Doctor Sleep still feels like an anomaly. Director Mike Flanagan successfully wove together two wildly divergent story lines that not only adapted Stephen King’s challenging source material, but also paid homage to Stanley Kubrick’s iconic adaptation of The Shining. Back in December, news surfaced that we would receive an extended, three-hour Director’s Cut, prompting Constant Readers and fellow horror fans to wonder what material Flanagan would restore and how it would connect to King’s Dominion.
Now, we know, and while Flanagan’s Director’s Cut doesn’t significantly alter the plot of the original film, it does enhance the story and offer more depth to its rich ensemble of characters. In addition to new scenes, we get more dialogue that either alludes to or directly references King’s novel and several lines that add context for poignant moments in the story. Like most of his work, King’s novel is rooted in strong characters, and Flanagan’s new cut releases those characters from their lockboxes and allows them to shine.
Below, you can read on to see what’s new, what’s changed, and what’s improved.
Chapter titles such as “Old Ghosts” and “What Was Forgotten” appear throughout the film, keeping us grounded in the original format of the story. This addition suggests that the imagery may tie back to Kubrick, but the narrative belongs to King.
Powerful and Scary Ghosts
An early addition shows the ghost of Mrs. Massey fully revealing herself and stepping out of Danny’s Florida tub whereas the theatrical version showed only her hand beginning to pull back the curtain. This not only places the threat front and center, but echoes scenes described in King’s The Shining. Wendy (Alex Essoe) also sees the wet footprints on the bathmat presenting Mrs. Massey as more than a mere picture in a book.
The Stone Family
“We can forget about naptime.” –David Stone
The Stone family gets much more depth this time around, including an additional scene in which a young Abra (Dakota Hickman) mentally plays her favorite song on the piano. Rather than The Beatles’ “Not a Second Time”, Flanagan opts for “Teach Your Children” by Graham Nash, a subtle nod to the themes of parenting and mentorship that are the backbone of this story.
Flanagan also gives us more scenes with Abra’s father, David (Zackary Momoh). He’s rightfully furious after Abra tells him about her connection with Dan, attempting to protect his daughter through violence if necessary. He’s the antithesis of Dan’s own father, Jack, who was the threat rather than the protector. In fact, the Stones represent the only healthy parenting dynamic we see here and in The Shining, hinting at a more hopeful world where this is the norm rather than the exception.
“Well he’ll find his way back. He’s got a good heart under it all.” –Dr. John Dalton
After Dan’s (Ewan McGregor) first meeting, Dr. John Dalton (Bruce Greenwood) mentions how many people Billy Freeman (Cliff Curtis) has helped, adding more emotional weight to his eventual death. We also learn that Billy’s brother, Frankie, likely struggles with addiction and is not currently in recovery. They believe Frankie will find his way back, giving us hope that Dan will recover as well. This extended conversation also shows us that Dan is finally in an emotionally safe place, free of judgement.
The Cruel Knot
“We’re the True Knot, dear. What’s tied can never be untied.” –Rose the Hat
The Director’s Cut contains more scenes expanding on the brutality and deviousness of the True Knot. We see Violet’s mother (Bethany Anne Lind) searching for her daughter (Violet McGraw) after she is taken by Rose, immediately adding some severity and clarity to a horrific crime only implied in the theatrical version. Knowing what happens to our ill-fated Baseball Boy (Jacob Tremblay) also makes this scene especially brutal on second viewing.
In the cabin of her Earth Cruiser, Rose the Hat (Rebecca Ferguson) provides Snakebite Andi (Emily Alyn Lind) and the audience with more information about the nomadic group, specifically that they are called the True Knot. Critics of the novel complained that members of the cult had names reading as goofy or problematic, rendering them less effective as villains. In that respect, the omission of this scene was likely an attempt to avoid directly naming the cult more than necessary while remaining faithful to the book.
