The Shining Book/Movie Beat Sheet Comparison – The Movie
Though it wasn’t the highest-grossing Stephen King adaptation at the box office (The Green Mile has that honor in gross adjusted dollars) and wasn’t considered a blockbuster upon its release on May 23, 1980, The Shining is likely the most watched and loved of the horror author’s film adaptations, and perhaps the most loved film director Stanley Kubrick oeuvre. Since its release, The Shining has terrified horror fans on home video and cable for 37 years, making it a verifiable cult classic. The film has even inspired a documentary called Room 237, which features theories about what the various themes and intentions of the late Kubrick’s horror masterpiece mean.
Author Stephen King has gone on public record as not being a fan of the film. For fans of the book, here is its beat sheet so you can compare and contrast the story beats between the original novel and the film.
As I mentioned, there are various posts online about the meaning behind The Shining, but I’m not going to explore them here. In this “MITH of the Month,” we’re simply going to break down the beats and see what makes this horror classic tick. And try not to, ahem, Overlook anything.
Written by: Stanley Kubrick & Diane Johnson
Based on the 1977 novel by Stephen King
Directed by: Stanley Kubrick
MITH Type: Supra-Natural Monster
MITH Cousins: The Haunting, Burnt Offerings, The Legend of Hell House, The Amityville Horror, The Conjuring, The Others, Poltergeist, The Innocents, The Changeling, Insidious, House on Haunted Hill, Beetlejuice, Ghost Ship, The Orphanage, The Grudge, Thirteen Ghosts, The Woman in Black, 1408, The Uninvited, The Devil’s Backbone, House, Stir of Echoes, The Entity, What Lies Beneath, The Sentinel, The House of the Devil, Ghost Story, Housebound, Casper, The Old Dark House, Something Wicked This Way Comes, The Babadook, The Witch
Opening Image: A yellow Volkswagen beetle curves its way up the serpentine mountain roadway of the snow-capped Rocky Mountains. What would normally be a serene setting with a bright, autumn sky and verdant trees, is menacing with a Dies Irae (Day of Wrath) funeral dirge thrumming on the soundtrack. This juxtaposition of image and sound promises us that something sinister will take place—and all is not as it seems on the surface of this isolated and scenic wilderness.
Set-Up: Jack Torrance (Jack Nicholson) shows up to the rustic Overlook Hotel for a job interview. Moments later, Jack sits in the brightly lit office of hotel manager, Stuart Ullman (Barry Nelson). (It’s helpful to note that “brightly lit” is a visual motif in this film, taking the title, “The Shining,” literally it seems—unusual for a horror film that’s typically cloaked in shadows.) In the Monster in the House genre, you have the house, the sin, and the monster. The “house” in this case is the bucolic resort hotel.
Jack desperately needs the job as the caretaker of the Overlook Hotel. In his six things that need fixing (which we learn over the course of the film), he’s a recovering alcoholic with some domestic abuse history who has lost his teaching job. Jack has anger-management problems that are often fueled into rage by alcohol—this is his “sin.” He’s a fledgling writer who’s trying to make ends meet for his family, and tired of working odd jobs. The Overlook Hotel promises a brand-new start. And he’ll have time to write. The caretaker job during the Overlook’s off-season from October to May is his last chance to prove himself as a father, husband, and a responsible human being.
Ullman tells Jack about the tragedy a decade previous where a former caretaker, Delbert Grady, killed his wife and two twin daughters with an axe and then blew his head off with a shotgun. The ghastly story doesn’t sway Jack—he needs the job, and he’s confident his wife, a horror film enthusiast, will be thrilled with the Overlook’s checkered history. Cut to:
Wendy Torrance (Shelley Duvall) sits with her five-year-old son Danny Torrance (Danny Lloyd) as he eats his lunch and watches Looney Tunes. Wendy, reading a paperback, is on pins and needles wondering if her husband Jack will get the job. However, “Tony,” the little boy who “lives” in Danny’s mouth, tells Wendy with the crook of a finger and raspy voice, that he doesn’t want to go to the hotel. Tony later tells Danny that his dad has already gotten the job and that he’s going to phone to let them know.
Catalyst: At 11 minutes, like clockwork (some Kubrickian humor), Jack calls up and confirms he got the job as Tony had said he would. Danny possesses a profound psychic ability that allows him to see the future and glimpses of the past, often terrible things.
Debate: Later, Danny is brushing his teeth. He asks Tony why he is reluctant to go to the hotel. Tony shows some horrific flash-forward images through Danny’s mind’s eye—a tidal wave of blood rolling out of the elevator, two eerie-looking girls dressed alike, Danny in mute scream, and then blackness.
