Over my Christmas Vacation, I watched lots and lots of movies. I watched a good mix of yearly Christmas must-sees (Christmas Vacation, The Holiday, It’s a Wonderful Life, Ernest Saves Christmas, and the list goes on), award nominees (Silver Linings Playbook, Les Mis, Django, Amour), with many first-see-but-not-necessarily-new movies rounding out the binge (Corridors of Blood, The Match Factory Girl, Eating Raoul, My Life as a Dog).
By the time school started, I was a bit burned out on my movie binge, and I was finally in the mood to read again (the first time I’ve really wanted to read more than one book in a period of six months since grad school ended in 2009). So this year I’ve finished 3 books and am past the halfway point of book 4. But, unlike my film viewing which is often varied, there’s one very strong connection of all 4 books: They’re all books written by Stephen King. So, as part of Flim Flam Film Talk, I’ll now sometimes discuss my thoughts on the books I’m reading. This entry will not be too far off the original viewpoint of Flim Flam, as I’m discussing both a film and a book.
The Shining: I’m putting this one first for a few reasons. It wasn’t the first of his books I finished this year, but it was the one I finished both the fastest and the slowest. How?? Magic?? No, more like my previous book-reading resistance, paired with my new book-reading delight, merged and I finally finished a book I started–wait for it—in 2010. I had reached the part where Jack was going through his own binge (lots of alcohol), partying it up with some old-time ghosts, and enjoying some spooky chats with the bartender and Grady. It was just about time for Halloran to arrive. I didn’t have, I’d say, more than 150 pages to go, but for some reason (I’ll continue to blame grad school) I stopped, and didn’t decide to finish it until this year.
Typically, if it’s been more than a year since I’ve started a book (which is a rare case anyway) I will begin again from page 1. But I remembered enough of the narrative, and when I picked up the book and began reading from where I’d stopped years ago, it felt “right,” so I felt very justified in completing the book without starting over.
Another reason I picked this one first is the continuing debate over whether King’s original vision or Kubrick’s film is the best version. I’ll offer my brief comparison of some key points, but note that from here until the end of this post, there are likely to be spoilers.
Round 1: Jack
In King’s book, much more of Jack’s past is revealed, including his own abusive past, and his struggle with alcoholism. It seems that when Jack enters the hotel, he knows this is either the building that will free him from his past, or the one that will complete his transformation into his father. I can imagine his colleagues would view him as smart but troubled, but they didn’t notice the trouble immediately. It takes time for most to realize Jack isn’t all right.
In Kubrick’s film, Jack seems pretty creepy from the beginning. That he is troubled is never in question. But casting Jack Nicholson probably didn’t help create a more subtle interpretation of the character.
Winner of Round 1: I appreciate both characters in both mediums. King’s Jack works because the audience is allowed to see his darkness slowly consume him over hundreds of pages.
Kubrick’s Jack works for a film version, and I can’t imagine anyone but Nicholson playing him in a film, a medium where we have to get a bad feeling about Jack early on, and he can’t take too much time in going off the deep end. (and while I’ve never seen the more recent mini-series, I think Steven Weber corresponds more with King’s Jack, and he certainly has more time to develop, just as he did in the novel.)
Round 2: The Backstory
Again, as King is writing a longer novel, he has time to develop a backstory that Kubrick can only hint at at times. Wasp’s nests, Halloran’s life, a scrapbook, and settling into the hotel prior to the snow are all developed more in the book, and some of these things are only featured there.
Winner of Round 2: Again, this has to be a tie. Since King is given more time to develop the story, he uses it wisely. But I feel that Kubrick did his share to let the audience know there was a long history to both the Torrance family’s troubles and the hauntingly eerie story of the hotel. I don’t think anyone who watched his version of the film assumed that everything coincidentally just happened that one winter.
Round 3: The Haunting and Fall of The Overlook
There are a lot of similarities between the haunting activity shown in the film and book (the creepy lady in the mysterious room, the ghosts Jack converses with). But who knew that use of shrubbery would be the point I’d like to discuss.
