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The Shining: A Book vs Movie Analysis

It seems strange doing an analysis of an adaptation that happened over 40 years ago and has already been done a million times over. But The Shining is new to me and I feel like doing it. So there!

It’s hard to go through life and not have exposure to some form of the film adaptation. Its dialogue and imagery have become a part of popular culture. Still, my overall familiarity with the story and its characters was pretty lacking, which felt good. I went into the whole experience with a clean slate.

Overall, I found the book to be mediocre yet enjoyable and the film to be technically marvelous yet boring (similar to my review of Midsommar). Not to mention lacking in the powerful storytelling nuances that exist in the book.

The differences between the book and film are striking, and not just from a plot perspective. The characters are different as well. What makes the book so compelling is the slow and sympathetic decline of Jack Torrence’s nuanced character. We truly feel for him as an individual. He’s a man who wants to do right by his family, to turn his life around, but forces outside his control are corrupting him and working him over, preying on his insecurities and weaknesses to the point that by the end of the story there is no mistaking who is at fault: the hotel itself.

The movie takes a different approach. From the very beginning Jack comes off as an asshole. A standoffish man who is resentful and bitter with his position in life. There is no slow and steady decline here. Almost immediately we can tell where Jack is going. That there’s something wrong with his mental health. There’s no question as to whether Jack is willing to fight against the forces working him over. No subtlety. No nuance. And he's not the only character affected by this change. All of them are in some way hollow shells of their book counterparts.

Why does this happen? Well there’s a couple different reasons. The obvious being that it’s not easy creating a slow burn descent into madness when the book you’re adapting from is close to 200,000 words long. A lot had to be cut to keep the story moving. Then again, a lot was unnecessarily added too, which brings me to my second theory.

Stanley Kubrick obviously has a flair for making his films visually artsy. The cinematography, direction, editing, and music for the film are probably what allow it to continue on as a “masterpiece.” But all these elements were built up while sacrificing a strong script. The dialogue is weak and the plot disjointed.

Which ultimately brings me to my final theory: it’s just a hard book to adapt. A lot of The Shining’s prose is internal “telling” instead of “showing.” We get inside the character’s heads to see their thought processes. What’s important is not so much what they are doing but why they are doing it. And that’s just difficult to display in a movie. Their motivations are vacant from us as an audience, and therefore, a lot of the strong characterization that kept me turning the pages just wasn't there for the movie.

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1 Comment

Peggy Carpenter
Peggy Carpenter
Jul 28, 2021

Aside from my issues with Kubrick's behavior on set, I've never understood the appeal of the movie. It is visually stunning. That's it. The book, despite flaws, is one of my favorites. But I have a soft spot sometimes for authors who will use three scenes instead of one.

Doctor Sleep, the follow up, was better than I expected. Although the movie disappointed in one area I won't say should you ever dive into those.

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