The doctor checks the five-year-old out. Danny has had another one of his “blackouts.” Wendy later tells the doctor about Jack accidently dislocating Danny’s shoulder during one of his drinking binges. Jack has been sober for five months. Wendy seems assured he will stay that way. Can we trust the Jack behind those arched eyebrows and creepy smile?
Theme Stated: The theme, culminated from several scenes in Act One, is that the past can come back to haunt you. Three specific instances are mentioned about the past which will come into play during current events. The first is Stuart Ullman talking about Charles Grady, the murderous and suicidal caretaker. The second instance is when Wendy tells the doctor about Jack’s drinking problem that resulted in Danny’s injury. And the third instance is when Jack is driving Wendy and Danny up to the Overlook along the Rocky Mountain roadway. There’s a discussion of the fate of the Donner party, which obviously happened in the past, but the underlying message is the effects that snowbound isolation can have on the human psyche to go to extreme measures. In the case of the Donner party, it was cannibalism. In the case of Grady, it was the “cabin fever” that caused him to snap and kill those he loved. Will all this affect Jack too, whose past behavior indicates he is prone to violence?
Break into Two: The Torrances arrive at the Overlook and are being shown around as the place closes down. At minute 21, Danny is playing alone in the rec room. Foreboding music rumbles on the soundtrack. Kubrick uses an abrupt zoom-in, one of the few in the film. The boy turns and sees the twin girls staring at him—the same creepy girls from his earlier vision. They say nothing to Danny and then turn and walk away. This begins the upside-down world of Act Two. The “monster” within the walls of the Overlook, it seems, has awakened and hungers for fresh prey.
Ullman continues to show Jack and Wendy around. We’re being introduced to places that will play heavily in the action later like the golden ballroom, the snowcat, and the 13-foot high hedge maze in the rear of the hotel. The hotel manager mentions that the Overlook took two years to build starting in 1907. He also mentions that the resort was built on an Indian burial ground (that can’t be good) and the workers had to repel attacks from native peoples during construction.
B Story: Dick Hallorann (Scatman Crothers), the Overlook’s head chef, shows Wendy and Danny the kitchen. As he leads Wendy around, he communicates with Danny telepathically. Later, when Dick has Danny alone, he talks about “the shine” that he and Danny share. The amiable cook mentions that “the Shining” sees traces of what the past left behind, tying into the theme of the past can come back to haunt you.
Fun and Games: In the promise of the premise, we see the Torrance family adjusting and Jack slowly starting to go mad. First, Jack has an odd feeling he relays to Wendy about knowing what was behind every corner when he first came up to the antiquated resort hotel for his interview. Next, we see a blank sheet of paper in the typewriter and Jack throwing a tennis ball against the wall; apparently the would-be author is a little blocked. (How many of us writers have felt frustrated like this?)
Wendy and Danny trundle through the hedge maze and, as they do, we cut to the bizarre shot of Jack looking down at the scale model of the maze in the hotel lobby and seeing his family. Is he the mythical Minotaur of the labyrinth? Only time will tell.
Danny rides his Big Wheel through the maze of hotel corridors (and mazes are definitely a motif in this film—from the hedge maze and the carpet pattern to some of the hotel’s native American décor). He screeches to a stop at Room 237 and reluctantly heads toward the door. He has a vision of the creepy girls, however, and quickly leaves. Who wouldn’t?
Wendy interrupts Jack when he’s typing away. He’s hostile to his wife and tells her to leave. It seems that the hotel is bringing out the old Jack and it could be scary (arched eyebrows and all). Later glimpses of Jack staring out into space like he’s receiving some strange transmissions are ominous signs there’s something going on. In fact, this is the opposite of six things that need fixing. It seems Jack Torrance is slipping into his old ways again—and maybe even worse. Is it the hotel’s influence?
In a perfect poster moment, the creepy girls interrupt Danny’s leisurely Big Wheel ride through the corridors of the hotel. They want to play with Danny forever, and ever… and ever. Then the boy with “the Shining” sees visions of their axe-slain corpses.
Later, the five-year-old asks his insomniac dad if he would ever hurt him or his mom. Jack assures his son (those eyebrows again) that he would never. Can we believe him? The brooding Béla Bartók music in the background seems to warn us.
Midpoint: Danny is playing in the hallway with his toy trucks. A yellow tennis ball rolls up to him with nobody around (one of the eeriest moments of the film). The boy rises and sees there’s a key in the lock of Room 237 and the door’s wide open. Did somebody or something roll the ball to play with Danny? He investigates, raising the stakes. The A and B Stories cross as this harkens back to Dick Hallorann telling the boy not to go into the mysterious room for any reason.