In Kubrick’s film, it is the plant-covered maze that is used to create a feeling of fear (who didn’t get major chills when the miniature version of the maze is revealed to have a miniature Danny and Wendy happily exploring its twists and turns??), and it serves as Jack’s final undoing in one of my favorite film endings. Injured, and now raving mad, Jack attempts to find Danny in the maze, its footpaths now covered in layers of snow and ice. Danny realizes Jack can easily follow his footsteps, so he tricks him by backtracking, causing Jack to get lost, and ending in a close-up of Jack’s frozen, yet still maniacal face.
In King’s book, the star shrubbery is a series of hedges and bushes carved out to create a plant menagerie. The hedge animals end up coming to life (or do they??) and the animated creatures are used to scare both readers and characters. Jack is not gobbled up by one of the creatures, though. Instead of dying in the frozen maze, Jack is engulfed in a fiery explosion, one that demolishes the hotel.
Round 3: Man oh man. Judging these endings, to me, is again like judging apples and oranges. Both are so good but so different. I think Kubrick’s supplies the viewer with a (pun inevitable) chilling image. And, it’s fitting that Jack’s face is one of the last to be seen (both in the frozen maze and, back in the Overlook, his beaming face is seen in one of the pictures). Such a great ending!
But King’s version makes so much sense, and leaves me feeling better. In Kubrick’s version, it’s as if Jack gets some great life after death, now taking his place as one of the Grady’s of the hotel. It also suggests that the hotel will continue to claim lives. In King’s version, there is great resolution, as Jack is destroyed with the hotel that destroyed him, and there is more of a chance for hope, something that the reader needs to feel after experiencing the sadness and pain of Jack’s life and the hotel.
Round 4: Halloran
Don’t get me wrong, there are differences found in Danny and Wendy, but I have got to talk about Halloran! When I was a wee little lass, Halloran was my favorite person ever. No joke. I loved his character for many reasons, and every time I watched the film I secretly hoped the one difference would be Halloran’s fate. I think I was a pretty perceptive child, and I remember feeling outrage when watching Halloran get axed by Jack. It wasn’t just that he was my favorite character who died a particularly brutal death. I mean, I didn’t have a problem watching Old Yeller or A Nightmare on Elm Street 3 (ok, ok, these upset me, but I mostly accepted the fates of Yeller and Nancy, and I certainly saw them coming). I just never understood why Halloran was such a major presence early in the film when the Overlook was not yet closed, briefly shown having a “shining” moment when he realized he had to save Danny and Wendy, and then, after trekking from his warm Florida hotel room to the snowed in Colorado hotel, he spends about ten seconds in the building before Jack kills him.
What??!!??!! Why even bother bringing him back, if he does absolutely nothing more than distract Jack for ten seconds??
So, you can imagine the anger that swelled in me as I read the novel. Halloran’s storyline is much more prevalent. His connection to Danny, and the connection between all people
with the shining is given more acknowledgment. His past is developed. And his character is a larger part of King’s world. (As many King fans know, most of his novels have some connection, and Halloran is a key part in a backstory presented in the novel It.) The more time King developed Halloran’s story, the angrier I got. Sure, the death of Halloran in Kubrick’s version was bad, but now that I was really investing in his character, I was dreading his death even more.
When his character reaches the Overlook (a more arduous, and ultimately richer journey than the one shown in the film), and Jack attacks him (though it wasn’t with an ax), I was devastated. It was as if I was learning of his death for the first time, except worse since the character was no longer just a groovy cat in a small cast, but a key character who felt like a friend.
So, my friends, you can only imagine my surprise and extreme delight when it is revealed that Jack’s attack did not result in Halloran’s death. In King’s novel, Halloran lives. He lives!! And he remains a part of Danny and Wendy’s life long after the ashes of Jack and the Overlook are gone (at least, this is my knowledge of the events as of this writing. Who knows if any new information on Halloran will surface in Dr. Sleep.—And if King himself were writing this blog, his answer would be, “The Shadow knows.”)
So, in this round, the winner is clearly Stephen King. The winner is books. The winner, my friends, is Dick Halloran.