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Renowned director Stanley Kubrick was a master of his time, an auteur if you will, who drew his inspiration from various literary works. He approached controversial and timely topics with his own unique spin, which became a signature element of his films. Said films are considered timeless, and are still appreciated and closely studied to this day.
Due to Kubrick’s distinctive style, many writers would not appreciate his rendition of their novel. A prime example of this is The Shining, which Stephen King, despised. In an interview with Rolling Stone, King stated that, “The book is hot, and the movie is cold; the book ends in fire, and the movie in ice.” While an adaptation of a novel can leave out a lot of detail, and therefore generally be considered a ‘flop’, changes can also be taken advantage of. Kubrick did this by changing certain character developments and major plot lines of the original story. While the story was vastly different, Kubrick constructed his own version of the book, turning it into a cult classic that was wildly popular.
Kubrick cemented his auteur status through his adjustments of character portrayals, proving his desire to make the film his own. This can be seen in his approach to the three main characters; Danny, Wendy and Jack. In the book, Danny is portrayed as a very intelligent and socially invested child, with a particular attachment to his father. This relationship, however, is much more prevalent in the novel, which changed the end confrontation scene with his father. On page 428, chapter 55 he said, “You’re it, not my daddy. You’re the hotel. And when you get what you want you won’t give my daddy anything because you’re selfish.” After saying this Danny was able to bring his father to a moment of clarity, in which Jack was able to say good-bye. Film Danny never would have stood up to Jack this way. The book made Danny the catalyst to Jack’s madness, as the Overlook hotel was after Danny and his “shining” power. This was the reason for Jack’s attempt to kill his son, as the hotel was unable to. Whereas in the movie, Danny was very isolated and distant, barely ever spoke, and was scared for the entire film. It made him seem helpless, a victim instead of the essential character that he was.
Wendy became an entirely different piece in the elaborate chess game Kubrick developed. Where King made her the queen, Kubrick demoted her to the common pawn. The changing of her physical appearance directly correlated to her change in character. Instead of being the warm, beautiful, blonde she was in the book, Shelly Duval’s pale skin and dark features exemplified the horror genre of the film. The audience got the sense that she could be a target of something tragic. However, the differences were more than skin deep. In the film, Wendy played the common housewife role. As King said in an interview with BBC, “…she’s basically there to scream and be stupid and that’s not the woman I wrote about.” The woman King created was one who had to find what was best for her family. She was multi-dimensional, dealing with internal struggles of her own while balancing family needs. Her intentions were good, attempting to leave when she discovers what’s happening to Jack. Towards the end of the book she was bloody and broken from fighting off her husband, causing her immense mental distress and physical pain. In the book, she’s much more than a scream, whereas the movie leaves Wendy without so much a scratch. Kubrick makes her struggle less severe, effectively demeaning her purpose to the story.
The character differences of Jack Torrance, however, effected the end of the story the most. Right off the bat Jack was shown to be unstable in the movie. During his introduction to the Hotel, while Ullman (the film’s hotel manager) was telling Jack about the Overlook’s most recent tragedy, Jack was unfazed. He showed no sadness by the terrible end of Grady and his family, instead suggesting that Wendy would love to know with her affinity for horror. It is obvious that no sane man could just brush off the brutal and violent murder of an entire family, a key hint to Jack’s character. Throughout the film, there was no sympathy for Jack. He fell straight into the role of a deranged murderer, whereas in the book he struggled with figuring out what was best for his family. For the entire novel Jack believed he was doing what was best for them, but his turning point was when he threw away the magneto, the crucial part to the snowmobile. After a long internal debate that King summarises as “…trying to play solitaire with an ace missing,” (chp 33, pg 282), it was the hotel consuming Jack’s mind that made him decide their fates, which was to stay in the hotel for the winter. The book had Jack slowly drift into madness, as the hotel lured him in with promises of booze, promotions and power. The Overlook used Jack to get to Danny, as the spirits took over Jack’s body and turned him into an uncontrollable monster. Jack truly cared for his family, seen in chapter 55 page 428 where he said, “Doc, run away. Quick. And remember how much I love you.” In this brief moment Jack was able to push past the demons that were taking him over, relaying one final message to his son, whereas in the movie this self sacrifice is thrown away. The book goes into great detail over Jack working in the basement with the boiler, being the initial moment the hotel takes hold of him. The boiler is what lead to Jack’s demise, sending the Overlook into flames with him inside. In the movie, Jack does not even bother with the rickety machine; Wendy does. This caused the film to end with the claiming of yet another victim, while the Hotel carries on to tell the tale.
