Adapted From: The Shining by Stephen King
Starring: Jack Nicholson, Shelley Duvall, Danny Lloyd, Scatman Crothers
Written By: Stanley Kubrick and Diane Johnson
Directed By: Stanley Kubrick
Of all the films adapted from Stephen King's work, The Shining is probably the most famous and infamous, often hailed as the best work of director Stanley Kubrick. To explore all the differences between film and novel would take a longer essay than I have in me at the moment, but the treatment of Jack is something I want to focus on in particular here in Kubrick's work. If one takes into account the usual quality markers for an adaptation (fidelity to the novel, successful portrayal of characters etc.), then The Shining falls short. However, there is a lot of King's text in the film when it comes to Jack Torrance; it just happens to have been focused through Kubrick's more clinical lens.
King is notoriously dissatisfied with the final result of the film, commenting that the casting for both Jack and Wendy wasn't right and that the film lost a lot of the themes of his novel along the way. He's not entirely wrong either. Kubrick and Johnson's screenplay strips back a lot of the Torrance family history and their already fracturing family unit. Jack's alcohol addiction is absent and Wendy goes from someone pretty cool in a crisis to someone who's pretty much hysterical from the word go.
However, both King and Kubrick are presenting what is essentially the same story, but they are approaching it from different thematic angles with some crossovers along the way. I suspect King would possibly disagree with me on this, but when you strip back everything from The Shining, the supernatural elements, The Overlook itself, and focus on the characters, the story is simply that of a family descending into a pattern of domestic abuse, both physical and psychological. That is the core of both the novel and the film, albeit pushed to extremities by nature of the genre. The differences arise in how both King and Kubrick present that descent through Jack Torrance.
For King, Jack is a victim of his circumstances, having witnessed his alcoholic father beat his mother from a young age. Young Jack idolised his father and so it's easy to see how he falls into that behavioural pattern, despite attempting to resist it by going teetotal and ensuring he lands the job at The Overlook to support his family. The evil within The Overlook takes advantage of that and uses it to twist Jack into their instrument to get at Danny and his 'shine.' His alcoholism once again becomes the fuel for his violent behaviour, the hotel handily providing him with an entire bar to go through.
The focus on Jack's interiority is lost in Kubrick's adaptation, his family history simply replaced by a man who is already on the brink. At the beginning of the film, Nicholson already has a gaunt, hungry expression. He belittles Wendy and snaps at her early on; the capacity of violence is already there as we learn he has already hurt Danny as a boy (revealed much later in the film than in the novel) and it is The Overlook's influence who speeds up his descent into madness. As with Book Jack, the capacity is already there, but the causes for it are different. Kubrick stated that "there's something inherently wrong with the human personality. There's an evil side to it" when speaking about his film. That is the crucial difference between the two versions of the story; King believes a man is inherently good, but Kubrick thinks there is already evil there to be exploited.
And yet in this fundamentally different beliefs, there is an interesting crossover occurring between the novel and the film. There is a frequent refrain heard throughout the book, coming from the masked ball that happened in the Colorado Lounge in 1945; "unmask! unmask!" Later, when Danny has finally worked out how to beat The Overlook, he confronts his visions with cries of "(!!FALSE FACES!! NOT REAL!) and it gives him some power over what is around him. Slowly, The Overlook reveals its true self to the Torrance family in those visions and the violence they attempt to inflict. Unmasking occurs for Wendy, who finds herself imbued with a maternal instinct and strength to protect her child; for Danny when he realises that his imaginary friend Tony isn't an external helper, but something within himself.
For Jack, this occurs when The Overlook is in full control of him, wearing his body as instrument with which to kill Danny. During that chase, Danny's perspective of his father shifts from "he" to "it" as he realises his father is no longer there: "It was not his father. The mask of face and body had been ripped and shredded and made into a bad joke." However, his interactions with Danny force Jack to fight back against The Overlook and become himself momentarily. When he beats his body, he attacks his face in order to "unmask" The Overlook and take his control back. He manages to regain control long enough to allow Danny and Wendy to escape, sacrificing himself for his family when The Overlook is destroyed in the boiler explosion. It is ultimately, in that heartbreaking King way, a hopeful ending, one in which a man can defeat his demons in order to save his family.
Naturally, given his view of humanity mentioned previously, Kubrick is a lot less hopeful about Jack, but that idea of unmasking plays into that ideology. The masked ball doesn't feature in the film, instead it is just a regular dance taking place (one which Jack seemingly attended back in 1921 if that's how you interpret the photograph seen at the end - more on that shortly). Therefore, the 'unmask! unmask!' refrain doesn't appear. Instead, it is a less literal unmasking or in some cases a briefer one; the flashes of the Grady twins' corpses or the old woman in the bath, for example. The Overlook's influence over Jack taps into that inherent evil within, the fractured anger that has already been plaguing him throughout his time at the hotel. The unmasking here isn't one of hope, revealing the father intent on protecting his son, it's one of despair, revealing that evil streak that we all possess.
In the film, Jack never recovers himself but is trapped in the hedge maze (wisely replacing the topiary animals of the book which would have looked terrible on film) and freezes to death. It is Danny's ingenuity that allows him to escape rather than an act of sacrifice. The Overlook doesn't explode, the faulty boiler feature ejected from the adaptation, and remains standing. In short, the evil wins. Returning to the photograph, some readings suggest that Jack is somehow a reincarnation of a previous caretaker, seemingly confirmed when he appears in the photograph of the ball from 1921 and Grady stating that Jack "has always been the caretaker here." I choose to read it that Jack has been truly possessed by the hotel, unable to escape or fight back as his book counterpart did.
The endings perfectly sum up the contrasting views with which King and Kubrick approach this story and though there are many differences between the novel and the film, I also think there are more crossovers like the idea of unmasking. As an adaptation, it's a little unsatisfying because the power of King's story lies in watching the domestic tragedy unfold with an inevitability accelerated by the presence of The Overlook hotel. However, there is an undeniable power to Kubrick's rendering of events; he captures the story in a way that is at once both similar and radically different to King's novel. There is a wealth of material in exploring those connections between film and novel and it may just have to be something I return to in future.