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A Timeline Of The Beef Between Stephen King And Stanley Kubrick Over 'The Shining'

Updated November 8, 2019 32k views15 items
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Turning a novel or short story into a movie isn't always an easy task. Besides translating the written word and inner thoughts of characters into visuals, screenwriters and directors sometimes have to contend with the literary fanbase and, in some cases, the authors of the original works.

This is especially true for Stephen King, who wrote his successful horror novel, The Shining, in 1977; Stanley Kubrick adapted the book into a film in 1980. The movie went on to become a horror masterpiece and staple of modern pop culture - even some Pixar movies are rife with hidden Shining references. But despite the film's success and staying power, King has always maintained an outspoken hatred of the film, primarily criticizing Kubrick's treatment of the characters and overall narrative. While film buffs tend to disagree with King's stance, others insist that the author makes some valid points, his attachment to the material notwithstanding.

  • King Considered Kubrick's Treatment Of Wendy Misogynistic

    In The Shining movie, Jack Torrance's (Jack Nicholson) violent anger against his wife, Wendy (Shelley Duvall), comes to a breaking point after she discovers his "all work and no play" secret. Stephen King found the character's hysterical, bat-swinging response offensive to both himself and women, calling Stanley Kubrick's version of his character, "one of the most misogynistic characters ever put on film. She's basically just there to scream and be stupid. And that's not the woman I wrote about." He also refers to the character as a "screaming dishrag."

    King's depiction of Wendy was that of a tough woman who loves her family, wants to help her husband overcome alcoholism, and ends up fighting for her family's well-being. She has a larger role in the novel, including more dialogue and an essential place in the story. Other people have backed up King's claim, believing Kubrick's vision of Wendy echoed the misogynistic depictions of women in many other horror movies and books.

    Duvall could also support King's claims of misogyny, as her on-set experience almost mimicked her character's treatment. Kubrick reportedly screamed at Duvall to the point that she cried for several hours a day, sometimes through hundreds of takes, which affected her deeply, resulting in mental and physical pain. Like Wendy, she also disappeared into the background. After the film's release, Duvall noted, "After all that work, hardly anyone even criticized my performance in it, even to mention it, it seemed like. The reviews were all about Kubrick, like I wasn't there."

  • He Hated Jack Nicholson's Casting As Jack Torrance

    By the time The Shining debuted in 1980, Jack Nicholson was well recognized for playing unhinged characters in films like One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest and Easy Rider. Stephen King claimed to have seen no difference in mental stability between Nicholson's Jack Torrance and any of the actor's other outlandish characters. King hated this about the film, noting that his Jack struggled to maintain his sanity throughout the novel, all while trying to care for his family, write a book, and deal with alcohol withdrawal.

    Conversely, the movie introduces Jack to the audience as already insane, which prevents viewers from witnessing his horrifying transformation and establishing a deeper connection with the character. King sums up his concerns: "The character of Jack Torrance has no arc in that movie. Absolutely no arc at all... All he does is get crazier.... To me, that's a tragedy. In the movie, there's no tragedy because there's no real change."

    Most of King's novels and short stories involve characters who are everyday people, often blue-collar workers. Even at this point in Nicholson's career, almost no one would consider the actor an ordinary person; his too-cool demeanor and near-cartoonish rantings and ravings in The Shining made it difficult for most audience members to identify with him. King claimed his novel's objective was to point out how easy it would be for anyone in Jack's situation to lose their sanity. He reasoned if audiences couldn't relate to Jack's madness, the real impact of his story was completely lost.

  • King Felt Kubrick's Approach To The Story Was Too Cold

    One of Stephen King's many criticisms of The Shining movie was his feeling that the film was too cold. He believed the film lost the story's human elements when the character of Jack Torrance changed from a struggling addict who loves his family to a seemingly unloving man who appears distant and unstable from the first scene. He reasoned it was almost impossible for audiences to relate to Jack or become involved in his emotional struggle, which King believed made the novel more terrifying.

    The book and film's disparate endings support King's statements in a literal way. "The book is hot, and the movie is cold; the book ends in fire, and the movie in ice," King says, noting that Jack freezes to death in the movie, while the book ends after he dies in an explosion caused by the hotel's boiler.

    At first, critics also didn't respond favorably to the film's emotional coldness. However, there was a critical reappraisal of the film in the mid-1980s; from then on, most critics embraced the movie for using this coldness to create an element of detached horror instead of using shocks and scenes of gore, tactics that critics initially thought were necessary.

  • King's Personal Connection To The Story Became Lost In Translation

    Stephen King's criticism of The Shining movie wasn't only because Stanley Kubrick changed the story; the novel was one of King's most personal stories. Fans of the movie may know the Overlook Hotel was based on the Stanley Hotel in Colorado, where King and his wife once stayed while it was almost completely empty. He also based Jack Torrance on himself, a character who mirrors his real-life struggles with alcoholism and terrifying experiences of occasional indifference to his children.

    King claimed writing the book allowed him an "attempt to get it out of my system, but it was also a confession." Through Jack's struggles with demons, both personal and those living in the Overlook hotel, King was able to channel his feelings about his life and mental state.