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Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Dick Hallorann from "The Shining", As Told by Stephen King

As I mentioned in a previous post, there are a few differences in the book versus the film version of the classic horror tale, The Shining. Besides Stanley Kubrick's more subdued characterization and focus on the psychological horror of the story, the filmmaker also rewrote certain plot elements regarding the hotel's chef, Dick Hallorann (Scatman Crothers), specifically during the last thirty minutes of the film. A vital character in the book, Dick shared a supernatural gift with Danny that only they can understand, which was more fleshed out in the book. Plus, Dick was the victor in Stephen King's original version (in which Wendy was nearly tortured to death). But regardless of what you think of Kubrick's alternate ending (which I still love), it was nice to see Kubrick keep Dick's compassion in the film.

Despite King's more detailed portrayal of Dick, who's one of four point of views in the book (the others being Wendy, Jack and Danny), there is a distance to his approach to the character. Much of his analysis, aside from what we learn about his fears regarding his "gift" and new surroundings in Florida, is vapid commentary on his race. King frequently uses his race as a means to describe how unfortunate he is, the doom he fears facing on account of it. It's even more random because, though Dick wasn't in the best economical position, he had a job, a home, and was generally respected among his peers. That makes King's reflection, the unnecessary pity, that much more peculiar to read, especially since the perspective he gives to the other characters is more genuine, like it's actually coming from each of them. With Dick, it's inaccessible, like it's more what King thinks of him rather than what the character thinks of himself. While each character is written in third person, Dick seems less familiar than the other three vital characters. 

This facet of King's characterization of Dick recently came to mind during the online conversation sparked by director John Singleton's op-ed for The Hollywood Reporter asking whether white filmmakers can write black narratives without a consultant to help them craft a more truthful "black experience." While I do believe that several great black narratives have come from white writers, it did make me think of how King approached Dick's character. Even screenwriter William Monahan's dialogue in The Departed (released 26 years after The Shining), particularly in the scene between Anthony Anderson and Leonardo DiCaprio as police academy cadets, implied that Anderson's character was far worse off in life simply because of his skin color. It's not the assumption that there are unique challenges people of color face in the U.S. that others do not (that's indisputable), it's the remote approach to their narrative in light of it. 

I still imagine how Crothers and Kubrick would have portrayed Dick had Kubrick stuck with the original character layout and kept King's ending. But, on the other hand, Kubrick's depiction had an element of closeness that King was unable to achieve.


Daniel said...

It's really a detachment King has with characters of color in general, at least in the books I've read. His portrayals rarely feel authentic because he doesn't understand it, so it's mostly based off assumptions and generalizations.

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