‘The Shining‘ is one of the most popular Stephen King adaptations even though the author hated it, and after all of these years, we’ve finally learned from producer Jan Harlan and writer Diane Johnson why director Stanley Kubrick changed the ending. Johnson wrote the ending with Kubrick so between her and Jan they have a pretty solid feel of why the movie ended the way it did. In fact, it would appear that Kubrick decided against King’s ending in one of the first treatments of the film and at almost every step of the way past that.
According to Harlan:
“Stanley was fundamentally not interested in a horror film. He doesn’t believe in ghosts. When the book was offered to him by Warner Bros., he said, “Well, all right, it might be challenging to do this, but I must have the freedom to change whatever I like.” Stephen King was perfectly happy with that [at the time], it’s obviously a prerequisite to making a film. And Stanley certainly changed it drastically…”
The original novel had young Danny go up against his father, Jack. Jack was able to fight off the control that the Overlook Hotel had exerted long enough for Danny to escape before going down with the ship so to speak as the hotel burned down around him. Kubrick didn’t think this would translate well to film.
Johnson stated that:
“The ending was changed almost entirely because Kubrick found it a cliche to just blow everything up. He thought there might be something else that would be metaphorically and visually more interesting … The talkiness [of the book] was also discussed. A lot of the script was pared down during filming, too — especially for Wendy, who had many more things to say in the script than she did in the film.”
While Kubrick wanted the Hotel to continue to be an ongoing threat to humanity, someone innocent had to die.
Johnson clarified that by saying:
“In the book, nobody gets killed except Jack. And Kubrick really thought somebody should get killed — because it was a horror movie. So we weighed the dramatic possibilities of killing off various characters and did different treatments. We actually talked it over in detail the possibility of having different people getting killed.”
It sounded like even Danny was on the chopping block at one point before Kubrick decided against it:
“Danny’s relationship with his father was the thing that most interested Kubrick. He was emotionally involved with the point of view of a little boy who is afraid of his father. I remember Kubrick saying that visually he could imagine a small yellow chalk outline on the floor like that they put around the bodies of victims. And Kubrick liked that image. But he was too tender-hearted for that ending and thought it would be too terrible to do …”
Kubrick even had a twist ending in mind at one point from a treatment which had been previously leaked online so that you may have heard of already:
“That’s right. We always had the powers of the hotel in mind. So the hotel would have been warping Hallorann’s mind for quite a long time. It was an attractive idea that Halloran is good [throughout the film] then he gets there and is possessed by the hotel into a monster surrogate for Jack.”
As to the ending, while the character deaths took awhile to decide upon it sounds like that iconic picture we all remember was there from the beginning:
“The photograph was always in the ending. The maze chase grew out of the topiary animal hedges that move around in the book. Kubrick thought topiary animals might be too goofy and cute, but he always liked the idea of a maze … [For Hallorann’s death] Kubrick didn’t want it to be too gory, he thought a lot of blood was vulgar. He wanted it to be mostly psychological. Of course, there’s the image of the blood coming out of the elevators, but that was more ornamental and metaphorical — it’s different than seeing people get stabbed. The elevator opening was an image he had in mind all along and had even prepared it by the time we were writing. So there was some discussion about trying to find a way of ending it without a lot of blood.”
There were some deleted scenes from the film which would have hinted at the ending a bit earlier. One of them was a scrapbook which was to show off the hotel’s violent past:
“There was a big length problem with Warner Bros. The film was too long, and people said it had to be shortened. Some [minutes] came off the end, and some came off of the beginning — they were expository and not really necessary. The scene that I thought was really necessary was the scrapbook scene. The point of it in [King’s] book and in the script was that the scrapbook was “the poisoned gift” — in Russian structuralist fairy-tale parlance. It’s an element in classic fairy tales — like the poisoned apple. Jack seizes the scrapbook to use in his book, and at that moment he’s now under the power of the hotel. I argued very strenuously [to keep it].”
The two share other details which you can find at the interview over at Entertainment Weekly but they were more from other deleted scenes that were cut which could have added to audience confusion. Either way, it will forever be Stephen King’s least favorite take on his work at this rate.
Did the added information about the ending change how you felt about ‘The Shining?’ Share your thoughts below!
Stuart Conover is an author, blogger, and all around geek. When not busy being a father and husband he tries to spend as much time as possible immersed in comic books, science fiction, and horror! Would you like to know more? Follow him on Twitter!