The web site Overlook Hotel has posted pictures of Stanley Kubrick’s personal copy of Stephen King’s novel The Shining, which is normally kept at the Stanley Kubrick Archive, but has been making the rounds in a traveling exhibition. The book is filled with highlighted passages and largely illegible notes in the margin—tantalizing clues to Kubrick’s intentions for the movie.
The site features a picture of the book’s careworn cover along with two spreads from the book’s interior —pages 8-9, where Jack Torrance is being interviewed by hotel manager Mr. Ullman, and pages 86-87 where hotel cook Dick Hallorann talks to Jack’s son Danny about the telepathic ability called “shining.” (Click on the images to enlarge.)
Much of the marginalia is maddeningly hard to decipher. One of the notes I could make out reads:
Maybe just like their [sic] are people who can shine, maybe there are places that are special. Maybe it has to do with what happened in them or where they were built.
Kubrick is clearly working to translate King’s book into film. Other notes, however, seem wholly unrelated to the movie.
Any problems with the kitchen – you phone me
When The Shining came out, it was greeted with tepid and nonplussed reviews. Since then, the film’s reputation has grown, and now it’s considered a horror masterpiece.
At first viewing, The Shining overwhelms the viewer with pungent images that etch themselves in the mind—those creepy twins, that rotting senior citizen in the bathtub, that deluge of blood from the elevator. Yet after the fifth or seventh viewing, the film reveals itself to be far weirder than your average horror flick. For instance, why is Jack Nicholson reading a Playgirl magazine while waiting in the lobby? What’s the deal with that guy in the bear suit at the end of the movie? Why is Danny wearing an Apollo 11 sweater?
While Stephen King has had dozens of his books adapted for the screen (many are flat out terrible), of all the adaptations, this is one that King actively dislikes.
“I would do every thing different,” complained King about the movie to American Film Magazine in 1986. “The real problem is that Kubrick set out to make a horror picture with no apparent understanding of the genre.” King later made his own screen version of his book. By all accounts, it’s nowhere as good as Kubrick’s.
Perhaps the reason King loathed Kubrick’s adaptation so much is that the famously secretive and controlling director packed the movie with so many odd signs, like Danny’s Apollo sweater, that seem to point to a meaning beyond a tale of an alcoholic writer who descends into madness and murder. The Shining is a semiotic puzzle about …what?
Critic after critic has attempted to crack the film’s hidden meaning. Journalist Bill Blakemore argued in his essay “The Family of Man” that The Shining is actually about the genocide of the Native Americans. Historian Geoffrey Cocks suggests that the movie is about the Holocaust. And conspiracy guru Jay Weidner has argued passionately that the movie is in fact Kubrick’s coded confession for his role in staging the Apollo 11 moon landing. (On a related note, see Dark Side of the Moon: A Mockumentary on Stanley Kubrick and the Moon Landing Hoax.)
Rodney Ascher’s 2012 documentary Room 237 juxtaposes all of these wildly divergent readings, brilliantly showing just how dense and multivalent The Shining is. You can see the trailer for the documentary above.
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The Making of Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining (As Told by Those Who Helped Him Make It)
Room 237: New Documentary Explores Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining and Those It Obsesses
Rare 1960s Audio: Stanley Kubrick’s Big Interview with The New Yorker
Jonathan Crow is a Los Angeles-based writer and filmmaker whose work has appeared in Yahoo!, The Hollywood Reporter, and other publications. You can follow him at @jonccrow.
(Click on the images to enlarge.)
FYI: Clicking on the cover enlarges it, but it’s impossible to click on the spreads below to enlarge them.
You can right click the images and select “open image in new tab” in chrome to get a better look
Where to begin …
The marginal notes aren’t nearly as hard to read as you make them out to be — though it’s necessary to visit the Overlook website to be able to see (and read) the spreads enlarged.
For instance, on the first spread there appears on the lefthand page what appears to be Kubrick’s attempt at writing dialogue for Mr. Ullman:
“I have to warn you and I have to ask you to discuss this openly with your wife. I wouldn’t want you to change your mind after I’ve left for Florida (N.Y.?) Once I leave you, I expect you to carry out your responsibilities. I have to stress the negative aspect of the job because there are all these things which will come to mind once you are installed here.”
Kubrick then adds a brief rationale for Ullman’s uttering these words: “Ullman doesn’t want to come back and hire someone else.”
As far as King’s detesting The Shining (which I admit I haven’t read), I believe it’s mainly because Kubrick changed the ending. I recall watching some of the King-sanctioned TV movie version made years later and being astounded that at the end of the story Jack Torrance’s ghost proudly attends the college graduation of his son, Danny. (You see, even though Jack tried hard to kill his son he really, really loved him, you know?) I have no idea what King had in mind with this ending, but there isn’t much doubt in my mind that Kubrick’s version is both far creepier and far more satisfying.
Beyond that, however, if we posit that horror movies *must* contain horrifying surprises that shock viewers and leave them perpetually on the edge of their seat we must conclude that The Shining falls a bit short. I’ve seen the movie from beginning to end only once, when it was released theatrically, and recall mostly being baffled by the elevator full of blood (it sounds more shocking than it looks) as well as Scatman Crothers’ puzzlingly abrupt demise. Which isn’t to say the movie offers no memorably disturbing moments — there are plenty. Anyone who’s seen it will never see the words ALL WORK AND NO PLAY MAKE JACK A DULL BOY the same way again.
Nicholson’s and Duvall’s performances are obviously both first-rate, too. As a casting decision Nicholson was a no-brainer, since he excels at portraying men ruled by rage and libido. But I’ve always been impressed by Duvall, because I consider it extraordinarily challenging to be realistically terrified onscreen, especially for as long as Duvall is asked to be. She manages to sustain her terror and avoid turning it into a one-note response — i.e., tiresome variations on a scream. It couldn’t have been easy.