The major changes in the plot line divided both materials into incredibly different stories, made of the same cloth. The treatment of Danny’s shining power, and the hotel as its own entity are what drove the two renditions onto diverging roads. This calls back to King’s Fire vs Ice analogy, which perfectly described the tone of each piece.
The first alteration of Danny’s abilities to fit the film was found in his imaginary friend Tony. In the book Tony was a completely internalized fixture for Danny, as they only interacted with each other. Because of this, he became a confidant to Danny, rather than the security blanket the film makes him. Kubrick had Tony communicating with Wendy and Jack to save time and still get a similar message across. With Tony being able to talk, it disregarded Danny’s integrity. This made him seem like an unstable and unreliable character who would hide behind Tony to avoid reliving the visions he was shown. Kubrick began to touch on the topic of the shining, but completely threw it away after Dick Hallorann mentions it. And yet the novel used the concept to drive the story, with Dick stating, “You shine on, boy. Harder than anyone I ever met in my whole life,” (chp 11 pg 80). This allowed Danny to use his visions and ability to read people’s thoughts to grasp an understanding of what had been happening all these years. He was able to talk to his parents about what he was going through, as if he was much older than his five years claimed him to be. In the movie, Danny’s shine was more of a weakness than an incredible strength. It made Danny seem like a helpless, damaged and an unintelligent child when he was quite the opposite. The novel depicted him as very bright and determined, making sense of things way above a normal five year old’s comprehension level. In chapter 55, page 430 Danny cried at the monster who took over his father, “I know it! The boiler, Daddy forgot the boiler! And you forgot it too!” With his ESP Danny saved his mother’s, Dick’s and his own life because Tony/the shining told him he would remember something his dad forgot. He saved the day, allowing Danny and Wendy to start on their way to becoming who they are in the epilogue.
The Overlook, though it is the same location, is given two vastly different roles. In the film the hotel is the physical location, with a wicked past that begins to influence Jack. It did not take very long for Jack to submit to Grady’s idea of killing his wife and son. The spirit/hallucinations in the hotel tempt Jack with luxuries offered by the Overlook to those who stay. There was no hesitation in succumbing to the madness, nor was there any depth to what was going through his head. His descent into a psychotic break happened abruptly, which caused a jarring shift in the pace of the film, however the storyline picked up as Jack’s sole intent was to kill his own family. The novel made the hotel an entity of pure evil, with the demonic presence slowly infecting Jack through a scrapbook of the hotel’s history planted in the basement. With every story and journal entry he read, the further he fell into an uncontrollable hate. His insatiable desire to give Danny and Wendy “their medicine” drove many of his actions towards the end of the book. While the book and the film made the Hotel different in the story, both encompassed the antagonist role that it played.
Both movie and book proved to be successful in their own right. Kubrick and King are both experts in their own fields, which is something that is highlighted in their work. Kubrick chose to focus, similar to most of his collection, on the isolation and the cold aspects of King’s novel. He cuts off the warmth of the story, creating an inaccessible character that as an audience we can do nothing but sit back and watch. With King’s version we grow attached to the characters and there is where the suspense lies, as we wait to find their ultimate fate. While the film comes from the novel, both can exist as their own works.
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