'Doctor Sleep' Director Mike Flanagan Reveals the Pressure of Adapting His Hero Stephen King
Published Nov 06, 2019This week, director Mike Flanagan's adaptation of Stephen King's continuation to The Shining, Doctor Sleep, hits theatres. The novel is sprawling and ambitious, but an even bigger challenge was integrating the legacy of the massive Shining universe, one that also includes Stanley Kubrick's iconic film adaptation.
"I love Stephen King, he's my hero," Flanagan tells Exclaim!; he read the novel the week it hit bookshelves. "And I was reading this classic King story. I love this story, but all the images in my head are Kubrick. And it was such a weird contradiction and a weird internal experience. At the time I thought, 'Whoever eventually makes this movie, what a cool chance they'll have to pull that together — but it would be very daunting, so good luck to them.'"
Cut to six years later, and Flanagan himself has directed an adaptation that captures the spirit of its predecessors, by using his "inner fan as the litmus for everything."
"I would try to imagine how I would react if another filmmaker was making the film, and weighing each decision up against that."
Flanagan's Doctor Sleep is deeply invested in its characters and their demons, both internal and external. This should be no surprise to someone following Flanagan's work, as King's novel and his own films share similar themes. "It's about generational trauma, addiction, recovery, responsibility — this sort of dark, predatory world. All of that is already in my zone of fascination, things that really draw me to a story."
What makes Flanagan's adaptation of Doctor Sleep work is how well he understands King's novels on a human level, contextualizing Doctor Sleep not only within the world of The Shining but in King's own life.
"[Stephen King] wrote The Shining at a time when he was nervous about what his own alcoholism would do to his family if he didn't have it under control. But flash forward decades later, with decades of sobriety behind him, he writes Doctor Sleep. And that's about recovery and looking at his own grown children and wondering if the demons he wrestled with would be a part of them. I find that stuff to be so beautifully human and so personally fascinating to me. You can't really interrogate your demons, but it's important to try. It's important to stare them in the face."