Evolution of a Screenplay: The Shining

To understand the complex process that Stephen King’s novel The Shining went

Stephen King conceived The Shining at the Stanley Hotel.

Stephen King conceived The Shining at the Stanley Hotel.

through to become Stanley Kubrick’s  The Shining, we need to go back to the night it began in the mind of the famous horror writer.

King based his first two novels, Carrie, and ‘Salem’s Lot, in small towns in his native Maine. He wanted a change, so he and his wife, Tabitha, traveled. He flipped open an atlas and pointed at Boulder, Colorado. They stayed at The Stanley Hotel in Estes Park. It was the end of the season and they were the only guests in the hotel. The Stanley was closing down for the season and the Kings had the run of the place.

They stayed in room 217 after hearing it was haunted.

An early attempt at a novel, Darkshine, had stalled. That night, King’s story of a psychic boy came to him again.

They ate dinner in the grand dining room alone. There was only one entrée, which they ate to taped orchestral music. The other chairs were up on the tables. After a nightcap with a bartender named Grady, King had a dream of his son running through the hotel, looking over his shoulder and screaming. He woke up and in the time it took to smoke a cigarette, he had the book in his mind.

The Shining: Stephen King’s Novel

According to Laura Miller’s ‘What Stanley Kubrick Got Wrong About the Shining’, “Jack Torrance, the deranged aspiring writer played by Jack Nicholson in the film, is the most autobiographical of all his (King’s) creations.”

Miller defends Stephen King’s complaints about Stanley Kubrick’s adaptation of King’s book.

“That two such different men as King and Kubrick were able to see themselves in this character indicates what a remarkable creation Jack Torrance is.”

It also suggests why King would be particularly sensitive to the manner in which the book was adapted into a screenplay.

“King himself was suffering from alcoholism at the time he wrote the novel, therefore giving a strong autobiographical element to the story. He has expressed disappointment that his novel’s important themes, such as the disintegration of family and the dangers of alcoholism, are less prevalent in the film.”

Jack Nicholson’s famous identification with the character of McMurphy in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975) led King to think audiences would anticipate Jack Torrance going mad. King felt an actor like Jon Voigt, Christopher Reeve, or Michael Moriarty should have played the role, which he saw more as an everyman, whose subsequent madness would be more disturbing

Stanley Kubrick’s Treatment for The Shining

Kubrick made copious notes in his personal copy of ‘The Shining’. He produced an 81-page treatment. The treatment is divided into ten parts, the first nine parts being fairly well delineated. Part Ten, however, is skeletal. It sketches what is to happen during the finale loosely, leaving great gaps.

In Kubrick’s treatment there are repeated acts of physical violence against Danny and Wendy by Jack. These, along with scenes showing Jack’s fight with a student and his dislocating Danny’s shoulder didn’t make it into the film. Here are some of the more significant differences:

  • As in the novel, Jack discovers a large scrapbook that mysteriously appears on his writing table. It provides the history of the hotel. The early images are of its grand opening, but the book begins to paint a lurid picture of the events that have taken place there. Later, he shows the scrapbook to Wendy, telling her he thinks the history of The Overlook Hotel would be a good subject for a book. Then Wendy asks him where he got it and he tells her he picked it up in the lounge. The scrapbook only appears in the background and is never referenced in the film, as was the notion of Jack writing about the history of the Overlook.
  • The lights go out and Jack has to start the diesel generator. He and Wendy go to the basement. He is frustrated by the generator’s complex instructions. They discover some strange things in the basement, including a teddy bear hanging by its neck, belly slashed open. Jack is ultimately unfazed by the experience, which only frightens Wendy more. After Jack gets the generator going, they return to the lobby, Wendy expressing concern over who could make such a horrific display. Jack returns to work, not even caring if the phones work. This scene did not appear in the film.
  • The scene in the ballroom with Lloyd, the bartender, ends when Jack hears the lobby telephone ringing and goes to answer it. A water ring from the bottom of a glass stains the bare bar top. Jack answers the phone. Wendy tells him Danny has become lucid again and told her what happened in room 217. She is afraid to leave her room because she believes there is a homicidal maniac on the loose in the hotel. Jack tells her to stay in her room and goes to investigate. This scene changed from a telephone conversation to one where Wendy approaches Jack at his writing table.
  • Jack goes to room 217. A bloated rotting arm draws back the shower curtain and an old woman rises from the tub. In the film she is beautiful, until Jack embraces and kisses her.
  • The conversation between Jack and Daniel (sic) Grady, waiter, takes place at the bar, instead of inside the red restroom. The dialog in the treatment is very similar, if not the same. But the change in location, that amazing red bathroom, was significant.

