When we think of Stanley Kubrick, we can’t help but think of perfectionism, a quality he brought even to the making of what he called a “ghost film” — a genre for which he seemed to have little respect — with 1980’s The Shining. So much did he want to get his adaptation (or rather, near-total reimagination) of Stephen King’s novel of the haunted Overlook Hotel just right that he actually had the first set of released prints recalled and destroyed because he didn’t think he’d quite nailed the ending: specifically, he wanted to remove just one short scene from it, one which came immediately before the haunting final photograph of the Overlook’s 1921 Fourth of July Ball.
“There was a big length problem with Warner Bros,” said screenwriter Diane Johnson in an interview with Entertainment Weekly‘s James Hibberd. “The film was too long and people said it had to be shortened.” The two minutes Kubrick cut from the ending constituted what Hibberd describes as a hospital scene in which “the hotel manager, Ullman (Barry Nelson), visits Wendy and Danny after their ordeal and explains that no supernatural evidence was found to support their claims of what transpired,” not even the frozen body of Jack Nicholson’s crazed Jack Torrance. “Just when the audience begins to question everything they’ve seen, Ullman ominously gives Danny the same ball that was rolled to him from an unseen force outside Room 237.”
“In other words,” said Johnson in an explanation of the scene’s point, “all of this really happened, and the magic events were actual. It was just a little twist. It was easy to jettison.” Roger Ebert, in a 2006 essay on the film, also thought “Kubrick was wise to remove that epilogue,” though for a different reason: “It pulled one rug too many out from under the story. At some level, it is necessary for us to believe the three members of the Torrance family are actually residents in the hotel during that winter, whatever happens or whatever they think happens.” Whether or not you think it should have been left in, we can surely all agree that Kubrick did well to depart from King’s original ending, which had the Overlook explode in a ball of flame, taking Jack with it, as the rest of the family escaped to safety. Sometimes what works on the page just doesn’t work on the screen.
The video above features the screenplay for the deleted original ending of The Shining.
Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities and culture. He’s at work on a book about Los Angeles, A Los Angeles Primer, the video series The City in Cinema, the crowdfunded journalism project Where Is the City of the Future?, and the Los Angeles Review of Books’ Korea Blog. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.