident where Jack broke his son, Danny's, arm. Danny himself has a gift called the Shine, an unconscious ability that greatly resembles precognition and an awareness of things that other people simply can't perceive.

However, it's the hotel, its history, and unearthly residents that soon proves this venture to be poorly planned as it slowly begins to torture those staying there with specters of those who died or were murdered at the hotel, moving animal topiaries, and more.

Book Cover for The Shining


The Adaptation

To be honest, large sections, themes, and quotes are disregarded from the book, often being replaced either with the film script or improvisation (such as jack Nicholson's cry of 'Here's Johnny!' which he shouted out of the thrill of the moment). I plan on discussing the biggest changes, as the full extent of how the two works differ could fill a professional report.

Jack Torrance's Breakdown
This is largely the focus of the most drastic change from the original story to that that's experienced in the film. Played by Jack Nicholson, the main character Jack Torrance's character is further explain by what changes him.

In the book, the hotel, or rather the location of the hotel, is possessed by some kind of unidentifiable evil. It is this evil that slowly tempts and confuses Jack, causing every minor stress and issue to be amplified, especially his recovery from alcoholism. Jack is essentially swindled into becoming a tool for the hotel, before finally becoming host to it. However, it's in his last moments that Jack attempts to fight back to give his son Danny a chance to escape. When this moment passes, the possessing hotel finally kills Jack via bashing his own face in with a croquet mallet (which replaces the axe in the film).

In the film, it's implications are far different. While strange things seem to happen at the hotel, there's no clear explanation for it. Instead, we have Danny's Shining (which also isn't explained but is more or less rationalized as 'being able to see dead people and other things') and the report that Grady, Jack's predecessor, went mad from cabin fever. With little reason to believe that supernatural events are causing Jack's madness over an already explained example of cabin fever, first time audience members will assume a clinically designated impairment, rather than that ghosts or spirits.

In the movie, Jack has no moment of redemption unlike his original counterpart. The author was especially displeased with this, likely due to the fact of writing much of himself into the character (as both are, obviously, writers and Mr. King was attempting to put his alcoholism behind him).

The film seems to take the idea of Tony and reshape it completely different, only keeping the fact that Tony shows Danny things, which more or less turn out to be fairly accurate predictions of the future. However, even with the lack of information about Tony in the film, his presence in the story is a bit more understandable.

In the film, Tony appears to be some kind of alternate personality for Danny, possibly created in order to protect the six year old. In a feature unique to the film, Danny claims that Tony lives inside Danny's mouth, making them almost a symbiotic relationship. On another hand, doctors claim that Tony is just an imaginary friend, which viewers have come to understand as haunting spirit in horror movie terms. There's no clear answer we're given but Tony's purpose in the film is incredibly vague and its high point is simply squealing 'REDRUM' when we all discover what red rum really is (spoiler, it's murder backwards).

Tony in the book is far more mysterious. He's a figure that stands afar from Danny and shows him visions, hinted at preparing the boy for something. It's only near the end of the book that Tony properly reveals himself to Danny, resembling an older version of the young boy. The implications suggest that Tony is an older version of Danny, perhaps speaking from the future (although nowhere else in the book even begins to suggest time-defying messages) or a defensive persona created out of Danny's Shine. If the latter, Tony appears out of the blue at random times (meaning the Shine ability is practically self-aware) and has enough autonomy to engage in conversation with Danny. If the former, since Danny's Shine is said to be by far the best Holloran has ever witnessed, it could stand to reason that Danny creates a loop of warning his younger self...but then again, no evidence to really support this theory.

The film's version of Tony feels a little tacked on, only staying around to add another touch of eerie elements but remaining unexplained (actually, a lot of the film remains that way).

Dick Holloran

This character was quite faithfully adapted, until they killed him at his own 2 minutes of screen time. Really not much else to say. He's not that involved in the book either, save to serve as reliable transportation towards the end.

The Ending
In the film, Jack has degraded down to a single-minded beastly thing with only murder on his mind. It's this that causes him to get lost while hunting in a maze, only likely to freeze to death (I say this because his body vanishes before anyone can find it and suddenly he's in a portrait way before his time). It's this ending that creates so much ambiguity. Was it really cabin fever, or was there some supernatural force causing Jack to see things that weren't there and prompting him to attack his family? And why Jack? There are clues that Jack was originally with the hotel before (spoken by the 'ghosts' and the portrait) but what would that implicate?

The book is much more clear cut. Jack didn't dump the boiler which keeps the heat in the hotel without blowing everything up. This causes the monster possessing him to double-back and attempt to save the hotel, only to fail and to go along with it.

Trailer for The Shining

Closing Thoughts

It's difficult to really categorize this adaptation. They're incredibly different, yet at the same time they have more than the same roots. Did Kubrick's re-imagining of the story for cinematic presentation succeed as an adaptation? Well, yes, and no. Kubrick too something and molded it into something similar but very different in visual presentation. It's impossible to say if it improved upon the original design or not since it is so very different. Still, one can definitely experience both mediums of this story and come back feeling as if they've been told two different tales, and the truth is, I think that's as close to the truth as one can get. It's all so very subtle and yet clearly experienced. One thing is definitely for sure, King's novel is conclusive and gives you undeniable answers; Kubrick's has caused unending conflict over its ambiguity.

Book vs Movie

For those of you who read the book and watched the movie, what did you prefer?

See results

Further Reading

You can read more Page to Screen adaptation commentaries if you click here.


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