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(Credit: Sharon Mccoy / Wikimedia)

The moment Stanley Kubrick asked Stephen King if he believed in God

Stanley Kubrick’s 1980 adaptation of Stephen King’s famous novel The Shining is considered by many to be one of the most iconic interpretations of the horror genre. Starring Jack Nicholson as an insignificant writer named Jack Torrance who slowly slips into the realm of insanity while hibernating in the isolation of the Overlook Hotel, The Shining is a fascinating chronicle of the human psyche’s violent fragmentation.

A significant difference between Stephen King’s literary vision that is at play in the novel and Kubrick’s masterful revision is their respective choices of fundamental ideological frameworks upon which they build their work. According to King, the Overlook Hotel is haunted by the ghosts of those who have been subjected to brutal deaths within its premises. King insisted that the primary driving force behind the inevitable corruption of Jack’s soul is the operation of supernatural forces in a heterotopic domain.

However, Kubrick did not believe in shifting the blame for a man’s perversions on ghosts and supernatural entities. By depicting Jack as an unhinged psychopath with an all-consuming hunger for death and destruction, Kubrick subverted the Biblical demarcations of morality. There is neither good nor evil in the Overlook Hotel, only the unrelenting horror of the human condition, which unfolds as Jack’s mind unravels.

Due to this deviation from King’s original intentions, the writer refused to accept the validity of Kubrick’s masterpiece. King said: “He’s made some of the movies that mean a lot to me, Dr. Strangelove, for one and Paths of Glory‘ for another. I think he did some terrific things but, boy, he was a really insular man. In the sense that when you met him, and when you talked to him, he was able to interact in a perfectly normal way but you never felt like he was all the way there. He was inside himself.”

During the production process, King and Kubrick naturally had to come in contact with each other and even discussed various topics over the phone. King once revealed that the celebrated filmmaker tried to explain why he did not want to make a ghost story, claiming that such narratives were facile and optimistic because they implied the hopeful continuation of our existence beyond the void of death as ghosts. King tried to counter Kubrick’s argument by asking him whether he considered the domain of hell to be optimistic, to which the director replied: “I don’t believe in hell”.

This wasn’t the only interesting conversation that the two artistic giants engaged in. Kubrick was so frustrated about King’s inability to understand his cynical view of humanity that he called the writer late at night only to ask him: “Do you believe in God?” Although King has stated three different versions of what happened next in different interviews, the most popular one involves Kubrick exclaiming: “I knew it!” and immediately hanging up.

Kubrick fervently believed: “Man isn’t a noble savage, he’s an ignoble savage. He is irrational, brutal, weak, silly, unable to be objective about anything where his own interests are involved—that about sums it up. I’m interested in the brutal and violent nature of man because it’s a true picture of him. And any attempt to create social institutions on a false view of the nature of man is probably doomed to failure.”

These creative differences contributed to the misunderstanding between Kubrick and King, with the latter denouncing the film adaptation of his novel because he could not understand the overwhelming pessimism. “That’s what’s wrong with [Stanley Kubrick’s] The Shining, basically…the movie has no heart; there’s no centre to the picture. I wrote the book as a tragedy, and if it was a tragedy, it was because all the people loved each other. Here, it seems there’s no tragedy because there’s nothing to be lost,” the writer commented.

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