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How Stanley Kubrick Adapted ‘The Shining’ Into A Cinematic Masterpiece

One striking feature about the movie; The Shining, directed by Stanley Kubrick is the sheer number of iconic moment packed into the film. After the successful release of Barry Lyndon in 1975, Kubrick began researching the subject of his next film, hoping for a subject with a certain cinematic possibility. An executive at Warner Brothers had sent him the manuscript for The Shining, which after reading, Kubrick described as a compulsive read and with imaginative plot idea and structure.

To adapt the book for the scene, Kubrick enlisted the help of novelist Diane Johnson. They both discussed The Shining for over a month before writing a single word. Many of their discussions emanated from simple questions posed by Kubrick such as; Is the husband a nice man? Does his wife love him? What kind of clothes would she wear? This was how Kubrick knew his characters profoundly, before setting them in motion.

In the end, they each came out with a short outline of the plot for The Shining and then came together to compare and rearrange scenes and ultimately wrote a more comprehensive outline. After 11 weeks of working on the screenplay, Johnson left for the United States.

Stanley Kubrick’s first treatment was completed on June 20th, 1977. It was 36 pages longs and contained 61 scenes, and ends when Grady removes the bolt to the pantry doors releasing Jack. This is an important moment in the film as it is the first time a ghost is having an effect on the natural world as any other supernatural aspect before then could be assumed to be happening in the minds of the characters.

Credit: CinemaTyler

The guiding principle for Kubrick’s journey into the horror came from H.P. Lovecraft’s essay that states “In all things that are mysterious, never explain”. He believed that as long as whatever happens stimulates the audience’s imagination, their sense of anxiety and fear, and as long as it does not have any inner contradiction, it was just a matter of building on the imagination. He was keen on using the audience’s imagination against them, by introducing mystery in the suggestion of horror and allowing the audience to fill in the blanks with their own fears.

Another guiding principle for Kubrick was his belief that in fantasy things should have the appearance of being as realistic as possible, people should act in the mundane way they normally do, this contrast would then make the extraordinary more powerful. The opening scenes of the movie were presented as mundane as possible.

Although films usually use transparency to depict spirits, Kubrick subverts this and uses context. The inspiration was drawn from Freud’s essay; The Uncanny, and it was a way of depicting something unfamiliar and threatening inside something familiar. For example, something that looks like a human but it is actually not. The audience does not know what they are or what they are capable of, or whether they exist at all or just a disturbance in the character’s mind. The most terrifying actually is the combination of both.

Kubrick had to make a lot of changes in the book in order to bring it to the medium of film, particularly reinventing the parts where he thought the action was insufficient. It probably also involved cutting out the inner monologues and a lot of the dialogues and translate it into something more visual. Kubrick also cut out a lot of things from the film that he thought was not relevant to for the audience, an example is the psychological clues that explained why Jack is the way he is. The earlier treatments, however, stuck closer to the book.

One thing that is very fascinating is, all the notes written by Kubrick in the margins of the script and book revealed that new ideas were constantly being tested and the scripts were being simplified and refined.

The actual script for the film may be found to be unremarkable when read, the purpose of the draft was to get a sense of what the film would be; the writing was secondary to knowing exactly what was happening in the scene. Kubrick stated that if you knew what was happening in a scene the words easily follow.

Kubrick also allowed actors to collaborate on their characters and make suggestions, so the story is constantly getting better as it is being filmed. Kubrick allowed for flexibility, bringing in new ideas and cutting out uninteresting or unbalanced ones. Thereby rewriting the scenes during the rehearsals.

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