The Shining: “How Do You Like It?”

Part Ten of the treatment begins with a variation on what has become one of the most famous scenes in the film. Wendy discovers the radio doesn’t work and goes to the lounge where Jack does his writing to confront him, but he is not there. A thick stack of typewritten pages – Jack’s manuscript – sits on the table next to the typewriter. Wendy grabs a fistful of pages and throws them on the floor. They scatter, float and fall in a hundred different places. She yells for Jack. Then she notices one of the pages on the floor. She moves around the room, taking in the pages and what is written on them: ALL WORK AND NO PLAY MAKE JACK A DULL BOY.

When Jack confronts her threateningly, Wendy pushes Jack down the staircase, instead of hitting him with a bat. Then Wendy and Danny drag Jack through the hotel to the kitchen and into the larder.

Later, Wendy searches the kitchen for a padlock and key, but finds the door to the larder open. Jack grabs her around the throat from behind and strikes her head against the larder door. She drives her boning knife backwards into Jack’s belly. She gets away from him.

From Stanley Kubrick’s Treatment for The Shining

“A dying Jack creeps slowly in pursuit of a battered, nearly unconscious Wendy, the details of which are to be worked out, and which will end in Jack’s death.”

From here the treatment deviates from the novel AND the final film.

As Jack dies, Wendy hears the sound of a Snow Cat. She drags herself to the lobby where she finds the doors open, flapping in the wind. There is no sign of a Snow Cat. Suddenly she realizes Danny is alone in their room.

The door is open and Danny is not there.

Dick Hallorann moves along the corridor, casting a terrifying shadow on the wall. He is the fearful figure from Danny’s visions. Grady greets him.

The treatment then describes, in various levels of detail, an ending completely different from the one in the book or the film. Halloran goes crazy with an axe, Danny flees for his life, and Wendy wields her kitchen knife. As she progresses she becomes a ‘maddened demoniacal figure’.

She flings open doors, revealing scenes of the past evils of the hotel. At the conclusion of the chase, Danny sends Hallorann a psychic ‘Stop Dick! Don’t!’, giving Wendy the opening she needs, as Kubrick wrote in the treatment, ‘so that the old lady in Psycho will look like a pushover in comparison.’

Wendy takes Danny from the carnage. Hallorann falls to the floor. The camera moves in on Jack’s writing table, to the white scrapbook that lays open upon it. There is the photograph we all know, showing Jack at the Overlook in 1919. The sound of the Snow Cat starting outside mixes with the sound of a dance band.

A hand enters the frame, closing the scrapbook. The book is picked up, taken from frame. We hear the sound of footsteps fading in the distance.

How Stephen King’s Novel, The Shining, Ended (WITH SPOILERS)

Dick Hallorann rushes back to the Overlook after receiving a psychic distress call from Danny. Hallorann is attacked by topiary animals and then severely injured by Jack. As Jack pursues Danny through the Overlook, the hotel causes him to smash his face beyond recognition. Jack neglected to relieve the pressure on the boiler. Danny informs him that it is about to explode. As Danny, Wendy, and Hallorann flee, Jack rushes to the basement attempting to vent the boiler, which explodes and destroys the Overlook. The injured Hallorann guides Danny and Wendy away from the hotel to safety.

The treatment ends with a tag that appeared following the final scene in the hospital that was lost when Kubrick cut the ending:

“The Overlook Hotel would survive this tragedy, as it had so many others. It is still open each year from May 20th to September 20th. It is closed for the winter.”

The Shining: Stanley Kubrick and Diane Johnson’s Screenplay

According to an interview in the New York Times, author and ‘The Shining’ co-screenwriter Diane Johnson, says Kubrick approached her initially about making a film of her recent novel, ‘The Shadow Knows’.

“Kubrick was thinking of making either the Stephen King or my novel, ‘The Shadow Knows’. And, you know, he ultimately decided on the King.”

Johnson was an interesting choice for a collaborator. She was novelist who had written several novels. ‘The Shadow Knows’ was well reviewed when it came out in 1974. But she had never written a screenplay. Ever.

Kubrick described their collaboration in an interview with Michel Ciment.

“Diane is an American novelist who has published a number of extremely good novels which have received serious and important attention. I was interested in several of her books and in talking to her about them I was surprised to learn that she was giving a course at the University of California at Berkeley on the Gothic novel. When The Shining came up she seemed to be the ideal collaborator, which, indeed, she proved to be.”

Johnson described Kubrick’s approach to engaging a writing partner:

“You know, you get these calls from Kubrick and then he proposes a meeting, and then he proposes you come in and write a script. And, so I did. And I spent, oh, I don’t know, a couple of months . . . I guess eleven weeks all together, so almost three months in London, working everyday with him, and it was . . . I really learned a lot I think about narrative and film-making. It was a great experience.”

