A very important, and often heated, area of discussion is the comparison between Kubrick’s film and the original novel of The Shining by Stephen King. I read the novel three times, although over fifteen years have passed since. Rather than read the novel again, I’ve allowed myself the short cut of compiling key differences between the film and book from other reviewers – some of the most prominent differences are listed below. If I have mistakenly misinterpreted any details of the original book in this process then feel free to mail me with corrective details.

  • Jack has a problem with authority figures in the book, but is loyal to authority in the film and has writers block instead.
  • Ullman, the hotel manager, was authoritarian in the book, but is charming and friendly in the film.
  • Grady, like Jack, was an alcoholic in the book. This is not suggested in the film.
  • Wendy was a tough, self reliant, attractive blonde in the book and is whimpering, geeky and dark haired in the film.
  • The hotel wants Danny’s powerful psychic abilities in the book, but in the film the hotel’s motives are unspecified.
  • A collection of animal-shaped hedges come to life and attack Danny. This is replaced in the film by a hedge maze chase.
  • In the book Jack kills himself, rather than succumb to the hotel’s will. In the film he totally surrenders to his urge to kill and freezes to death in the maze.
  • In the book a defective boiler explodes and destroys the hotel. There is no exploding boiler in the film.
  • Jack attacks the family with a mallet, but uses an axe in the film.
  • In the film a river of blood flows out of an elevator. This is not in the book.
  • Danny has the life frightened out of him by a pair of murdered twin girls. This wasn’t in the book, although the tentatively linked back story of Grady’s murdered daughters was.
  • In the book only Danny encounters the woman in the bath tub. In the film this encounter is told in exposition and we are instead offered a mysterious new scene in which Jack encounters the woman.
  • The bear costumed man in the film, who appears to be giving felatio to a man in a tuxedo, doesn’t appear anywhere else in the film and seems totally out of place in the story. In the book this man is dressed in a silvery dog costume and is given an extensive back story.
  • In the film Danny’s ‘imaginary friend’ Tony is presented as his finger. This wasn’t the case in the book.
  • The film ends with Jack framed in an old photo. The book doesn’t.

One of the reasons I am not compelled to reread the novel word for word is because of these already overwhelming differences with the film. And after reading the rest of this analysis, I’m sure you’ll agree that Kubrick transformed Stephen King’s story beyond all recognition. He simply borrowed the bare bones plotline of the book and used to it to tell a series of other stories that had absolutely nothing to do with Stephen King.

“King had written a screenplay adaptation of his novel (The Shining) for Warner Bros before Kubrick became attached to it, but Kubrick chose not to read the script because he decided he wanted to infuse the skeleton of King’s story with his own ideas.” - p412 Stanley Kubrick by Vincent Lobrutto

Here is an excerpt of an interview with Stephen King, in which he discusses the virtually non-existent collaboration between himself and Stanley.

So for all the Stephen King fans out there who are perhaps hoping that they will here find an analysis that regards the film as artistically inferior to King’s novel, I may as well disappointment now rather than later. For my money, The Shining is the greatest horror film of all time, and I base that opinion upon the elements that Kubrick introduced to the film that were not in the book. I’m not saying it is necessarily superior. It’s just a totally different animal. I will, however, offer conciliation for King fans in that I agree with their assertions that Kubrick was disrespectful of King’s book. He used the novel as a commercial vehicle for an entirely separate collection of his own ideas that the mechanics of the novel superficially fitted with. Rather than acknowledge this, Kubrick offered the following justification.

“When The Shining came up she (Diane Johnson) seemed to be the ideal collaborator, which, indeed, she proved to be. I had already been working on the treatment of the book, prior to her starting, but I hadn't actually begun the screenplay. With ‘The Shining’ the problem was to extract the essential plot and to re-invent the sections of the story that were weak.” - interview with Michael Ciment

This description of ‘weak’ sections in the book, in my opinion, was a red herring so that Kubrick could disguise his real reasons for changing the story. His refusal to read King’s own screenplay adaptation also supports this.

“Johnson (co-writer on The Shining screenplay) and Kubrick worked together in England for three months in 1978 … Sitting at a big table in a large hall, Johnson and Kubrick first worked separately, outlining the film. They compared the two outlines and discussed each scene. The process was repeated two or three times as the plot evolved.” - p414 Stanley Kubrick by Vincent Lobrutto

The above quote possibly offers a key insight into Kubrick’s multiple narrative writing technique. By having Diane Johnson concentrate on structuring the surface narrative, this would allow Kubrick to design the subliminal narrative covertly and without making the surface story incomprehensible.

