How 'Doctor Sleep' earned Stephen King's endorsement and still honored Stanley Kubrick

Sonaiya Kelley, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Entertainment News

Director Mike Flanagan is no stranger to adapting Stephen King's more difficult works. After all, his adaptation of "Gerald's Game," a story long considered to be unfilmable, was positively received in 2017.

But adapting King's 2013 story "Doctor Sleep" in a way that did justice to both the author's 1977 novel "The Shining" and Stanley Kubrick's classic 1980 film adaptation -- which drastically changed some key story points -- was an entirely different beast.

"It was painfully clear to me that I am not Stanley Kubrick and never will be," said Flanagan ahead of the film's Friday wide release. "What made me able to sleep at night was, instead of thinking of it as a sequel, what if this was a descendant of the movie? What if it had the DNA of its parents but still has to stand on its own two feet and find a way in the world? That made it kind of possible."

"Doctor Sleep" follows a grown-up Dan Torrance (Ewan McGregor), who has tried to bury his traumatic boyhood experience at the Overlook Hotel in a haze of alcohol and sex. But the past catches up to him when he stumbles upon a cult dubbed the True Knot, led by the formidable Rose the Hat (Rebecca Ferguson), who feed off the essence of people with special abilities, like Dan's "shining."

Getting the approval and discussing plans for the film with King was "completely surreal," Flanagan said. "The first time I talked to him I couldn't speak. I think I just made noises or I'd repeat words he said back with authority."

Although King was amenable to the idea, Flanagan was concerned about how the author would receive the film once it was completed.


"Once he's said yes, he intentionally backs off," Flanagan said. "His whole thing is, 'The book is the book, I want this movie to be yours. I don't want to interfere with it.' Which is such a beautiful freedom. Except it means he's going to watch it. And as Kubrick found out, if he doesn't like what you did, he will not be shy. So even though he's not there, you can kind of always hear his voice in your ear."

In a 2006 interview with the Paris Review, King called Kubrick's film "too cold" and said it had "no sense of emotional investment in the family whatsoever." He also called Shelley Duvall's performance as Wendy Torrance "basically a scream machine" and said he both hated and was disappointed by the film overall.

Fortunately for Flanagan, King responded enthusiastically to an early cut of his film.

"I loved the idea of Mike making the book into a film because he's a terrific storyteller," King told The Times via email. "The narrative clarity of his work is what impresses me. And of course he gets what's scary. The material that serves as a sequel to Kubrick's film fits my story glove-tight and Mike's love for the characters shines through, pun intended. That gives this film a warmth that's missing in Kubrick's film."


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