King v. Kubrick: Who Did THE SHINING Better?

Welcome back to the Drunk on Writing Scripts! Today we’re going to talk the 1977 release The Shining and its exquisite 1980 film adaptation directed by Stanley Kubrick. Plus, I’ll offer my perspective on Tröeg’s Blizzard of Hops. Hopefully you can guess why I figured that beer appropriate for today.

The Plot

Compared to Carrie and 'Salem’s Lot, the plot of The Shining is a little more difficult to describe. Ostensibly, on the surface level, it’s about a caretaker, Jack, looking after a Colorado Rockies hotel during the winter months.

And who slowly loses his mind and then tries to kill his family.

The reasoning for him losing his mind is where it gets difficult. A lot of it dwells in the fact Jack is an alcoholic, and though he’s in recovery, he’s still very weak and still very addicted. So, in the book, at least in my opinion, it’s fairly clear the hotel itself, the Overlook Hotel, maybe building on what King established in 'Salem’s Lot, has taken on a persona of its own and manipulates Jack until he breaks.

But there’s also a few get-out-of-jail-free-cards. There’re a few mentions of cabin fever, for instance. And in the establishing section, which we’ll talk more about in just a minute, we’re basically told exactly how the book will end, with the blame fully on cabin fever. Let me quote here:

‘[Cabin fever is] a slang term for the claustrophobic reaction that can occur when people are shut in together over long periods of time. The feeling of claustrophobia is externalized as dislike for the people you happen to be shut in with. In extreme cases it can result in hallucinations and violence—murder has been done over such minor things as a burned meal or an argument about whose turn it is to do the dishes.’

Or, as in the case of Jack Torrance and his family, murder slash attempted murder is done in the face of jealousy. Jealousy of his son, that is—whom the hotel wants for its own purposes.

And in the movie, we get a few other possibilities. An “Indian burial ground,” most notably, complete with what seems to be endless Native American decorative touches and homages. But the film, just like the book, refuses to offer a concrete answer—a move that surely strengthens them more than anything in the same way Lost would eventually play with viewers’ expectations years later.

Whatever the macguffin, all you need to know is Jack gets played, and his family gets screwed. To different extents, granted, as the book is far less friendly to Wendy, Jack’s wife, and their son Danny, but I’m not exactly sure how open 1980 moviegoers would’ve been to watching Jack Nicholson beat Shelley Duvall with a roque mallet.

Yeah—if you think the movie’s messed up? Chances are you definitely haven’t read...

The Book

I mentioned before that I wasn’t really digging this book. And that was true. At least for the first half.

Because the first 150 to 200 pages are just a slog to get through. It’s nothing but exposition, setup and foreshadowing for what comes in the second half, where the writing and the narrative truly… shines.

Dang, that was totally not on purpose.

Eh, I’m going to roll with it.

Really, the first half of the book reads like a confession, like Stephen King, who’s admitted to his alcohol problem, is detailing the highs and lows of his addiction and coming to terms with who he was, who he is and who he wants to be.

And all that, though a chore to read, really, truly hit me.

Because I can unfortunately relate. See, I’ve been going through much of what the main character Jack went through, and maybe what King went through as well—I’ve pretty much sworn off alcohol.

It was taking me to dark places. I was using it as a reward, but more often, just like Jack—and, we discover, his dad before him—I’d use it to quiet my brain. To try to deal with things. And it never helped. It just made things worse. Which I couldn’t see. I was blind to that. And when I noticed it, I drank more to forget I had. And I made some dumb decisions, made some poor calls.

So as I read through those 150 pages or so of Jack blacking out, getting into a car accident, hurting his son, and then swearing off of it altogether and dealing with the withdrawal by downing what seems to be endless bottles of Coca-Cola, I could do nothing but emphasize.

Thankfully, I never was as bad as he was, not nearly so, but reading this and everything the character went through—again, perhaps what Stephen King went through—I couldn’t help but imagine that, if I didn’t make a change, the change I did, I would have.

It helps that I don’t have an Overlook Hotel trying to possess me and absorb my son.

That, by the way, is what makes the second half so much more interesting. To get to Danny and his shine powers, the hotel not only uses Jack, it abuses him. It takes full advantage of his weakness, the one we’ve just read about for over a hundred pages, to turn him against his family, to make him try to kill them.

And like I noted a few minutes ago, he’s not exactly gentle about it. Wendy ended with, aside from cuts and bruises, “…a shattered vertebra as well as three broken ribs and some internal injuries.” And Danny was a bit smacked up, too.

And despite this whole situation being absolutely horrible, something out of an alcoholic’s worst nightmare, it also gives us what may be one of King’s most prolific scenes, one that is easily the best in the book.

And also, which we’ll talk about shortly, maybe the best scene in Kubrick’s adaptation.

