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Why One Ghost From 'The Shining' Isn't In 'Doctor Sleep'

Director Mike Flanagan talks Kubrick conspiracy theories and one regret that's too much to bear.

“Doctor Sleep,” the upcoming sequel to “The Shining,” is the story of Danny Torrance (Ewan McGregor) and his path to recovery after the events that took place at the Overlook Hotel. It makes sense that the movie brings back some of the iconic imagery from Stanley Kubrick’s 1980 classic. But for one particular ghost, the wait will remain unbearable.

In “The Shining,” Wendy (Shelley Duvall), brandishing a knife, comes across a room where a man in a bear costume is performing fellatio. It’s one of the most baffling scenes from the movie, perhaps taken from a subplot in Stephen King’s novel involving a man/ghost who dressed in a dog costume, and it’s likely a terrifying moment for both parties.

While it’s obviously creepy for Wendy to see this at a hotel where you believed you were alone, it’s got to be equally scary to be chilling with your boo in your favorite bear suit, butt flap hanging in the wind, when a woman shows up out of nowhere carrying a knife.

That bear is an enduring mystery of “The Shining.” But don’t expect to see a return in “Doctor Sleep.” The ghost furry is sitting this film out.

“Oh, there was so much thought about bringing him back. We would talk about it all the time. The thing is I could never wrap my head around those two ghosts,” “Doctor Sleep” director Mike Flanagan said in an interview with HuffPost. “It’s one of those mysteries of ‘The Shining’ that is so difficult for me to wrap my head around. I love it so much, but I was afraid that once we brought him back, it evokes all the images from the original down to the open butt flap of the costume. Tonally, I didn’t know if the film would survive that kind of speed bump.”

The director explained the ghosts that do appear in “Doctor Sleep” were the ones that really stayed with him the most from the original. But don’t think he didn’t second guess the decision.

“I was on the brink of bringing him in all the way through, and there would be days I’d wake up and be like, ‘You know what, we’re gonna do it. We’re just gonna go for it,’” Flanagan said. “But it just never happened. I think I might kind of regret that. I really wish we had figured it out because it would have been pretty great.”

Besides phantom furries, Flanagan was faced with numerous other mysteries from “The Shining” while filming “Doctor Sleep.” With unprecedented access to Kubrick’s old files, he discovered some new mysteries about the movie, too.

Shelley Duvall in "The Shining," 1980. (Photo by Warner Brothers/Getty Images)
Shelley Duvall in "The Shining," 1980. (Photo by Warner Brothers/Getty Images)

When making “Doctor Sleep,” I read you had access to Kubrick’s old annotated plans for “The Shining.” Did you learn anything about the movie you didn’t know before?
Oh my god yeah. We were so blessed in that sense. We had all of his design elements. And I kind of could read his handwriting, the notes that he scribbled to himself and to the crew. And what I got out of it ultimately was the most educational experience I ever could’ve had in cinema. I thought of it like a forensic film school. I got to put a lens exactly where Stanley Kubrick put a lens on a set that was identical to his, and I got to kind of retroactively interrogate his decisions. I got to say, “Why is this the best place? Why is this the best lens? What happens if we move the camera five feet over? We get on a longer lens. Why didn’t you do that?” I could ask him that by trying it. And inevitably I would come back around to realizing that he had put that camera in the best place. 

So having all this inside understanding of “The Shining,” what do you think of the conspiracy theories? Did Stanley Kubrick fake the moon landing?

I did not uncover anything in any of the work we were doing that implied he had faked the moon landing. On the other hand, that’s probably exactly what I would say even if I had, so it’s tough to say for sure. I think what I learned the most about why those theories exist and why they kind of are so propulsive is that Kubrick more than any other filmmaker that I’ve studied communicates in layers in every image of his work. I’ve seen “The Shining” now hundreds of times, over 100 times just in prep for this movie alone, and I was still finding new levels of communication and meaning that he had infused into his images. I think that’s why these theories have such legs. They’re plausible. It is not implausible that Stanley Kubrick, with a mind as incredible as his was, could have hidden messages that profoundly huge in his work.

What’s something you learned? And how did you translate that to “Doctor Sleep”?

We would talk a lot about some of the physical characteristics of sets we’d build within the Overlook, and we would look at things like, well, there are steps here as you come up into the residence for example. We would say, “Why did he add steps there? Why did he have you have to step up into the room?” And we would explore all these different meanings for why he would actively make a set, he had complete control over, harder for himself by doing that. What I learned in that particular case is that he was using every available square foot of the stages in London where he was building these. Those steps were part of the stage. It was a physical feature that was there and he just absorbed it into his design. There were these strange hiccups that would happen in his designs that were basically him taking what was there and just absorbing it. That was really fascinating to me. I was fascinated, too, looking at the plans for Room 237. And you know so much has been made about that number speaking about conspiracy theories. 

[Room 237 in Kubrick’s “The Shining” — changed from room 217 in Stephen King’s novel — is thought to be a reference to the Holocaust by some theorists, since multiplying 2 x 3 x 7 equals 42. This, along with other 42s in the movie, is said to represent 1942, the year the Nazis carried out the “Final Solution.”]

Right. 

In his blueprints, it’s Room 217. It’s really incredible. And some of those things had answers that we could kind of forensically identify. Others did not.

What didn’t have answers?

I still, for the life of me, I cannot explain to you why he put the bathroom window where he put it, which — I know because we built that set — opens into the hallway of the Overlook Hotel. Whether there was meaning behind that or whether he just assumed the interior of the hotel doesn’t make sense. One we could never figure out is where the hell the lobby doors were in relation to the outside. The doorways you see people entering and exiting the Overlook through, it’s not the lobby doors. It’s this other entrance off to the side. We ended up rebuilding the same one because it was the only one I could wrap my head around. But I tasked my entire art department. We couldn’t figure out if it was in the front or back of the building. We were combing through all the internet blueprints, Kubrick’s blueprints. None of it made sense together. And I eventually kind of got to the place where I said, “You know what, this doesn’t make sense.” And he seemed perfectly okay with that. So I guess we should be as well.

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