When writer and director Mike Flanagan got the green light to adapt Stephen King’s 2013 novel Doctor Sleep, he found himself in a unique situation. King’s book is a direct sequel to his 1977 novel The Shining, and most definitely not a direct sequel to the 1980 film directed by Stanley Kubrick, which King notoriously hated. Flanagan could have ignored his cinematic precedent, though remaining faithful to the book alone likely would have alienated a lot of movie fans. So instead, he opted to bridge the two, making his own version of Doctor Sleep. Naturally, this led to a number of significant departures from both the source material and Kubrick’s universe. Wondering how it all works? Let us guide the way.
In short, both the Doctor Sleep book and film bring us back into the world of Dan Torrance (Ewan McGregor), whose father Jack Torrance (Jack Nicholson in The Shining) lost his mind and found his axe at the infamous Overlook Hotel. Decades later, a still-traumatized Dan hits rock bottom and moves to a small New Hampshire town, where he holds a job at a hospice center and uses his shining powers (among them, his abilities to converse with the dead and telepathically connect to other people) to help elderly residents transition into the afterlife. Meanwhile, there’s Abra Stone (Kyliegh Curran), a young girl with even more powerful shining skills than Danny. She’s spotted by a group of cultish immortals who call themselves the True Knot and feed on the essence, or “steam,” of people endowed with astral gifts. Led by Rose the Hat (Rebecca Ferguson), they set their sights on Abra, but Dan may be able to save her. Cue the second half of the movie, when things get a little complicated.
Here’s an abbreviated list of the noticeable liberties taken by Flanagan in his hybrid sequel. Warning: Many spoilers follow!
The Setting: the Overlook Hotel
At the end of King’s The Shining, the Overlook Hotel exploded after Jack Torrance left the boiler room unmonitored. His wife Wendy, son Danny, and even Dick Hallorann were able to survive the wreckage, but the hotel does not. As a result, in King’s Doctor Sleep, the finale still takes place on the grounds of the Overlook, but by then it has been turned into a campground without any of the recognizable design details.
Now, it didn’t exactly go down like that at the end of Kubrick’s film (spoiler: the hotel survives), which gave Flanagan the latitude to resurrect the iconic building and set his own climax there. In Doctor Sleep the film, psychic power duo Dan and Abra lure the movie’s primary villain, Rose, to the still-standing Overlook, where the ghosts that once haunted it rise up against the True Knot leader. Here we get a flood (see what we did there?) of familiar imagery from Kubrick’s film that had no precedent in King’s books — like the elevator of blood and the super-creepy Grady Twins. The funny twist is that Flanagan gets to do what Kubrick didn’t: the 21st-century director uses a boiler room bit to finally blow up the Overlook.
The Meeting of Abra and Dan
In the book, teenager Abra develops a purely psychic connection with Dan, and eventually “writes” her email address down during one of their communications (which, of course, involves the word “cadabra”) — and that’s how they meet in the real world. But in the film, after having witnessed the True Knot’s murder of a young boy, she decides she needs Dan’s help and simply psychically locates him using her shining gifts. This may seem like a minor change, but it proves to accentuate her strength, giving the viewer a sense that she can literally find someone using only the power of her mental GPS. No wonder the True Knot, starved for steam, thinks they can satiate their immortal urges by feasting on Adra’s shining alone.
Bradley Trevor’s Measles
In King’s story, when the True Knot kills the “Baseball Boy,” a.k.a. Bradley Trevor (Jacob Tremblay), they extract something other than steam. Unbeknownst to the cult members, the kid had measles, and it actually infects the True Knot, making their search for Abra one for a high-powered cure as much anything else. It was a nice twist in the book, but it might have felt like one subplot too many in an already-long film. Instead, Flanagan simply uses Abra’s awareness of Bradley’s death as a way of alerting both Dan and Rose to Abra’s immense powers.
Where Is Concetta Reynolds?
