HEAT VISION

How 'Doctor Sleep' Director's Cut Completes the Tale

This version of Mike Flanagan's Stephen King adaptation provides a stronger emotional connection between its three main plot threads.
'Doctor Sleep'   |   Warner Bros. Pictures
This version of Mike Flanagan's Stephen King adaptation provides a stronger emotional connection between its three main plot threads.

[This story contains spoilers for Doctor Sleep]

Doctor Sleep’s newly released director’s cut confirms both the strengths and weaknesses of the recent Stephen King adaptation’s theatrical version. The director’s cut clocks is about 24 minutes longer than the movie’s 151-minute theatrical cut, and will probably satisfy anybody who wants to spend more time with writer/director Mike Flanagan’s version of King’s characters.

Flanagan’s preferred edit features more polished visual effects, as well as some extra blood. The new director’s cut also establishes stronger thematic connections between what happened to the supernaturally gifted, but troubled Dan Torrance (now played by Ewan McGregor) in The Shining and how his experiences connect him with Abra Stone (Kyliegh Curran), his teenage mentee. There’s new footage set at the Overlook Hotel and more dialogue between Dan and the ghost of his (now undead) mentor Dick Hallorann (Carl Lumbly), both of which provide closure to Dan’s relationship with his abusive father Jack (Henry Thomas).

But while Flanagan’s preferred cut clarifies some of the movie’s themes and provides a stronger emotional connection between its three main plot threads — which respectively follow Dan, Abra, and the vicious cult leader Rose the Hat (Rebecca Ferguson) — most new material expands on rather than enhances what’s already strong in Doctor Sleep’s theatrical cut, arguably the most exciting studio release of last year.

In both edits of Doctor Sleep, Flanagan’s exploration of Dan’s unresolved daddy issues helps viewers to understand why Dan feels obliged to help Abra stop Rose and the other members of the Knot, a vicious group of super-powered gypsies who prey on anybody with “steam”-like vitality. Dan’s conversations with the ghosts of Dick and Jack are a little more detailed in the director’s cut, especially concerning the trauma of growing up with an alcoholic relative (in Dick’s case, it’s his grandfather). So in Dick and Dan’s first post-Overlook encounter, Dick says Jack is “as dark as the boy is light,” to which Dan (Roger Dale Floyd) replies: “Daddy tried to kill me.” Dick then apologizes for Jack by putting a forgiving, but pragmatic spin on past events, saying that Jack “had some light in him, too. Just like you got some dark. We all got both.”

That last line adds some extra gravity to Dick’s technique of boxing up painful memories, a concept that seems less unhealthy in the director’s cut than in the theatrical cut. In the director’s cut, viewers get more of a range of memories, all of which are shown to have material weight. “Memories are the real ghosts” Dick explains in the director’s cut, a point that’s driven home in an extra scene where Dan’s traumatized mom Wendy (Alex Essoe) sees a pair of footprints left behind on her bathmat by one of the Overlook’s ghosts (specifically: the old woman in room 237). Dan’s time as a hospice orderly also feels a little more consequential in the director’s cut, especially the scene where he shares a dying man’s vision of his twin sons, back when they were four years old. That happy memory — and the fact that Dan’s patient can see it, too — confirms the objective impact of Dan’s supernatural ability to recall the past.

In this light, the boxes inside Dan’s head are his way of rejecting his father’s recommendation— during an Overlook-set scene in the director’s cut — of following the Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) mantra of “[accepting] things you cannot change.” In that scene, Jack asks Dan to lure Abra inside the Overlook and then let its resident ghosts do what they do. Dan obviously can’t do that, since acceptance, in this case, means letting his past overwhelm him, as it threatens to do when he, during an AA meeting earlier in the movie, remembers that Jack broke his arm when he was a kid. Identifying with Jack is, in that sense, a greater concern in the director’s cut since Dan explicitly tells his dad’s ghost that Wendy couldn’t look him in the eyes after the Overlook since she saw too much of Jack in her son.

Then again, Dan’s AA moment is equally powerful in both versions of the movie since it, like the emotionally devastating long take funeral eulogy in Flanagan’s The Haunting of Hill House adaptation, is a captivating showcase for its lead actor’s monologuing skills. McGregor’s halting body language is just as powerful in the theatrical cut, and both versions of the scene establish the movie’s thematic concern with empathy in the face of inhuman trauma. Dan doesn’t forgive Jack in this scene, nor does he ultimately banish or defeat him from his life in either cut of Doctor Sleep. Instead, Dan accepts that he, like his mother, sees a lot of his dad in himself. So in both versions of Dan’s AA speech, he simply says that he “gets to see his dad in a new light” after becoming sober himself.

Dan’s unsentimental resolve is what separates him from Rose and her fellow Knot members, like Snakebite Andi (Emily Alyn Lind), who identifies herself as a “snake in a white blouse, whose face is blank” in the director’s cut. That “blank face” part is weirdly telling since it establishes a more literal-minded connection between Dan, Andi and Abra. When Abra traps Rose in a later scene (the best in the movie), her face appears to Rose without its eyes. Andi’s “blank face” line also ties into something that Abra tells Dan later on in the movie, after the Overlook’s ghosts possess him and try to overtake her: he’s not really “Uncle Dan” in that moment, but rather a Dan-shaped “mask” that the Overlook’s ghosts present to her.

Accountability is the first step towards empathy in both versions of Doctor Sleep, even when Dan and his AA sponsor Billy (Cliff Curtis) pick off the Knot’s members one by one. The violence in this scene is seemingly justified, especially the way that they single out Andi by making her the last member of the Knot to be dispatched. Andi uses legitimate trauma (“Fucking men”) to excuse her cruel, self-serving behavior, so she “deserves” what happens to her, in Abra’s words. And as Dan says in both cuts: “Our beliefs don’t make us better people —our actions make us better people.”

The death of David (Zackary Momoh), Abra’s father, is also explicitly shown in the director’s cut, as opposed to just being referred to in the theatrical cut. That extra footage doesn’t add much more depth to the scene since, as the villainous Crow Daddy (Zahn McClarnon) says in both cuts of the movie, “Some of my people are dead. Some of your people are dead. Outcome didn't change though.” But seeing David die does put an extra-discomforting spin on something that Dick only tells Dan in the director’s cut: “You're not a child anymore. You're older now. Much older, in a way."

Doctor Sleep’s director’s cut doesn’t ultimately reveal anything that wasn’t already in the movie’s theatrical cut. Flanagan’s gift for blunt, clipped dialogue is more evident in the director’s cut, but it doesn’t explain away some of his adaptation’s knottier themes, if you’ll pardon the pun. His knack for crisp, visually dynamic storytelling is also just as impressive in both versions of the movie, so if you haven’t seen Doctor Sleep yet, you should probably start with the theatrical cut. Anybody else who wants to spend more time thinking about The Shining should seek out Doctor Sleep’s director’s cut since it makes an already strong horror movie even more potent.

Doctor Sleep is now available on digital. It hits Blu-ray Feb. 4.

  • Simon Abrams
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