“She’s the great white whale. And I want her.” –Rose
Flanagan also gives us an extended scene in which Rose tells Crow Daddy (Zahn McClarnon) about her plan to keep Abra (Kyliegh Curran) prisoner as a sort of eternal food source, something only hinted at by Dick Hallorann (Carl Lumbly) in the theatrical cut. We also see the scene where Crow Daddy finds the pocket earthquake, alerting them to Abra’s location. This presents Rose as not only overconfident, but more dependent on other members of The Knot than she realizes.
“It always tickles me watching you rubes threaten a god. You know your little girl, she’s maybe the best food we’ll ever have. I’m so glad I had a chance to compliment the chef.” –Crow Daddy
In one of the most brutal and revealing deleted scenes, we see Crow Daddy kidnap Abra in the presence of her father, David. Even though David is holding a knife, Crow Daddy nonchalantly walks toward him ready for action. We then rejoin the theatrical cut as Crow Daddy walks out of the house, carrying an unconscious Abra and leaving David on the floor with the very knife he was holding buried in his chest. This exchange perfectly shows the brutality, power, and overconfidence of the True Knot. And sets up the scene where Crow Daddy is undone by his own hubris.
Elsewhere, there are a few more shots of the Baseball Boy being tortured to death, placing us more fully into an intensely upsetting scene, but the facts of the scene do not change. Squeamish viewers may turn away without fear of missing anything important. (My husband certainly did.)
Dan’s Rock Bottom
“What’s your name, hero?” –Dan Torrance
In an extended scene, we see Dan struggle more with his sobriety. His rock bottom moment, abandoning an unresponsive mother with her toddler, is made even more complex when Dan asks the young boy’s name. We get a better glimpse into Dan’s conscience as he wrestles with the guilt that will continue to haunt him later.
“You can put things from the Overlook away in boxes, but not memories. Never those. They’re the real ghosts. You take them with you.” –Dick Hallorann
Halloran catches Dan trying to repress this shameful memory the same way he contains the ghosts that haunt him. This is central to Dan’s arc, as well as the redemptive theme of the novel. Shameful memories are the ghosts with true power to destroy. Repressing them will only cause more damage. In order to truly be redeemed, Dan must face the truth.
We also see Dan stumble into a bus terminal to buy a ticket with what little is left in his pocket after waking up underneath a highway overpass. Though brief, this scene reminds us how Dan truly has hit rock bottom.
In my favorite added image, we see a drink on the iconic bar in the Gold Room: The Overlook, and all the memories it contains, is waiting for Dan. Here Flanagan reminds us that Dan still has a debt to pay and a choice to make.
“He hurt me once when he was drunk. Broke my arm.” –Dan Torrance
Additional dialogue has Dan telling members of an AA meeting that Jack broke his arm when he was a kid. Listeners of The Horror Virgin podcast will recall this writer was extremely frustrated that Kubrick changed Danny’s injury to a dislocated shoulder in The Shining, essentially minimizing Jack’s actions committed while intoxicated. Flanagan gives us that acknowledgement here.
Click ahead to go deeper into the Director’s Cut…
Jack and the Overlook
“That place fed his dark like it fed on your light.” –Dick Hallorann
Before teaching Danny (Roger Dale Floyd) to trap ghosts using mental lock boxes, Hallorann reminds Danny that, though Jack did terrible things, he was still a human being capable of good. This is a dynamic many Constant Readers felt was missing in Kubrick’s depiction of Jack Torrance. Here, Flanagan is supporting the novel’s theme of overcoming generational trauma. If we all have both light and dark within us, we have the ability to lead a healthy life, no matter what we’ve been through or done.
“It’ll cost more than money. It’ll cost me eight years. Eight behind me and who knows how many in front of me.” –Dan Torrance
In a particularly moving extended scene, we see Dan confront the ghost of his father at the Overlook bar. Jack (Henry Thomas) explains why he drank and offers alcohol as medicine to Dan. He paints it as the chance to escape the constant pain and shame, ironically instilled in him in part by Jack’s own alcoholism. The crucial arc of King’s novel is Dan’s ability to overcome his ghosts and refuse to follow the destructive path his father took. Here, we see Dan lean on his eight years of sobriety and refuse to give up on his chance for a full life.