I’d also like to offer some info here about the production of The Shining. For those not familiar with Kubrick’s unusual production habits this will give some background as to how he operated, and in particular, how he kept his entire cast and crew second guessing what his real motives and strategies were as a film maker. Some of this information also supports sections of this analysis article. Here are some noteworthy cast, crew and biographical quotes.

“I believe fantasy stories at their best serve the same function for us that fairy tales and mythology formerly did. The current popularity of fantasy, particularly in films, suggests that popular culture, at least, isn't getting what it wants from realism. The nineteenth century was the golden age of realistic fiction. The twentieth century may be the golden age of fantasy.” – Kubrick interviewed by Michael Ciment about The Shining

“We wanted the hotel to look authentic rather than like a traditionally spooky movie hotel. The hotel's labyrinthine layout and huge rooms, I believed, would alone provide an eerie enough atmosphere.” – Kubrick interviewed by Michael Ciment about The Shining

“I’m a great off-stage grumbler. I complained that he was the only director to light the sets with no stand-ins. We had to be there even to be lit. Just because you’re a perfectionist doesn’t mean you’re perfect.” - Jack Nicholson p443 Stanley Kubrick by Vincent Lobrutto

“The final shot in the film was the last one to actually be shot on the set. Tony Burton, ‘They shot that for days. Stanley would just look at the monitor and say ‘Let’s go again.’ They couldn’t get a third of the way across the lobby. It took them a week before they got a third of the way across. Stanley kept seeing bumps – he wanted it to be smooth. So they changed the cart on the dolly. Then they put it on a track. Then they changed the wheels. Then they put some more weight on it. Then it wasn’t enough weight. They put more people on it. People were hanging onto this cart trying to keep still so they could get this shot.’” - P443 Stanley Kubrick by Vincent Lobrutto

“Why are you telling me that? I can’t do anything if it’s good news. It’s only when there are problems that I can intervene.” – Kubrick talking to Julian Senior, quoted from p310 Stanley Kubrick: A Biography by John Baxter

“Tony Burton, ‘I don’t know how many times they shot the blood in the elevator. Somebody told me they had been shooting that ever since the shoot first started the year before. They shot it three times while I was there. About every ten days they would shoot it again and Stanley would say ‘It doesn’t look like blood,’ and they would say, ‘Well, is it the texture? Is it the colour?’ It would take them like nine days to set the shot up and then they would come back, the door would open, it would come out and Stanley would say, ‘It doesn’t look like blood.’ But finally they got it.’” - P444Stanley Kubrick by Vincent Lobrutto

“Most of the hotel set was built as a composite, so that you could go up a flight of stairs, turn down a corridor, travel its length and find your way to still another part of the hotel. It mirrored the kind of camera movements which took place in the maze. In order to fully exploit this layout it was necessary to have moving camera shots without cuts, and of course the Steadicam made that much easier to do.” – Kubrick interviewed by Michael Ciment about The Shining

“We were shown an incomplete film. There were great gobs of scenes that never made it into the film. There was a whole strange and mystical scene in which Jack Nicholson discovers objects that have been arranged in his working space in the ballroom with arrows and things. He walks down and thinks he hears a voice and someone throws a ball back to him.” - Wendy Carlos discussing production of The Shining score, P447 Stanley Kubrick by Vincent Lobrutto

“The shot where the camera follows Wendy up three flights of stairs and slows down just moving ahead of her when she sees two ghosts in the midst of a sexual act, became one of Garret Brown’s favorites – he got thirty-six opportunities to shoot it.” – p425 Stanley Kubrick by Vincent Lobrutto

Annie, the actress who played the doctor in The Shining, was made to go shopping with Kubrick for clothes. She tried various outfits to which he repeatedly said “no” and told her to try the next one. Eventually she walked into his office and he pointed at the clothes she was already wearing and said “That’s what I want her to look like. Let’s get those clothes”. The strange thing was that they were the same clothes she was already wearing when she first met him to go shopping. Then after having Annie do endless takes of the scene in which she interviews Shelley, during which he refused to give her any direction or answer her questions, he used her very first take in the film. Annie, “I know he used the first take because there were many more colours in the first one than in the others.” Also … Regarding the scene of her interviewing Danny on the bed, Kubrick rejected the notion that her character should be comforting to the child. He told Annie “I don’t want any of that, I want it very businesslike.” – condensed from pages 427 to 429 Stanley Kubrick by Vincent Lobrutto