I’m talking, of course, about the infamous bar scene.

Danny has just been attacked by the dead woman in the bathtub—proving, as if the supposedly dead wasps that appeared earlier didn’t already, that the hotel’s entities are not only real, but that they can hurt you—and the blame has been laid on Jack.

So Jack, still a recovering alcoholic, winds his way to the empty bar, where he imagines—or does he?—he sees shelves full of liquor, and plops down on a stool.

Everything seems fine. Nice and cozy. And then, and maybe it’s just my edition, but there’s a rarity here in publishing—the perfect page flip. The bottom of page 237, he’s clenching his fists, scratching at the bar’s leather-padded edge, and then, top of 238, we get:

“Hi, Lloyd,” he said. “A little slow tonight, isn’t it?”

Lloyd said it was. Lloyd asked him what it would be.

“Now I’m really glad you asked me that,” Jack said, “really glad. Because I happen to have two twenties and two tens in my wallet and I was afraid they’d be sitting right there until sometime next April.”

And Jack proceeds to sluice down four or five imaginary martinis, carrying on this one-sided conversation with what could be, what may not be, an imaginary barman he’d met in Maine. All while an imaginary—possibly—crowd of party-goers watches him from their booths, muffling laughter.

Which, for a fragile ego, is almost as bad as getting stabbed in the back.

It’s this scene that’s the real turning point for Jack, his fall from grace. Granted, it’d need to be repeated a few more times to really break Jack, but he was done the moment he gulped that first martini.

As King writes, within Jack, there’s a broken switch, a circuit breaker that didn’t work, and having even the one sends him down the proverbial chute. And the hotel knows this. It dangles that tantalizing beverage before him like a spoon of peanut butter for a dog. It drowns him in it.

In fact, the hotel supplies Jack with as much booze as he wants—as much as he needs.

All it needs to control and subdue him.

As Danny points out toward the end of the book, that was the only way the hotel could get between Jack and his family. And in the end, after Jack’s book-length struggle with pain, failure, jealousy and temptation, the hotel wins. Jack loses. And not only does he lose his mind and try to kill his family, he loses his life, too.

Only to become an undead agent of the hotel, one with a knife sticking in its back and an eventual bloodied face hammered to the point of unrecognizability by the mallet.

Which is, I think, where the “Unmask! Unmask!” strewn throughout the story finally makes sense, as the hotel “unmasks” its true self.

I’m still not sure what the Red Death bit was, except as an allusion to Edgar Allan Poe's The Masque of the Red Death, which I guess heavily influenced this book. I mean, when the party-goers repeatedly chant “The Red Death holds sway over all!” are they referring to the hotel’s influence? I don’t know. I could sit here and analyze this book ‘til hell freezes over and maybe not find all the answers. I’m sure a lot of people have tried, though.

And I think they’ve probably done the same with...

The Film

Before watching it again for this video, I’d been under the impression Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining adaptation, co-written with novelist Diane Johnson, was remarkably different than King’s novel. But it’s not. It’s actually surprisingly faithful. Except for the ending and a few key moments that help elevate the film in the pantheon of great horror flicks.

Which is interesting given that word has it King wasn’t particularly fond of the adaptation. And when another adaptation was made for TV in 1997, Stephen King not only drafted the teleplay and paid particular and attention to ensure it followed his plot more closely, he even got them to film at the inspiration for the Overlook Hotel, The Stanley Hotel in Estes Park, Colorado.

I guess King’s main issue with the Kubrick adaptation was that the novel’s main themes—the family crisis, the dangers of alcoholism, weren’t as prevalent. But me, frankly I don’t care. Because I think the movie is the superior version of the story.

Perhaps that’s because of Jack Nicholson. Seriously, how great is he in this? He’s why every scene I’m about to mention works, why this whole movie works the way it does. And could you imagine anyone else in this role?

Just imagine how these people, who were reportedly up for the role or some of King’s personal choices, would’ve been. Robert De Niro, Jon Voight, Harrison Ford, Superman himself Christopher Reeve, or even Robin Williams!

Who I could probably see, actually.

And, like I said, I still think this is a pretty faithful adaptation. The only major difference is the fact the hotel doesn’t blow up at the end. In fact, the cause of that explosion, the boiler, isn’t even mentioned in the film. And, while part of that may be a budgetary restraint like with the hedge maze, which we’ll talk more on in a minute, I think it’s more likely because of the different direction Kubrick and Johnson take the story.

See, while the book focuses on the concept of the hotel as an evil, I think the film focuses on the concept of reincarnation. Which is why we get the two Grady’s—that is, Charles and Delbert, who seem to look exactly the same—and the shot of Jack at the film’s closing, wherein he seems to be at the masquerade party heavily detailed in the book but touched on here most notably in the final twenty minutes or so.