Bad Guys Close In: At his writing desk, Jack is having a nightmare about chopping his wife and son into tiny pieces. Wendy tries to console him until Danny shows up, completely catatonic with bruises around his neck, the collar of his sweater torn, and his thumb in his mouth (regressing). This raises the stakes and starts the clock ticking as Danny is in trouble and needs medical assistance back in town. Wendy immediately accuses Jack of the abuse (which makes sense based on his past behavior and there’s supposedly nobody else in the hotel). She steals Danny away.
Alone and angry, Jack heads to The Gold Room. Regressing to his old ways, he ventures to the bar. Of course, it’s empty; all the liquor has been removed. There’s isn’t a drink around for 50 miles. Jack starts talking to Lloyd (Joe Turkel), a stoic bartender who’s now standing in front of a fully stocked bar. As Jack takes his first “drink,” he commiserates his woes to Lloyd, telling us the same story about how he dislocated Danny’s shoulder. Anytime when the Bad Guys Close In, the group, in this case the family, starts to disintegrate and the self-doubt of internal Bad Guys usually creeps in. This happens now.
When Wendy shows up, Lloyd and the booze have vanished—a figment of Jack’s imagination after all? Wendy says a woman attempted to strangle Danny in Room 237. Jack goes to check it out. As he does, Dick Hallorann, all the way from his winter home in Florida, sees this as Danny conveys the message through their gift of “the shine.” Jack goes to check out the room and does indeed find an alluring woman there—tall and dripping wet in the bath. She climbs out. They embrace. As Jack is kissing her, he sees her reflection in the mirror (another motif about duality) and she’s an old and rotting cadaver, a living dead one. She chases Jack out of the room.
Jack lies about seeing the grotesque woman. He doesn’t want to leave the hotel—this is his last chance to prove his worthiness. If he blows this job, he’s sure he’s finished. Wendy wants to take Danny down to the neighboring town of Sidewinder. This makes Jack angry and he storms out.
The disheveled hotel caretaker returns to The Gold Room and this time it’s in full swing—glitter, balloons, streamers, a singer is crooning and flapper girls and men in tuxes abound. This looks like it’s quite the happening party from the 1920s! Delbert Grady, the former caretaker of the hotel, runs into Jack. Grady tells Jack that Danny has attempted to bring Dick Hallorann back to the Overlook by the use of his special power. Grady suggests he stop his wife and son from interfering in the hotel’s affairs by “correcting them,” a euphemism for hacking them to bits with an axe. Grady tells Jack that Jack has “always been the caretaker” of the Overlook, and Grady knows as he’s always been here as well. What’s going on, what does he mean? Does this somehow tie into what Jack said earlier about “knowing what was behind every corner”? This raises the stakes higher for Jack and shortens the ticking clock, as it’s only a matter of time, likely hours, before interlopers will come to the Overlook and try to stop what he’s trying to accomplish.
All Is Lost: Jack sabotages the CB radio—their only means of outside communication after the phone lines went down in the snow. Danny is completely catatonic; only Tony speaks to Wendy now. All is lost as Wendy and Danny are worse off than they were at the beginning—trapped in a haunted hotel with a madman and no means to escape. Danny doesn’t even know if Dick Hallorann received his psychic message from over 2,000 miles away.
Down in Florida, Dick Hallorann can’t get through to the Overlook via phone or radio. Thanks to the power that he and Danny share, he knows there’s trouble. The Overlook’s head chef hops the first airline he can back to Denver. He rents a snowcat from a friend who owns a garage and heads up into the snowy mountains to attempt a rescue.
Dark Night of the Soul: Wendy tries to find Jack and talk to him (armed with a Louisville Slugger). She discovers her husband’s literary toils—reams and reams of paper with the words ALL WORK AND NO PLAY MAKES JACK A DULL BOY. Jack arrives. And as you can expect at this point, it’s not going to go well. Wendy climbs the stairs, attempting to get away from him. Jack becomes more and more threatening and she eventually bats his crazy brains with the bat. He takes a tumble down the stairs and is out for the count, a whiff of death moment.
She drags the unconscious Jack into the food pantry and locks the door behind him. Jack comes to and tries to convince her using baby talk to open the door, but Wendy won’t budge. Earlier in the story, this tactic may have worked, but she’s smarter and more wary now. She’s had a moment of clarity about her husband—he’s a stark raving maniac. To top it off, he tells her he has sabotaged the CB radio and the snowcat. They’re completely cut off. Her misery is laid bare.
Danny, speaking as Tony, writes REDRUM on the door of the bathroom, a puzzling word we’ve seen flash across the screen multiple times with no meaning. Wendy sees what Danny wrote in red lipstick in the mirror and it reads MURDER (mirror motif again). A terrifying omen indeed. Who will be murdered? Her? Danny?
