Why Stephen King's complaints about The Shining actually have a point

Illustration for article titled Why Stephen King's complaints about The Shining actually have a point

Stephen King has made no secret of his dislike for Stanley Kubrick's acclaimed film adaptation of his novel The Shining, and this is usually seen as evidence that King is a control freak who can't appreciate Kubrick's genius. But a brilliant new essay by Laura Miller argues that King actually has a point.


In Miller's reading of King's novel, Jack Torrance's descent into alcoholic brutality is a tragedy — and you're supposed to see him as a "nebbishy writer" who is battling to stay sober and decent, only to become a monster due to his desire to be extraordinary. Torrance doesn't start out as a monster, and in fact he "could be you." Whereas, in Kubrick's film, Jack Nicholson plays Torrance as "too crazy" (in King's view) from the beginning. And the role of alcohol in Torrance's disintegration is downplayed.

Adds Miller:

King is, essentially, a novelist of morality. The decisions his characters make — whether it’s to confront a pack of vampires or to break 10 years of sobriety — are what matter to him. But in Kubrick’s “The Shining,” the characters are largely in the grip of forces beyond their control. It’s a film in which domestic violence occurs, while King’s novel is about domestic violence as a choice certain men make when they refuse to abandon a delusional, defensive entitlement. As King sees it, Kubrick treats his characters like “insects” because the director doesn’t really consider them capable of shaping their own fates. Everything they do is subordinate to an overweening, irresistible force, which is Kubrick’s highly developed aesthetic; they are its slaves. In King’s “The Shining,” the monster is Jack. In Kubrick’s, the monster is Kubrick.

The whole essay is well worth reading, and obsessing about afterwards. [Salon]


Jason Shankel

Bottom line for me is that The Shining is a better movie than it is a book. I liked the book, it was okay, but it didn't fill me with the same visceral dread that the film did. And it was nowhere near as rich, thematically.

Had Kubrick's movie came first and King penned a novelization, I doubt anyone would suggest that the film should have been more like the book.