Presumably—this is my takeaway, anyway—there’s some pull on those reincarnated individuals who were at the party, or who previously worked at or for the hotel. Which would play in to why Jack mentions having fallen in love with the place, or why knowing a previous caretaker, Grady, had killed himself but feigning knowledge of it when coming for the job, and why he’s later told he’s “always been the caretaker.”

Hm. I wonder if Wendy and Danny were supposed to join him? After all, the Grady at the party mentions his family, the ones caretaker Grady chopped up with an axe, they’re all off in the hotel somewhere. Were they supposed to join Jack? Was Wendy in the picture at the end at all?


Like I said, there’s a lot here to unpack. And like with the book, I don’t really want to get into all the theories and interpretations of the movie. I gave you mine, but we could spend hours here dissecting every frame, pulling nods to Native Americans, to the Holocaust, to the moon landing, to Minotaurs, or anything else.

But I don’t want to. I want to talk about what I saw, what I felt.

Because, hell, this is my show, and there’s so much more that we could touch on. So much perfection.
  • Jack’s sarcasm in the car ride in, where he says, “See, it’s okay, he saw it on the television.
  • The hallway scene where the ball rolls up on Danny while he plays with cars, but there’s no one there.
  • Every single steady-cam shot of the trike, along with the superb sound mixing of those scenes.
  • The “All work and no play” scene. You’ve just got to feel for whoever was forced to type out all those pages.
  • The REDRUM scene where Danny’s just screaming his head off at Wendy, only for Jack to show up right then with the axe.
  • Then the infamous and ad-libbed “Here’s Johnny!

And, of course, the bar scene. Which plays out exactly like the book. Except for the fact that Lloyd is there, he’s present, he’s responding. Which begs the question, which version is better? Lloyd being there or Lloyd not being there? Would it even work on film if Lloyd wasn’t in the scene?

I want to talk about the maze, too, but before I do, I want to recognize the fact I’ve barely touched on Danny and Wendy, whether here or in the book. And I don’t think I even mentioned Dick Halloran, earlier.

But the movie doesn’t focus on them like the book does, and they’re not really the most interesting parts of either. They’re the straight and narrows. Plus, I didn’t really care for Shelley Duvall. And I’ve only got so much of your time!

So. The maze. Added in favor of the moving topiary from the book simply because they couldn’t figure out the special effects to make it work, it’s The Shining’s pièce de résistance, and played with, toyed with, hinted at throughout the film.

Like how Wendy mentions the kitchen feels like a maze. Or, back to the trike, every hallway seems a maze. Or the trees as Halloran is coming back to the hotel, how that feels like he’s wandering the hedge maze. Even Jack peering down at the model and seeing Wendy and Danny at its center.

It all feeds into that hedge maze, all builds up to it.

It’s beautiful, the way it works out. And because of its inclusion, we get the lovely ending we do, with Danny leading Jack through the maze, outsmarting him and, eventually, leading to…

Which happens to be the very scene that inspired today’s beer pairing.

The Beer

It was the end of the film that inspired the pick, but Troeg’s was apparently thinking of another end when they created this beer, Blizzard of Hops Winter IPA. Here’s their official marketing pitch: “This storm of hoppy citrus and pine notes is a bright reminder the end of the Hop Cycle is only the beginning.

To be honest, I also thought of going with Winter Jack for this video, given we see Jack Daniel’s in the film, but I couldn’t find a bottle, and I’ve had it before, and I didn’t really care much for it.

So, I got this instead. Because there's a blizzard, and Jack's frozen. It pours a nice golden color, and has a nice stab of hops at the beginning along with some strong notes of pine. You really get the pine in there.

It's good, but it tastes like an IPA. There's nothing phenomenal about this beer, but if you want something to remind you of summer, something that will get you excited for what's to come--you know, it actually reminds me of a Hefeweizen, as if someone did a half and half of a Hefeweizen and an IPA.

A toast to the insane Jack frozen in the snow. Man, I hope someone found him before the tourists started coming back.

Closing Notes

The Shining would eventually get a sequel, Doctor Sleep, which in the grand scheme of things was pretty recently published. But it’d be called back to in a number of other books, including The Stand, IT, The Dark Tower and Misery, among what I’m sure are others.

Given King was supposedly inspired by the real-life Stanley Hotel like I mentioned earlier, I guess the idea of the “shine” never really left him over the years. Which I’m sure is fine for fans, because I can’t imagine The Shining, whether the book or its adaptation, will ever leave us, either. Especially given it just keeps coming up in pop culture.

Next time: Rage.

Feel like watching the video? Check it out:

Have any thoughts on this, or on THE SHINING itself? Leave a comment below!