Mike Flanagan On Bridging The ‘Doctor Sleep’ Divide Between Stanley Kubrick And Stephen King

So, picture this: Here’s the good news, you’ve been tapped to direct Doctor Sleep, a sequel to one of the most beloved movies and books of all time. See, that’s great news and sounds pretty exciting. But, you see, there’s a catch: The author of The Shining, Stephen King, is famously not a fan of Stanley Kubrick’s cinematic adaptation of The Shining. But Kubrick’s film is, overwhelmingly, considered a classic. So, yes, this is the predicament Mike Flanagan found himself in: How does he thread that needle to make fans of Kubrick’s version happy and also make King happy, because if King isn’t happy, then this movie isn’t getting made. Ahead, Flanagan takes us through some of that negotiation.

In Doctor Sleep, Ewan McGregor plays Danny Torrance, who was a child during the events of The Shining, as he watched his father, Jack Torrance (played, iconically, by Jack Nicholson) slowly go mad at a Colorado mountain resort called the Overlook Hotel. Danny has his own demons now, as he struggles with addiction, and tries to reconcile the shared power he has with a young woman named Abra (Kyliegh Curran), whose shining powers put her life in danger.

Now, King’s original book was filled with ghosts and magical powers called shining. These elements are in Kubrick’s film, but downplayed, to the point that there’s debate if the hotel is haunted or if Jack is going crazy, or if it’s a combination of both. Kubrick’s interpretation of the book is far more vague, something King doesn’t like. So, now, in Doctor Sleep, Danny (and a few others) have their powers front and center, but at the same time we return to a recreation of the Overlook Hotel that we saw in the film, going as far to even recreate some scenes from Kubrick’s film. So, yes, Flanagan is walking a tightrope, but he seems pretty happy to be out there.

So, Stephen King famously doesn’t love the Kubrick version of The Shining, but it’s beloved by most human beings. But the guy in charge isn’t the biggest fan. How on Earth do you bridge that?

Well, it was one of the conversations that I was the most afraid to have in my life. As someone who’s loved the Kubrick film since I was a kid, and studied it, and been influenced by it, and defined by it in so many ways – and someone who’s also been a Stephen King fanatic also since I was a child, this guy’s my hero. I always had an ache in my heart when I would think about the gulf that existed between Kubrick’s adaptation and King’s book.

I think a lot of people feel that way, but the rest of us didn’t have to do what you did.

Well, I didn’t have to do it either, was the thing.

Okay, that’s fair.

I wanted to. Yeah, I had this weird thing when I read Doctor Sleep. I’m reading this perfectly quintessential Stephen King story, and I’m loving it as a King fan. But all of the images in my head, all of them were Kubrick’s. That’s the language that I know when I talk about the Overlook Hotel, or the Torrance family. That is the visual language that exists in my imagination. And so, I didn’t really see another way. I didn’t really have a choice as I saw it. My whole job is to try to take a movie out of my head and put it on a screen. And the movie in my head looked like Kubrick’s Shining. So, the pitch I had to make to King was: I’m not alone in this at all. And the visual language that people have in their imaginations? The Overlook Hotel has existed in the imagination of people all over the world for decades, and the Overlook that exists in their imagination is Kubrick’s.