November 30th 2019

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Articles from this issue:

COVER STORY Can we put the 'care' back into aged care?

EDITORIAL Bushfires: One step forwards, one step backwards

ENVIRONMENTALISM Activists and courts give sharks the last laugh

CANBERRA OBSERVED ALP's self-examination will entice no one back

NATIONAL AFFAIRS Cardinal Pell's appeal to go to the High Court

FOREIGN AFFAIRS Deaths after Fukushima due to excessive caution

INTERNATIONAL AFFAIRS Geopolitics, oligarchs and the Moldova miracle

ENVIRONMENT Into the unknown: Should we prepare for climate change or climate variability?

LAW AND SOCIETY Crime and punishment: Are we de-civilising?

WATER POLICY Drought relief still leaves too much water going to waste

ASIAN AFFAIRS Destination Oz: Flood of Hong Kong emigres may restart

HUMOUR MacStuttles, me ol' China

MUSIC Subliminal workhorse: An art takes the backseat

CINEMA Dr Sleep: Kubrick 'shined' from his rest

BOOK REVIEW Science and religion, with mutual respect

BOOK REVIEW A borrowed term for a socialist recipe



FOREIGN AFFAIRS Hong Kong voters reject Beijing and its proxies

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Dr Sleep: Kubrick 'shined' from his rest

by Symeon J. Thompson

News Weekly, November 30, 2019

Doctor Sleep is the sequel to 1980’s horror classic, The Shining. It cleverly draws on Stanley Kubrick’s masterful, if loose, adaptation of Stephen King’s novel of the same name to tell a different sort of story and is itself based on King’s own 2013 sequel to the novel.

Kubrick’s film was a richly evocative and affecting depiction of the disintegration of a man preyed upon by forces he did not understand. Its impact came from how hauntingly it fused its imagery and soundscape with its actors’ performances to create an allusive, atmospheric cinematic experience, one capable of utterly engrossing and overwhelming its audience. Doctor Sleep uses these elements to present a supernatural thriller about a fight between good and evil – rather than just an experience of it.

Dan Torrance (Ewen McGregor, with Roger Dale Floyd as the young Danny), traumatised and tormented by his childhood experiences and his psychic gifts, has fallen into a self-destructive alcoholism as he seeks to blot out the pain. It doesn’t work and as he flees he finds himself in a small town where he becomes friends with Billy Freeman (Cliff Curtis), a good man who gives the drifting Dan somewhere to stay and something to do – also becoming his AA sponsor.

Dan rebuilds his life, working at a hospice for the dying where he finds a use for his gifts. He comforts the patients as they die, being with them when they are most scared. He also becomes a “psychic penpal” with Abra Stone (Kyliegh Curran, with Dakota Hickman as the young Abra), a psychically gifted young girl who is learning to use her gifts.

Meanwhile, predators stalk the innocent. The True Knot, led by Rose the Hat (an utterly creepy Rebecca Ferguson subverting every trope of motherhood), is a cult of psychic vampires who hunt psychically gifted children, torturing them to death so they can feast on their power and keep themselves young. After Abra psychically witnesses one of their murders, she dedicates herself to stopping them and enlists Dan’s reluctant help.

Doctor Sleep could have been a conventional supernatural thriller, like many a Stephen King adaptation. It could have been a big budget duel between good and evil with characters learning life lessons and all that jazz. But it is not.

While it is an adaptation, although seemingly a looser one, of King’s sequel novel, it is fundamentally a sequel to Kubrick’s film. As such, it draws on the images and performances and sounds of the film, consciously echoing that film’s atmosphere to draw the audience into the experience – while providing an action-packed thriller plot to keep the audience engaged.

This “echoing” style not only evokes the original film, but it also evokes what that film evoked – a palpable sense of dread and unease and uncertainty. Neither film is about cheap frights or jump scares but rather the construction and destruction of character.

In The Shining, it is Dan’s father Jack Torrance (Jack Nicholson) who is falling apart, and taking his family with him. In Doctor Sleep, Dan is making amends, not only for his own sins but those of his father. Jack remained conflicted – wanting to hurt and not to hurt at the same time.

The True Knot, however, have given themselves over entirely to their appetites, annihilating their humanity in favour of something other and cruel.

Much of the horror in The Shining comes from how the film makes the audience enter into the experience of the protagonists, making them recognise themselves in the characters. This is not so much the case in Doctor Sleep, as the horror comes from what the True Knot does rather than our fear we would become like them. However, by having heroes and villains rather than just protagonists, we see life as defined by the choices we make rather than giving in to a nagging anxiety that free will is an illusion.

Dan was going down a dark path, living for himself alone, but, with help, he picked himself up so much that he flipped his story, symbolically also atoning for his father. He chooses to help, as the Knot chooses to hurt.

In the battle between good and evil in the world, and within ourselves, he shows evil is vanquished not just by its destruction but by replacing it with something good.

Symeon J. Thompson is a member of the Film Critics’ Circle of Australia (FCCA).

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