Stanley Kubrick’s ‘The Shining’: The Book is Always Better

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The Shining has always been a staple October film, but here’s why you should spend Halloween with King instead of Kubrick.

An infamous media tragedy that always seems to jump out during horror movie nights is how Stephen King hated the adaptation of his iconic horror book, The Shining

Disagreements between himself and Stanley Kubrick, the director, ranged from the spirits of the Overlook Hotel to the characters. 

As someone who’s read the book and seen the movie and now thinks that she’s an expert, I firmly believe that Kubrick completely destroyed what could have been a horrifying masterpiece. 

So this article is going to be an absolute rant about why Kubrick deserved the Razzie nomination for “Worst Director”, in consequence for mutilating a film that had the potential to shake an audience to its core. 

First, I’d like to completely contradict myself and say that I love The Shining. I love the book, and I love the film, even with all of its shortcomings. 

You can’t deny that the cinematography, chilling music and sound production aren’t completely iconic, and so I won’t attempt to. 

As well as this, Jack Nicholson seems to be suspiciously good at playing madmen, and there has never been a time that I’ve watched the film and not gotten nervous as he follows the baseball-bat-wielding Shelley Duval up the stairs in the Overlook lobby. 

In contrast, Shelley Duval’s portrayal of Wendy Torrance was not one that was praised. Stephen King described the film’s Wendy as “one of the most misogynistic characters ever put on film.” 

This is coming from the man who compared unattractive female characters to animals and hyper-sexualised attractive, underaged female characters in his book, Carrie. He’s the feminist in this situation. But I can’t disagree with him. 

His version of Wendy wasn’t just a wife and mother, she had an English degree, she was terrified of becoming her mother, she whacks her possessed husband in the head with a bottle and stabs him in the back. King’s Wendy is a fighter, a survivor, as well as a caring and concerned wife and mother. 

Kubrick’s Wendy is a completely different story. She doesn’t seem to have any sort of emotion other than pure, raw fear, which would have been effective in some scenes, but all she seems to be is a screaming sound effect. 

That’s not Duval’s fault to any extent. It’s not like she had any sort of say over anything on set, where she was mistreated constantly. 

The famous baseball bat scene that I referred to earlier was filmed 127 times, which explains why Wendy looks so exhausted and afraid as she slowly climbs away from her psychotic husband. 

Kubrick deliberately isolated Duval and overworked her in order to get the best performance out of her, which led to clumps of her hair falling out due to stress. We could see how well Kubrick’s plan worked when Duval was nominated for a Razzie for worst actress. 

If you’re a fan of The Shining, then you probably already knew that. You probably get that guilty feeling that you’re being entertained by Duval’s pain as you try to enjoy the film. 

Image Credit: New Scientist

It’s awful trying to watch it knowing all that happened to Shelley Duval, and if you’re like me, then you probably hate Stanley Kubrick for it. 

But one of his wrongdoings (other than, you know, the straight up psychological abuse) is his destroying of Jack Torrance. If Jack Nicholson’s character was a piece of vintage furniture, Stanley Kubrick was a minimalist home influencer with a bucket of white paint.

Stephen King’s Jack is ambiguous. Well, until he breaks his toddler’s arm for accidentally ruining his paperwork during the beginning of the book. 

But we get to see the incident from his perspective, his futile justification of his actions, and his recognition that what he did was wrong. He loves his son and wife like any family man does, despite his clear incompetence at dealing with his anger, leading to violent outbursts. 

These rare but horrific actions are what helps us, the reader, watch his descent into madness at the hands of the Overlook. 

We watch his quiet anger towards Wendy and Danny slowly spiral into pure, white-hot rage, as the ghosts of the Overlook convince him to assert his dominance over his family, come hell or high-water. 

Kubrick’s Jack is an angry, violent man with a short fuse. He doesn’t seem to have any sort of love for his wife and son, and he doesn’t really need to assert his dominance. Danny and Wendy are clearly terrified of him. 

We don’t see his descent into madness or his character becoming corrupted, because he’s already an awful person. 

This lack of development is one of the biggest shortcomings of the film, because if conflicting emotions about Jack are replaced by a feeling that he deserves what he gets, then The Shining loses its sense of despair. 

It simply becomes a quick thrill about a deranged man trying and failing to kill people in an aesthetically pleasing hotel.

Watch The Shining for the cinematography, but don’t expect to become invested in it. 

The book provides a family of characters that you can root for, a glimpse of sympathy for a psychotic, possessed man, and a woman who escapes the hands of said man with not only fear, but strength, determination, and the ability to hit a psycho in the head with a glass bottle. 

If it weren’t for Stanley Kubrick, we could have seen that on screen against the backdrop of those really cool iconic carpets. But instead, we have to imagine the combination of the two by enjoying both pieces of media separately, which in all honesty, isn’t such a bad deal.

I stand by my feelings about Stanley Kubrick, but the film itself is still popular for a reason. It just isn’t very deep. 

But if you want a film about what seems to be a random man chasing strangers around a hotel, then I would absolutely recommend watching The Shining

If you want to know why he’s chasing them, then I would recommend reading it.

Featured Image Credit: Towards Data Science

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1st year politics and journalism student.

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