Flanagan’s version of Doctor Sleep events takes a drastic turn away from the source material when audiences realize there is no big Concetta Reynolds moment, the great-grandmother of Abra Stone. She’s only briefly referenced in the film when Abra’s mother goes to visit her on her deathbed. In the book, Dan Torrance actually helps Concetta die, by taking her “steam” — which includes the disease in her body — as she passes away. He later uses this cancerous steam to kill members of the True Knot in the book’s final scenes. Alas, none of that happens in the film.
Is “Uncle Dan” Actually Uncle Dan?
The elimination of Concetta Reynolds means there’s no major revelation about the connection between Dan and Abra in the movie. In the book, when Dan goes to visit Concetta, he learns that Abra’s mother is none other than Jack Torrance’s sister. Yes, the book’s version of Dan and Abra’s mom are half-siblings, which means that the character that Abra chooses to call “Uncle Dan” really is, well, Uncle Dan. This fact might have made it easier to understand why Abra and Dan maintain such a firm connection, and possibly even suggest that shining powers are hereditary, but without Concetta in the movie, who would have delivered that news?
Abra’s Early Shine
There’s a great scene in Flanagan’s movie, in which a very young Abra watches a magician playing with silverware and mimics the talent by pinning her spoons to the ceiling of her kitchen. But there are even more descriptions of Abra’s early displays of power in the book; a baby Abra basically predicts 9/11, lying in her crib screaming as the towers are hit, after she psychically projects the flight numbers into her parents’ dreams. Yeah, that might have been a little hard to pull off in the film.
The Role of Jack Torrance
In the Doctor Sleep film, Flanagan regular Henry Thomas (The Haunting of Hill House) plays a variation on the ghost of Jack Torrance, who tries to serve his son a drink while doing a quasi-Nicholson impression at the Overlook Hotel. That’s pretty much the extent of his impact in the movie. In the Doctor Sleep book, however, Jack Torrance plays a much greater role in the finale, even helping defeat Rose the Hat by pushing her off an observation platform to her death. In the end, he is seen waving to Dan as they leave the campgrounds, like the ghost of Anakin Skywalker at the end of Return of the Jedi. It’s hard to imagine this schmaltzy gesture working on film, as it’s already a little off-putting to watch anyone but Nicholson portray such an iconic character. The cameo works well enough in moderation.
The Final Showdown
In Flanagan’s film, Billy (Cliff Curtis) and Dan ambush the True Knot prior to their final showdown at the Overlook Hotel, killing everyone but Rose in the process. However, this doesn’t happen in the book, leaving more members of Rose’s posse of immortals to defend the cult in the finale. While it might have been nice to see Zahn McClarnon’s Crow Daddy make it to the Overlook, keeping the epic climax to a scene between three central characters actually refines and tightens the ending.
This involves Dan and Abra pulling Rose into an astral version of the Overlook’s hedge maze. But after Dan fails to trap Rose in one of his mind boxes (a Dick Hallorann trick from the Overlook days), Dan tells Abra to leave before he is overcome by the True Knot leader. As she consumes his steam, Dan unleashes the Overlook ghosts from his boxes, who then kill Rose. The downside to this plan: the ghosts maintain their hold on Dan, who turns against Abra. That’s when he, in a moment of lucidity, decides to return to the boiler room for the film’s explosive conclusion.
The Fate of Dan Torrance
In the Doctor Sleep film, we witness Dan kneeling in the boiler room of the Overlook as it bursts into flames. But later, he’s seen speaking to Abra in her bedroom where she talks of him “getting out.” In the end, his fate is left slightly open to interpretation (and potential sequels): Is Dan dead, speaking to a child with a gift from the afterlife? Probably. Or is she speaking to a still-living Dan across the miles using her powers of astral projection? Dan regularly spoke to Dick Hallorann (Carl Lumbly), who died in Kubrick’s film but not in King’s novel; we were never meant to believe he was still alive in Flanagan’s film. We get hints of a similar psychic bond when Abra’s conversation with Dan ends with him “disappearing.” However, the book version of Dan Torrance is happy and healthy, celebrating 15 years of sobriety at Abra’s 15th birthday party.