Grady breaks Jack out of the larder and he goes on a rampage with a fire axe, cutting down the bedroom door to get to his son and wife to chop them up as Grady had done. Wendy and Danny hole up in the bathroom, trapped. Wendy slips her son out of the window but she cannot fit through. In probably the film’s most famous scene, Jack sticks his haggard face through the hacked-through bathroom door and announces in Ed McMahon-style from The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson, “Here’s Johnny!”
Break into Three: Dick Hallorann arrives at the snowbound Overlook, where the A and B stories cross for the final time. The past has come back to haunt and he’s here to help. The heroic cook’s arrival gives the trapped Wendy a momentary respite from inevitable death as Jack leaves to check out whoever showed up in the droning snowcat.
Stepping inside the lobby after a full day of travel from sunny Florida to the snowy Rockies, poor Dick is killed as Jack plunges an axe blade into Hallorann’s chest. The horrifying moment resounds with Danny, who witnesses it through his psychic connection to the murdered cook. Danny screams and his axe-wielding father finds him, chasing him into the snow-flocked hedge maze.
1. Gathering the Team: Wendy runs through the maze of the hotel and it finally reveals itself as a house of horrors—a hideous Dog Man, a party guest with a bleeding face, a room full of party guest skeletons.
2. Executing the Plan: Jack tracks Danny to the hedge maze. Danny has one advantage. He’s been through the topiary labyrinth with his mom where Jack couldn’t be bothered as he was “writing,” or more like going insane.
3. High Tower Surprise: Wendy finds the bloody corpse of Dick Hallorann lying in the lobby and other assorted horrors.
4. Dig, Deep Down: Danny trudges through the endless, freezing hedge maze, tired and not able to shake off his father, following his tracks in the snow. His father is like the mythical Minotaur that hunts and kills its prey within the labyrinth.
5. The Execution of New Plan: Danny then decides to backtrack, walking backwards in his tracks and hiding. His father passes him and Danny runs the other way, victorious. Like Perseus, Danny uses the “thread” of the tracks to find his way out of the deadly maze. Danny and his mom are reunited outside of the topiary. They escape in the snowcat that the late cook provided, roaring off into the snowy night. They are free of murderous Jack and the evil Overlook forever!
Alone and outwitted by his son, Jack is lost in the snowy maze. He weakens from the cold, slumps, and is frozen into a Psychocicle the following morning.
Final Image: Jack failed in his transformation, becoming more of a monster than ever. In a revealing tracking shot through the Overlook Hotel, old-time jazz playing, we see Jack, young, in a black and white photograph that reads July 4th Ball 1921. It seems he’s “always been the caretaker” as Grady had said.
- Don Roff
Thank you for the kind words, Juan!
- Timothy F Oliveri
Wow, terrific job Don. It’s enlightening and certainly helps me in my writing. A huge THANK YOU!
- Don Roff
That’s great, Timothy! That was my hope. Glad it’s working for you. Keep on writing!
- Timothy F Oliveri
I’m now tempted to check out other things you’ve written about my favorite genre.
- Don Roff
Go for it, Timothy! THE THING was last month and GET OUT will be next month. Hope to write horror beat sheets as long as people want to read them!
- Ted DeMarsh
Thanks, Don. As a writer and fan of the movie this was a great read. I appreciate the work you put into this.
- Don Roff
Thank you, Ted. Hoping fans of THE SHINING novel *and* film would dig it.
- Ethan terra
This is nothing shy of amazing! STC should make a whole book dedicated to just horror beat sheets. Really helped me. Thank you.
- Don Roff
Thank you for the kind words, Ethan. I would love to write that book! That decision, however, isn’t up to me. Glad THE SHINING beat sheet helped you. Since you’re a fan of horror beat sheets, you’ll love what we have planned for October.
- Ravi Kaiwart
One of the best Beat sheets simplifying the complex and subtle story of the movie “The Shining”.A great learning source for all writers.Thanks a lot.Keep up the good work.God bless you.
- Don Roff
Had a great time writing the beat sheet for the Kubrick film *and* comparing it with the King novel. If you haven’t read the one for the novel, check it out and see how they line up (link at the beginning). For two mediums so different as film and novel, you may be surprised. Thanks for reading, Ravi!
I’m sorry, but I think that’s not correct. Act 2 begins after Halloran alerts Danny about room 237 (a month later), and act 3 begins after Wendy hits Jack with the bat. Also, if you check the movie timeline, you can verify that these beats occur in 1/4 and 3/4 of the total duration.
- Don Roff
You’re free to disagree with me, Josué, just as I’m free to disagree with you. Thanks for reading.
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great work Don! thanks for sharing!