Stephen King’s hatred of Stanley Kubrick’s astonishing film adaptation of The Shining is well documented. As such, Mike Flanagan had his work cut out when creating its sequel, Doctor Sleep.
Not only did he have to make a sequel to one of the greatest films of all time, but he also let it continue the rather different story presented in King’s original novel, and faithfully adapt its 2013 sequel, all without getting on the legendary author’s bad side or upsetting legions of Kubrick obsessives.
It might not have had the financial success Warner Bros. was hoping for, but as a film, it couldn’t have been a better sequel to both versions.
The most obvious difference between The Shining (in both forms- we can ignore King’s disastrous TV adaptation) and Doctor Sleep is sheer scale.
The Shining is confined almost exclusively to a lonely, claustrophobic hotel which is cut off from the world, leaving its three main characters with only each other for company.
As Stephen King very rarely creates sequels to his own work, it was no real surprise that the tone and feel of Doctor Sleep is incredibly different to that of its predecessor.
The story is packed with characters and spans a variety of locations, which Flanagan managed to capture in his big-budget big-screen retelling.
The ‘Shining’ as a concept is small-scale and specific in The Shining; in Doctor Sleep, it connects people from around the world. Some even feed on it.
King was able to use his distinctive tone of voice and many call-backs to The Shining to convince us that, no matter how different it felt, Doctor Sleep continued Danny’s story.
Despite the 1980 version of The Shining providing no set-up for such an expansive sequel, Flanagan went against all odds, and forged something that felt almost at home in Kubrick’s warped universe.
Doctor Sleep was perfectly cast
This was helped by some great casting choices.
Henry Thomas isn’t exactly a spitting image of Jack Torrance (though in fairness, whether he is supposed to be remains ambiguous), but Carl Lumbly was excellent as Dick Halloran, and Alex Essoe stole the show as Wendy.
One of the major discrepancies between King’s novel and Kubrick’s film was the portrayal of Danny’s caring mother.
In the film, she was, quite frankly, annoying.
The book-version of Wendy, however, was more independent, strong-willed and firmer with both Danny and Jack.
In Doctor Sleep, the Kubrickian version of Wendy is there visually, but the personality of King’s character can be found lurking beneath the trauma.
Even though her experiences at the Overlook have moulded her into something that retains her Kubrickian erraticism, Flanagan’s more middling Wendy is much more believable.
Much of Flanagan’s relatively free approach to characterisation comes down to his decision not to follow on from one specific ending to The Shining.
In King’s book, the ending is almost uplifting:
Jack dies quickly, Halloran survives and guides Wendy and Danny to safety, and he continues to look out for the pair as they move to Maryland.
Kubrick’s film is much darker.
Jack freezes to death, Halloran is killed as soon as he tries to help, and we see nothing of what comes of Wendy and Danny after their escape.
Doctor Sleep ambiguously allows itself to continue both stories.
Halloran is dead by the time Danny is in his forties, but we aren’t told whether this was down to Jack’s axe, or simply old age, while Wendy is also dead, but we don’t know if her lung cancer came on naturally, or as a result of the explosion that concluded King’s book.
The Overlook Hotel is impeccable in Doctor Sleep
Despite this, the most important thing Flanagan does is hang onto Kubrick’s impeccable vision of the Overlook.
He fills it with nods to the original film, tripling the spine-tingling tour of nostalgia that Ready Player One had teased the year before.
Many thought the references were too overt, but if Flanagan had tried to create a ‘new’ Overlook, he’d have basically been writing his own death sentence.
Plus, his decision also works on a canonical level.
We actually saw the grounds and the detail of Kubrick’s Overlook in The Shining; changes in aesthetic would be noticeable.
Technically, we never saw King’s Overlook. In theory, things like the elevator of blood and the hedge maze could have been there without being mentioned in the story, meaning Flanagan’s Overlook doesn’t necessarily cancel out King’s.
Now, I said I wouldn’t mention Stephen King’s ill-fated TV version of The Shining, but it becomes slightly relevant to Flanagan’s overall vision of Doctor Sleep.
Kubrick’s version of The Shining is doused in ambiguity; are the ghosts rea, or is everyone crazy?
King didn’t want that. He wanted us to wander the corridors of a real haunted house.
The Haunting Of Hill House showed Mike Flanagan’s potential
Read more: Doctor Sleep Review
As such, that’s exactly what his TV show did, and if you look beyond its poor quality, there are connections to Flanagan’s flagship show, The Haunting Of Hill House.
Doctor Sleep came after Flanagan’s horror masterpiece hit Netflix, and like most great directors, he has a lot of stylistic trademarks that thread through both works.
If he had attempted to replicate Kubrick’s filmmaking aesthetic, Doctor Sleep would have felt like cheap pastiche.
Bringing some of that Flanagan flair both allowed Doctor Sleep to feel like a personal, well-crafted film, while also leaning towards a style and approach King would have gone for should he have taken the reigns on The Shining instead of Kubrick (please God, no).
Adapting/continuing the work of two people often regarded as the greatest in their field meant that Mike Flanagan had to live up to some serious expectations.
The fact that he put out a film that wasn’t derided as an insult to the legacy of The Shining is impressive enough.
But his ability to turn Doctor Sleep into an incredible sequel to two separate works, while accurately adapting a modern-classic and creating a film that is brilliant in its own right is truly remarkable.
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