Jack Nicholson is widely celebrated to be one of the best actors in the business, and this is made abundantly clear with his role in The Shining. Based on a novel by Stephen King with the same, the movie is regarded as one of the best movies of all times, and by some to be the scariest.
He would have liked Kubrick to pay more attention to this part of the book, about how alcohol destroyed Torrance’s family and the circumstances that lead to him becoming a teetotaler, rather than just mention it in passing.
Kubrick however, is all praise for the book.
One of the reasons he picked this book to make into a movie is that ‘it seemed to strike an extraordinary balance between the psychological and the supernatural in such a way as to lead you to think that the supernatural world would eventually be explained by the psychological.’
Both plotlines are similar in the first hour or so, following Jack and his family, his wife Wendy and son Danny as they go to live in the Overlook hotel in Colorado as the winter caretaker. He is an aspiring writer, and looks forward to the solitude and peace in the hotel for five months to get his creative juices flowing.
Danny is said to possess psychic abilities, referred to as the shining, something he shares with the chef of the hotel. The chef gives him the customary warning of bad memories in the hotel, particularly in a room 237. The book does not detail this as much, more because it was Kubrick who decided to make the movie more about the supernatural rather than the characters inhabiting the hotel, another sore point between him and the author.
Jack begins to become more and more psychotic, frustrated with no headway in his work and angry at his wife’s accusations of him hitting his son. He becomes delusional, imagining conversations with a bartender, the old caretaker of the hotel who killed his wife and kids, and slowly slips into insanity.
It is when his wife discovers that Jack has been typing out nothing but “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy” that things begin to go south. He attacks her, and events culminate in him trying to hack his way through the door with an axe. This is one of the most famous bits of the movie, a psychotic Jack Nicholson with a manic grin wielding an axe to try and kill his wife, all the while screaming “here’s Johnny”.
Now this is where the movie and the book part ways. The movie shows Jack killing the chef who came back and try to save the family, while the book says the chef was infact attacked by the topiary animals of the maze, and slightly injured. In the book, he helps Wendy and Danny to escape.
The book also doesn’t portray Jack as completely gone, he briefly gains control of himself to tell Danny he loves him and to run away, while the movie shows him as freezing to death after trying to chase Danny in the maze outside the hotel.
Ironically, Jack dies because of a boiler explosion in the book, and freezes to death in the movie.
This maybe because Stanley Kubrick had at his disposal an actor who pulls off psychotic roles extremely well, and could afford to make him an individual who became truly insane. His acting is also one of the reasons the movie seems to appeal to audiences far more than the book.