The Shining : Part One
Yeah, I know. You’re thinking “He’s doing a review on The Shining???“ I mean, is that really necessary? No. But this isn’t really going to be a proper review anyhow. It’s more of an examination… a set up.
It was a couple of years ago at Cinema Wasteland when the thought really occurred to me. I was in the bar, sitting at a table with a group of friends. I’ve been discussing my difficulties with the Dark Tower… I really only enjoy the middle couple of books, which then get interrupted by a flashback which I’m not into at all… It’s a mess for me. Nevertheless, because in a lot of ways, it’s the binding material that connects the Stephen King universe, I felt like I had to get through it. This led to a brief discussion on the movie, and my friend Shrew, a massive King fan, was adamant that the books are always better than the films. We went through and talked about favorite books, and then favorite movies. Then I pose the question; which do you like better? The film or the book of The Shining? That stopped him dead in his tracks. You could see the cogs turning in his brain as a smile started to curl at the corner of his mouth. It’s an unfair question I realized, because unlike any of kings other work, The Shining is a unique example of filmmaking That transcends but doesn’t eclipse its source material. Indeed, I think you could regard each has their own separate entity. Not merely a multi-verse divergence or a medium translation, but fully formed individual entities, separate from each other yet bearing the same name.
To be fair, they share a lot of the same names. Jack Torrance. Danny. Wendy Torrance. But are they the same characters?
Maddie and I are still talking about Spider-Man No Way Home. She is in an MCU phase right now, and before going to see the most recent Spider-Man movie, we went back and we watched homecoming and far from home as well. These new MCU films have a lot of characters with the same names as characters in the Spider-Man comics. But Zendaya is Michelle is not Mary Jane Watson. The producers them selves even made this clear. While we’re calling her MJ, this is not the same character. Nor is Peter‘s friend Ned, or his nemesis flash. Indeed, it’s my one big beef with the Tom Holland Spider-Man films. I wish they had just given all of these characters original names… Because they’re original characters. Seriously, I still bristle every time Peter calls Michelle “M.J.“. Ned’s derivative, but the cast itself is pretty interesting, and have they been given original names, you might see them eventually translate into the comics. That’s never going to happen now.
But just like these characters in Spider-Man share the names with those in the comics, but not their faces of the personality… The same is true in The Shining. Stephen King described Jack Torrance as a pretty normal guy, going through a bad time he goes crazy. He’s description of Jack Nicholson‘s Torrance though, he’s a guy who’s already unbalanced and a little crazy who goes completely around the Bend. Likewise, Wendy Torrance in Kings mind was a sort of athletic cheerleader type. Pretty and outgoing, but sheltered. Naïve. The kind of woman who has never really had to face any kind of adversity. While I didn’t necessarily read that same sort of trophy wife status in the book, Wendy did strike me as strong and intellectual. Likely someone with higher education, someone who is not easily spooked, but rather a very rational kind of girl. Either way whichever us you listen to you’ll find it a stark contrast to the neurotic, chain-smoking twig we see in the film. Shelley Duvall is a mess already, and there’s no bravery in her. She is a flighty Hufflepuff, not a Gryffindor. Even the hotel itself is different. While the Overlook is absolutely a grand old hotel in both incarnations, the Overlook in the book is darker. The pipes rattle, and that boiler is ready to blow at any time, just waiting to give us a traditional Stephen King ending where he writes himself into a corner and then just blows everything up.
The outside is different as well. That iconic hedge maze that everybody knows from the movie, isn’t present in the book. Instead, it’s replaced by a roque Court, something like an oversize croquet game. Indeed, it’s a roque mallet that Jack carries through the house, ready to bludgeon Wendy, but not so much to chop her up as in the movie. It again underscores the fact that the book house itself may well be more dangerous than Jack. There are also hedge animals. Amazing topiaries, littering the front yard. And these are sinister things, moving only were not observed, like the weeping angels from Doctor Who.
So when I look at these foundational underpinnings being so different between the book and the film it’s only natural that it’ll progress in a different way. There are different hauntings, different survivors and different threats. For instance, while the lady in the bath is pretty shocking, even after grabbing Danny a bit, I’m never entirely convinced that the ghosts in the hotel can really hurt you. That’s why they need Jack, stocking the halls with an axe. In the book however, I am absolutely convinced that these things will kill you dead. I am convinced that Jack will be torn apart by the topiaries in the yard if he doesn’t escape. I am positive that while it’s a double entendre, the dog man threatening Danny, will indeed eat him up as a bloody snack if Danny dares to trespass down the wrong hall. The snake that the fire hose turns into… It’s full of venom and those teeth are needle sharp. There’s more monsters in the hotel in the book, whereas the film leans far more heavily on specters. And why not? Film is a visual medium, whereas pros is the theater of the mind.
At the end of the day, the end result is two entities so distinct that their night and day. And in a fascinating turn of events, the film is not better than the book. But the book is also not better than the film. They are each their own distinct pleasures, holding within them their own unique delights in tears. I can read the book or watch the movie and still come always satisfied but in different ways. Which one I reach for on any given day depends greatly on exactly what sort of itch I’m attempting to scratch.
That’s a fascinating thing to me about The Shining. I can think of no other film that is so divergent from its source material while being absolutely as valid and effective. But it then poses its own unique dilemma when it comes time for the next movie. What do you make the sequel to? The book? Or the film?
We’ll talk more about that tomorrow.