“I had already been working on the treatment of the book, prior to her starting, but I hadn’t actually begun the screenplay,” said Kubrick. “With The Shining, the problem was to extract the essential plot and to re-invent the sections of the story that were weak. The characters needed to be developed a bit differently than they were in the novel.”

Kubrick: Adapting Novels, and Why ‘The Shining’ was Different

For Kubrick, this is where great novels become less great films. The point of a novel is the quality of the writing. This doesn’t translate. The film language is based on a different symbology. Also, the author’s insights contribute greatly to the novel.

According to Kubrick, The Shining was different. Its virtue was the plot. He and Johnson didn’t have much trouble adapting it into a screenplay.

“Diane and I talked a lot about the book and then we made an outline of the scenes we thought should be included in the film. This list of scenes was shuffled and reshuffled until we thought it was right, and then we began to write. We did several drafts of the screenplay, which was subsequently revised at different stages before and during shooting.”

The screenplay was revised so often (sometimes twice daily) that Jack Nicholson gave up reading it entirely.

One of the external sources that influenced Kubrick’s choices in adapting ‘The Shining’ was a story by American author Stephen Crane.

“Stephen Crane wrote a story called “The Blue Hotel.” In it you quickly learn that the central character is a paranoid. He gets involved in a poker game, decides someone is cheating him, makes an accusation, starts a fight and gets killed. You think the point of the story is that his death was inevitable because a paranoid poker player would ultimately get involved in a fatal gunfight. But, in the end, you find out that the man he accused was actually cheating him. I think The Shining uses a similar kind of psychological misdirection to forestall the realization that the supernatural events are actually happening.”

The original ending of the film, adds an even stranger layer to this, by making it apparent that, whatever supernatural forces are at work in the hotel, there is a very human presence guarding it.

“To be honest, the end of the book seemed a bit hackneyed to me and not very interesting. I wanted an ending which the audience could not anticipate. In the film, they think Hallorann is going to save Wendy and Danny. When he is killed they fear the worst. Surely, they fear, there is no way now for Wendy and Danny to escape.”

It is interesting to note how Kubrick changed Hallorann in the treatment with a similar twist. We think he’s coming back to save Danny. But he comes back as a devil instead of a rescuing angel.

Kubrick described the maze and how that ending may have orginated.

“The maze ending may have suggested itself from the animal topiary scenes in the novel. I don’t actually remember how the idea first came about.”

The topiary scenes, in which the plants trimmed to look like animals come to life, were deemed too difficult to render on film with the special effects that were available in the late ‘70s.

The Shining’s Original Ending

Slate published the only known fragment of the film’s shooting script (Scripts available on the Internet are ‘Postproduction’ scripts – created after the fact by transcribing the finished film). The article describes what happened following the film’s release:

“Back on May 23, 1980, when The Shining was first released, audiences saw something slightly different from what viewers obsess over today. That’s because the next weekend Stanley Kubrick did an unusual thing: He re-cut the film, removing about two minutes from the ending, even though it was already in release. Those two minutes, like so much at the film’s ghoulish hotel, are now lost to time, unlikely to ever be seen again.”

Overlook manager Stuart Ullman visits Wendy, along with her son Danny, at the hospital where she is recuperating. Ullman tells Wendy that nothing out of the ordinary was found when investigators searched the hotel. He tells her she must have been hallucinating.

“After inviting, Wendy and Danny to come stay with him in Los Angeles, he begins to leave, but remembers that he forgot to give something to Danny, and throws him a yellow ball.”

That yellow ball, or rather the hand that tosses it, is a direct through line to the hand referenced in Kubrick’s treatment, closing the scrapbook, and the footsteps moving away down the corridor. Having tried to turn the amiable Hallorann into a monster in the treatment, it seems like Kubrick and Johnson transferred a little of that darkness to the Overlook’s general manager.

The appearance of the yellow ball at The Overlook led Danny to find the murdered Grady daughters. Ullman appears to be trying to lead Danny somewhere else.

It seems the hotel still wants Danny, and Ullman is intent on getting him for it.

The Shining: The Secret of Room 237 Revealed

According to the website of the Timberline Lodge in Oregon, there was a change made to King’s story that neither Kubrick or Johnston had anything to do with creatively. The Timberline served as the exterior of The Overlook Hotel in the film.

“Kubrick was asked not to depict room #217 (featured in the book) in The Shining, because future guests at the Lodge might be afraid to stay there. So a nonexistent room, #237, was substituted in the film. Curiously and somewhat ironically, room #217 is requested more often than any other room at Timberline.”