“Barry Jackson told Annie that he had around thirty-five takes for saying one line ‘Hiya Jack’.” - Condensed from p429 Stanley Kubrick by Vincent Lobrutto

A single camera position of Scatman Crothers explaining The Shining to little Danny racked up 148 takes. The shot lasted seven minutes and Kubrick printed all of them - Condensed from p430 Stanley Kubrick by Vincent Lobrutto

“It’s just the story of one man’s family quietly going insane together.” – Kubrick discussing The Shining with John Hofsess, quoted from p415 Stanley Kubrick by Vincent Lobrutto

“An early treatment for the screenplay reveals that … A scrapbook on Jack’s writing table contains a photograph of a New Year’s celebration in 1999 with Jack in the photo.” - p415 Stanley Kubrick by Vincent Lobrutto

“For the scene in which Halloran shows Wendy and Danny through the storage rooms of the kitchen, Kubrick demanded eighty-five takes, in the middle of which Crothers broke down and cried in frustration. ‘What do you want, Mr Kubrick?’ he screamed, ‘What do you want?!’ … Nobody was ever sure if this system bore fruit.” - p316 Stanley Kubrick: A Biography by John Baxter

“That long tracking shot where Jack Nicholson pursued Shelley Duvall up the staircase while she’s waving a baseball bat at him was taken fifty or sixty times. Typically, Nicholson’s first take would be absolutely brilliant. Then the thing would start to get stale after about ten takes. … the impression I got is that Stanley tended to go for the most eccentric and rather over-the-top ones. There were plenty of times when Stanley and I were viewing the stuff where my private choice of the best performance – or sometimes he would ask me – wasn’t in, while the more eccentric one was.” - Gordon Stainforth on editing The Shining, quoted from p317 Stanley Kubrick: A Biography by John Baxter

“Kubrick had an exacting overhead-view map of the maze, which was used to get in and out and to plan shots. Copies were given to the crew, who nevertheless continued to get lost throughout the production. Garret Brown (steadicam inventor and operator) recalled that if you got lost and called out “Stanley!” Kubrick’s laughter seemed to come out from all directions inside the maze.” - p437 Stanley Kubrick by Vincent Lobrutto

“The exterior façade of the rear view of the Overlook hotel was built on the backlot of the EMI-Elstree studios and was modelled after the Timberline Lodge.” - p416 Stanley Kubrick by Vincent Lobrutto

“Vivian was going around shooting us making the picture all the time. She had a little cart that she pushed around. You would be in conversation with Stanley, some debate or subject would come up and he would say ‘Yeah I was talking to Jack about that yesterday. Vivian, what was that Jack said?’ and she would go into the cart, find what the conversation was about and read it back to him.” - Tony Burton, who played Larry Durkin in The Shining (his scenes were cut from the European release of the film) p434 Stanley Kubrick by Vincent Lobrutto

These stories about Kubrick’s behaviour are fascinating. Was he paranoid? Did he enjoy over-working his crew until they broke down in tears? Was he indecisive about what he wanted? Was he obsessive? Or was he creating a thick smoke screen of illusionary distractions to keep his collaborators in the dark about what he was really up to?

Personally, I believe the latter was frequently the case. The multitude of subliminal details in The Shining contained in this analysis have barely ever been described by the film's cast and crew during interviews. It’s as if they had no awareness of such subliminal details, and with high numbers of takes, consistently changing scripts and assorted on-set mind games from Kubrick, it’s no wonder.

I also advise the reader to view the behind-the-scenes documentary that is included in the current DVD versions of The Shining. Actor Scatman Crothers and actress Shelley Duvall try their best to put a brave face on during interviews, but their sense of frustration with Kubrick’s demands is plain to see. This will be explored in more detail in later chapters.

To shoot The Shining, Kubrick had a huge and intricate set built at Elstree Studios, apparently the biggest ever at the time. The set was supposedly built as an all-in-one, in which the camera could move through freely in a single shot. The most frequently used portion of the set in the finished film is of course the Colorado Lounge, in which Jack does his writing. Because of the huge walls of powerful (and hot) lights that were used to create artificial daylight in this set, the Colorado Lounge supposedly caught on fire, destroying the set. Despite only having a handful of simple shots left to film for those scenes, Kubrick had the set rebuilt from scratch rather than work around the problem in the editing room. Chapter four of this analysis will explore the layout of The Shining’s sets in specific detail, as this is a key area in which Kubrick applied subliminal concepts.

So now let’s explore the film’s subliminal themes directly.