Room 217 or Room 237? Mike Flanagan on the Difficult Choices He Had to Make for ‘Doctor Sleep’ [Interview]November 13, 2019
Most sequels only have to worry about being faithful to the movie that came before it, but that’s not the case for Doctor Sleep (read my review). The new film from Mike Flanagan (The Haunting of Hill House) is a canonical sequel to Stanley Kubrick’s horror classic The Shining but also strives to remain as faithful as possible to Stephen King’s original novel, which Kubrick changed in many ways.
This meant that, for example, a character who survived the novel of The Shining didn’t necessarily make it out of Kubrick’s film. It also meant that certain set pieces or scares were dramatically different between the book and the movie, which forced Mike Flanagan to make some difficult choices over the course of the production.
In a recent interview with Bloody-Disgusting, we asked Flanagan about some of those discrepancies. Like, for instance, the fact that in the book Jack Torrance tried to kill his family with a croquet mallet, while in the movie he tried to kill his family with an axe.
“I think the mallet’s more upsetting,” Flanagan says. “Yeah, it’s the blunt trauma of it. It’s the idea that a skull is just going to pop like a grape if that thing hits you. It’s so blunt and awkward an instrument.”
“But the axe,” Flanagan says, boiling the whole decision down, “is iconic.”
Flanagan also says that choosing between the Kubrick’s creepy hedge maze and King’s haunted topiary animals was another relatively easy decision to make.
“The hedge maze I always found to be more cinematic,” Flanagan says. “Topiary animals, from a cinema point of view, they have to be digital, or you’re doing this kind of stop-go thing. I didn’t want to get mired down in the CG. I love the hedge maze. In the book the topiary animals in my mind, that red light-green light of them, was awesome. But they’re very impractical to shoot.”
But perhaps the biggest discrepancy, and the one that created a major problem for Flanagan, wasn’t an instrument of death or a fearsome piece of foliage.
It was a number on a door.
As fans of The Shining may already know, the most haunted room in the Overlook Hotel was, in the book, “Room 217.” But when Kubrick adapted the novel into a movie, there was a problem: the Timberline Lodge, where they filmed the exteriors of the hotel, actually had a “Room 217,” and the proprietors didn’t want it associated with all that death and carnage.
But they didn’t have a “Room 237,” so that’s what Kubrick used instead. It may seem like a small change but, to hear Flanagan tell it, he practically bent over backward to make King’s original room number fit in with Kubrick’s slightly altered vision.
“OH MY GOD was that a big problem for us!” Flanagan exclaims.
“So my initial thing was I thought I found a way through without having to commit, which was the Overlook is condemned, [so] what if the middle letter fell off over the decades and it was just 2-space-7, and it could be a Rorschach test. Whatever you wanted it to be, that was the answer. And I felt like that was genius and I had skirted the whole issue… except we had to do the flashbacks, and that made it clear that we absolutely had to pick a side.”
“So because Kubrick’s film was canon, it had to be 237,” Flanagan explains.
But he didn’t let it go, and in an unexpected way, the filmmaker was able to fit “Room 217” into the film version of Doctor Sleep after all.
“217, though, is the room Dan goes into in the hospice with the first patient. So I could get a shot of Ewan McGregor in front of those numbers,” Flanagan reveals.
“And whenever I go to The Stanley [the hotel in Colorado that helped inspire King’s novel, where he stayed in Room217], I’ve been lucky enough to go there three times now, the room I try to stay in, the room I wrote Hush in?” Flanagan asks.
“217,” he reveals. “So yeah, it’s a tough one.”