Still, as much as I admire most of Kubrick’s work I think The Shining is something of a white elephant. When the movie was released Kubrick was quoted in the press hoping it would be his first big-money blockbuster, and it’s always been impossible for me to escape the suspicion that he was torn between the need to make a mass-market crowd-pleaser and a thoughtful, genuinely provocative film. Squaring that circle is always hard. I don’t think Kubrick really succeeded.
And one last thing (I’m starting to think I’m as obsessed with this post as Jack Torrance was with the Overlook): what’s so odd about Danny’s Apollo 11 sweater?
As a kid in the ’60s I built a plastic Apollo/lunar module from a kit (not to mention the Pan Am shuttle from 2001), so seeing a young boy expressing his (or more likely, his mother’s interest in his) passion for the space program doesn’t seem at all odd. The Apollo program left a lasting impression on the generation that grew up with it; to me finding the sweater odd says more about those who think it’s odd than about the sweater itself.
The note “Any problems with the kitchen, you phone me, you hear. My number is on the wall” actually does refer to the movie, and shows Kubrick (or other reader) did not understand what the Shining was. In fact, Danny could contact Hallorann using the Shining, and didn’t need to use the phone.
One thought, perhaps not even my own, for why King hated Kubrick’s work was not because of Kubrick’s silly signs but because Kubrick changed the Shining on a fundamental level.
King’s enemy is human nature. Alcoholism is a prominent example, but not his only (though the author’s personal favorite). In the Shining, reading it, there’s no doubt that everything could have gone better if only a few choice choices had went a different direction. Perhaps it’s a platitude, ‘just be a better person!’ ‘Choose better!’ Or maybe it is a little deeper than that, like ‘We can, even still, make a difference.’ I’m not sure.
What I am sure about is that in the Shining, and really all of Kubrick’s movies, the enemy is not personal choices. The enemy of Kubrick’s creations is Kubrick himself. He drops them into his mind, so intricately designed, then replicated for the audience, and we watche. Jack isn’t an exception to that rule in the film. He plays his part, and we watch as inevitability takes its course.
For future reference, “nonplussed” means “surprised”.
James: Not exactly; it means perplexed or puzzled, or at a loss. I don’t think critics knew what they were supposed to think and were very perplexed about how to respond to this film.
I would love to read the entire manuscript. I’ve always thought that Amazon or some other book company should publish e-versions of great works annotated in this way. (I’m certain Mark Twain annotated examples of James Fenimore Cooper’s books, he hated them and complained about their failings in a specific manner that indicated through research.) The e-book is a great way to publish something like this, you could switch between the annotated and non-annotated versions instantly. They could go a step beyond and commission annotations as well… I’d love to read Colin Powell’s annotated version of “The Art of War” for example.
for anyone who is a fan of the movie, there is a great documentary called Room 237. I highly recommend it. http://www.imdb.com/title/tt2085910/
“The note ‘Any problems with the kitchen, you phone me, you hear. My number is on the wall’ actually does refer to the movie, and shows Kubrick (or other reader) did not understand what the Shining was. In fact, Danny could contact Hallorann using the Shining, and didn’t need to use the phone.”
Funny, I hear this as Hallorann’s dialogue to Wendy Torrance in my head.
Here’s the thing. King’s feelings about Kubrick’s adaption of his novel are very clear. This article makes little use of this information. King disliked the film because the omission of much of the supernatural elements. King felt Kubrick couldn’t except the existence of a haunted hotel, which is why he said Kubrick “thought too much and felt too little.” Also, King’s dislike for the film have cooled over the years, especially with the less than favorable reviews of King’s miniseries version of his book.
Hi. I think “Any problems with the kitchen – you phone me” could be a phrase Kubrick would like Dick Hallorann to say to the kid. While they were talking about the shining. So that’s why I think he probably wrote it there.
Essie from Holland
I’m sorry, I didn’t see the comment about “you phone me” above. But it’s actually something Hallorann did say to Danny in the book I thought.
King’s mini-series version was truer to the book which made it levels above Kubrick’s, sometimes farcical adaptation.
“Jack Torrance’s ghost proudly attends the college graduation of his son, Danny. (You see, even though Jack tried hard to kill his son he really, really loved him, you know?)”
That isn’t the ending of the book, though the point of that ending (as noted in your parenthetical) is basically the point of the book, and is a big part of why King hates the film.
Basically, Jack is the hero of the book. The book is about how horrible it is to *be* this alcoholic depressed writer who accidentally broke his son’s arm.
Kubrick made Jack the villain. The film is about how horrible it is to be *with* this alcoholic depressed writer who accidentally broke his son’s arm.
Basically, the key difference is that Kubrick sees getting drunk and breaking your son’s arm as the act of a monster, King sees it as a sympathetic act.
One piece of evidence to that interpretation — in the first chapter of the book, we’re told that Jack broke his son’s arm. According to King, the character of Jack is supposed to descend deeper into madness, and he feels that Nicholson played the part as crazy from the start. I’m not saying King is in favor of beating a child, but it sounds as if it’s something where he can see the point of view of Jack in the situation really clearly, and nobody else’s at all.
“Kubrick is clearly working to translate King’s book into film. Other notes, however, seem wholly unrelated to the movie.
‘Any problems with the kitchen – you phone me’ ”
This absolutely has to do with the movie. I believe it’s a line of dialogue Halloran might say to Wendy at the end of the scene where he shows her round the kitchen and leaves them alone for several months.