“She just lay there dying with her son who couldn’t look at her.” –Dan Torrance
In a tragic mirror of Wendy’s own inability to look at her son, Dan’s shining keeps him from truly connecting with his mother in her most vulnerable moments. We know that Wendy and Danny truly love each other, but sometimes the pain is just too much. And sometimes it keeps us from connecting with those we love.
“Just bring her inside. And then you accept the things you cannot change.” –Jack Torrance
After intentionally spilling his drink, bartender Jack takes Dan into the iconic bright red men’s room as seen in Kubrick’s film. Jack attempts to turn Dan against Abra and bring her into the hotel, just as Grady once tried to get to Danny through Jack, even using Dan’s own recovery language against him. Jack is seen here in a subservient role, alluding to The Shining. We can clearly see that the promise of power Jack gave his life for was just an illusion. Rather than being an honored guest or an important member of the management, he now serves the hotel as a lowly staffer. Wait for the look on Dan’s face as Jack cleans him up. It’s something a parent would do for a child, but that Dan likely never saw in his own childhood.
Shame and Acceptance
“Daddy tried to kill me.” –Danny Torrance
As Danny and Hallorann talk on a Florida park bench, we learn that Danny has not spoken since leaving the Overlook. The first words he says are an attempt to process the trauma he’s experienced. Saying the truth out loud is something that’s been particularly helpful for me in processing my own trauma and it’s refreshing seeing it here.
“You’re scared of me.” –Abra Stone
A young Abra says this to her mother (Jocelin Donahue) before bedtime. She doesn’t ask, she states. She shines and is therefore aware of her mother’s fear. This is the beginning of a narrative of shame we see Danny and Abra face because of their abilities and the impacts the shining has on their loved ones. They cope by dulling their shine and hiding who they are from those closest to them. While it may seem like a rational survival strategy, this type of thinking leads to internalized shame that festers over the years. And often leads to substance abuse.
“She wouldn’t look me in the eyes. Not for long. I couldn’t figure it out. It was you. She saw your eyes in me. And she’d have to look away. It tortured her to have to do that, so I fixed it. I fixed it for her.” –Dan Torrance
The theme of eye contact runs throughout Flanagan’s cut evoking the vulnerability Dan fears. Dan is describing how he used his powers to protect himself from a world that has hurt him. Danny uses the Shining for the last time (as a child) to change the color of his eyes in an attempt to hide painful memories of Jack from his mother. While this is a sweet and selfless gesture from a child desperately seeking the unconditional love of a parent, we will learn that the pain of having to hide his true self from his mother has left deep emotional scars. He’s able to impart this knowledge to Abra, which makes the final scene with her own mother hit harder. This also adds heartbreaking context for Dan’s final scene with Wendy, looking lovingly into her son’s eyes as he dies.
“You’re thinking about dad. You are and you don’t want to.” –Dan Torrance
In a new scene, Wendy has a tense interaction with Danny while watching TV. She seems to struggle to look at Danny, and we learn that she sees Jack in his eyes. This addition shows that the mental and emotional results of trauma last far beyond the point when the physical wounds heal and that those we love often bear the collateral damage of our own pain.
“Wendy’ll worry. And she shouldn’t have to worry another day in her life. That woman’s paid her debt.” –Dick Halloran
Fans of King’s The Shining will remember how brutally Wendy was beaten and the description of the resulting trauma. Halloran’s acknowledgement that Wendy deserves happiness, too, brought tears to this writer’s eyes. Flanagan seems to love her as much as King does, and strives to give her a dignity lacking in Kubrick’s original film. This is King’s Wendy.
As Constant Readers will tell you, adaptations of King’s work are notoriously worrisome. In this writer’s humble opinion, Doctor Sleep ranks among his best in years — if not ever. The theatrical cut is wonderful, but to fully experience a Stephen King story of struggle and redemption, you’d be wise to watch this Director’s Cut.