As a lifelong Stephen King and Stanley Kubrick fan, I was oddly not that interested in the Doctor Sleep movie when it first hit theaters. I knew I would eventually watch it, but it wasn’t a priority. Maybe it was the fact that the novel didn’t stick with me all that much (I remember liking it, but I have very little memory of it now), or (more likely) I wasn’t crazy about the idea of someone attempting to make a sequel to The Shining. Doctor Sleep was always going to be a unique adaptation because writer/director Mike Flanagan had to decide whether he was adapting the novel or making a sequel to Kubrick’s film. It turns out he was doing both. Flanagan was able to retain the spirit of the novel (which I do remember being very much about addiction) while continuing the story of The Shining with all of Kubrick’s changes (like the Overlook still standing, for instance). In theory, this sounds like an uneven mess, but somehow Flanagan pulled it off (for me, at least). Doctor Sleep completely pulled me in. I’ve watched it four times in the last two weeks, and I bought the Blu-ray just so I could see the three-hour director’s cut. As much as I love it, I still wonder if I’m judging it by its own merits, or if I just liked revisiting Kubrick’s classic.
Is It Good, or Is It Nostalgia?
First off, I do consider Doctor Sleep to be a good movie on its own for multiple reasons. It has a consistent, dark mood that I love. The performances are great, and the casting in general is spot-on, especially Kyliegh Curran as Abra (Stephen King teenage characters can easily become flat out ridiculous, especially the supernatural ones, but thanks to Flangan’s adaptation and Curran’s acting, the character works) and Carl Lumbly as Hallorann (he didn’t just do a Scatman Crothers impression, he added depth to the character as the film’s, or at least Dan’s, moral center).
More than anything, Doctor Sleep works as a film about addiction. There is the obvious addiction stuff with Dan’s alcoholism, but the True Knot are addicts, as well, feeding off the “steam” of special young people. The ghosts of the Overlook are addicts, too, and they make for the most powerful representation of addiction in the film. Alcoholism, much like the ghosts of the Overlook, follow Dan throughout his life. When looking at the film from an addiction standpoint, you get to see every level of it. The True Knot are the active addicts, doing whatever they have to to score. Dan is the recovering addict, doing fine but battling the ghosts of his past every day. Even Abra represents a form of addiction in that she is susceptible to addiction and must keep things at bay her whole life to avoid going down that path (which is why she now has to keep the Overlook ghosts locked up at the end).
Doctor Sleep stands on its own the most when you consider its presentation of addiction. But it’s still impossible to think about this film without acknowledging Stanley Kubrick’s film, The Shining. And while I truly enjoy this film for all the reasons above, I only love it because it returns to the Overlook. In fact, the Overlook’s constant presence in the background of the film (more prominent in the director’s cut) is what made me excited about the film from the beginning. By the time the film actually makes its way back to the Overlook at the end, I was all in.
So it’s hard for me to judge this movie on its own when I consider all of that. Any film that recreates that red bathroom from The Shining is going to get a positive reaction from me. I’ve written about nostalgia many times before because nostalgia works on me. But it does need to be handled correctly. I can see people watching the last thirty minutes of Doctor Sleep and finding it pandering with all its recreations and references. But I think it is all mostly necessary for the story of the film and the theme about addiction and facing your past. The Overlook had to factor into the story for Dan because his alcoholism is really about his desire to forget his past. Recovery has led him to acknowledge his father and his past, and his encounter with the True Knot was the final push that required him to face it full on, even giving his life so that Abra could live. Just like his dad (in the novel), Dan defeats his addiction for good by destroying the hotel. (Of course, it’s kind of a dark metaphor to say that only Dan’s death truly ends his addiction, but for many people, addiction is a lifelong process.)
Even bringing back Jack Torrance (played by Henry Thomas in a wig that I thought could have been better) is necessary. Dan’s addiction is about his father more than anything, so what better way to confront than to visit his dad, now a bartender urging him to drink? Jack only factors in for a few minutes, and, thankfully, Thomas gives a restrained performance rather than going full axe murderer from the get-go. It makes for a more interesting interaction between father and son and allows Dan to finally deal with the biggest ghost of his past.
Returning to the world of The Shining is warranted, but that doesn’t mean Doctor Sleep is perfect in this regard. Recreating and reusing scenes from that film feel more like fan service than necessities (but I’m okay with it because I just love seeing all that stuff). Even the most pointless fan service evoked a smile from me. When Dan visits Dr. John’s office, it is an exact replica of Ullman’s office from The Shining. I cannot think of any logical reason for this other than a nod to the fans. Perhaps you can argue that Dan is following in his father’s footsteps with the job interview or something, but it still doesn’t really add up. No, that office looks like that for dorks like me to notice.
Even the elements of fan service don’t bother me, though. They’re a nice little distraction that adds to the movie more than takes away from it. Mike Flanagan found a nearly perfect balance with Doctor Sleep. He knew that he couldn’t ignore Kubrick’s film, so he embraced it. And perhaps he catered to the fan’s a bit, but he also treated the source material with the reverence it deserves. Doctor Sleep was never going to be a movie that could be completely judged by itself, and Flanagan faced that rather than shying away from it. Because of that, Doctor Sleep is good on its own, but the nostalgia makes it great.
Why Do I Own This?
As I stated above, I bought this because it was the only way for me to see the director’s cut. But I would have bought this anyway. I watch The Shining once a year, and I will most likely always watch this right afterward. And buying it for the director’s cut was worth it. I love the slow pace of The Shining, and while the theatrical cut of Doctor Sleep already takes its time, the director’s cut really gets to stretch its legs. Mike Flanagan, like Kubrick, created a world I wanted to spend as much time in as possible, so the longer director’s cut is right up my alley. Also, the red bathroom wasn’t in the theatrical cut, so watching the director’s cut is worth it just to see that set recreated.
I knew I was going to like this when I heard the music at the beginning.
The stuff with the woman and the toddler is pretty fucking dark. Especially when you consider the ghosts of them that show up later.
In many ways, this movie is much darker than The Shining.
"That's nice, sweetie." Watch the attitude, birthday party magician.
The killing of the baseball boy is one of the most disturbing scenes in recent memory.
Hey, I buy the same brand of boiled peanuts as Rose the Hat! Or is there just one brand of canned boiled peanuts?
Glad to see Dan likes to read Playgirl just like his dad. Even reading the same issue Jack was reading at the Overlook.
The looks Cliff Curtis gives Ewan McGregor when he talks to Abra in the car remind me of Tom Sizemore looking at Damian Lewis in Dreamcatcher after Lewis took a phone call using a fucking gun as a phone.
I fell in love with this movie when they reused the helicopter shot from the beginning.
They should have left the sets constructed and turned them into a tourist attraction. I, for one, would have made the trip just to have a drink in the Gold Room.
Henry Thomas plays Jack much saner than Nicholson ever did.
I can't believe they didn't use the red bathroom in the theatrical cut.