DOCTOR SLEEP: Shining a Light on a King Sequel

DOCTOR SLEEP (2019) didn’t get much attention when it came out. People knew it was the sequel to the classic THE SHINING (1980) but not much else was known about it. It was not heavily advertised, and it fell through the cracks. Ewan McGregor put in another solid performance and Rebecca Ferguson was an excellent villain. The real standout for me though was writer/director Mike Flanagan. He may not be Stanley Kubrick, but there is some real genius behind DOCTOR SLEEP and it should not be viewed as a simple sequel.

Even though THE SHINING is considered a classic, it seems that its biggest critic has been Stephen King. His book came out in 1977 to rave reviews. It was only his third published book. Now he has published over 60 novels, but he was just beginning his raging success in the late seventies. He tends to like most movies based on his novels and short stories, but The Shining is the notorious exception.

DOCTOR SLEEP directed by Mike Flanagan.

In 2013, Stephen King published Doctor Sleep. He claims that whenever people asked him what happened to Danny Torrance after the events of THE SHINING, he didn’t give it much thought. Over time though, he wondered if a story was there. Thus came the events of Doctor Sleep.

Mike Flanagan’s film is rare. This film isn’t just a sequel to an old classic. That doesn’t happen much, but it was just accomplished two years previously with Denis Villeneuve’s BLADE RUNNER 2049 (2017). DOCTOR SLEEP is a sequel to the 1980 Kubrick film, but Flanagan wanted to honor Stephen King’s original vision as well. He took the only complaints against the original movie and turned it into a strength of the new film. Here’s how. Please note: there are spoilers for both films and both books below.

What King didn’t like about Kubrick’s film was two main things. The film character of Jack Torrance, played by Jack Nicholson, was a man on the brink of insanity. He starts to slip into madness while at the Overlook Hotel and then tries to kill his wife and child. The film is ambiguous as to whether Jack is seeing these ghosts for real or only in his madness. In the book, most of Jack’s problems revolve around his alcoholism. The Overlook Hotel is pure evil and uses its supernatural power to lead Jack further into alcoholism. This way, the Overlook can possess Jack and use him to kill off Danny. Danny has powers the Overlook wants and it believes Jack is the way to gain these powers.

King didn’t like Jack succumbing so easily to the madness. Also, the whole supernatural element is downplayed in the movie. King wanted Jack’s alcoholism and the Overlook’s supernatural powers to stand out more. King was in alcohol’s firm grip during the writing of The Shining. He wasn’t able to break its power over him for years to come. The book was too personal for him and changing these elements was a disappointment.  

Before we see the genius of what Flanagan did, you must know the endings to the two books. THE SHINING ends with Jack turning the boiler up the whole way while he was still barely himself. The Overlook was taking over but he is able to defeat it before it knows what is happening. The boiler takes its time, but eventually, the hotel explodes in a fiery blast taking Jack along with it. Danny and Wendy escape and are saved by Dick Halloran. The movie ends with Jack and Wendy escaping in the maze with Jack freezing to death. This takes place after Jack kills Dick Halloran.

King’s Doctor Sleep ends at the site where the Overlook was built. The building is completely gone, but the spirits are not. Jack’s spirit makes an appearance and so does all the familiar ghouls. Dan Torrance uses this to help defeat Rose the Hat. Dan lives and continues to mentor Abra Stone.

Here’s where Flanagan comes in. He combines the elements of both movies and ends his movie more in the way the first book ended. It was the perfect ending in my opinion. He honored both Kubrick’s film and both of King’s books. That is incredibly hard to do.

When it comes to the difference between books and movies, people will generally say, “The movie was okay. It wasn’t anything like the book.” That’s like comparing a statue and a water color which are both depicting the image of a man. Of course they look nothing alike, they’re two different mediums! Books can do things movies cannot. But the same goes both ways. There is no cinematography in books. There is no acting in books. Books have their own charm, but movies do too. I’m not here to say which one is better, both have the potential to take you to different worlds.

The truth is, I really like THE SHINING and DOCTOR SLEEP. I like both movies and I like both books. All of them are worth your time. They are all very similar but each one has something in it the others don’t. As to which one is better, I’ll let you decide.

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