Back on May 23, 1980, when "The Shining" was first released, audiences saw something slightly different from what viewers obsess over today. That's because the next weekend Stanley Kubrick did an unusual thing: He re-cut the film, removing about two minutes from the ending, even though it was already in release. Those two minutes, like so much at the film's ghoulish hotel, are now lost to time, unlikely to ever be seen again.
However, thanks to a Shining fan site run by "Toy Story 3" director Lee Unkrich, "Shining" obsessives can now get closer than they have in decades to seeing the ending themselves. The site, which is called the Overlook Hotel (Unkrich is the "caretaker"), recently posted the screenplay for that long-lost scene. Unkrich vouches that the pages are real, and the site allows you to read them for yourself.
For those who won't be examining every last word for signs of an Indian burial ground, here's a summary of the scene. After we leave Jack Torrance (Jack Nicholson) frozen in the hedge maze, we cut to a hospital where Overlook manager Stuart Ullman (Barry Nelson) is visiting a recovering Wendy Torrance (Shelley Duvall) along with her son Danny (Danny Lloyd). After some pleasantries that are oddly casual for those recovering from an ax murder, Ullman tells Wendy that investigators searching the hotel "didn't find the slightest evidence of anything at all out of the ordinary," and that, amid the trauma, she must have simply been hallucinating. After inviting Wendy and Danny to leave to come stay with him in Los Angeles, he begins to leave, but remembers that he forgot to give something to Danny, and throws him a yellow ball. After the shot of the portrait that usually ends the film, the screenplay has the film ending on this rather goofily ominous title:
FADE INTO THIS TITLE ONTO BLACK
"The Overlook Hotel would survive this tragedy, as it had so many others. It is still open each year from May 20th to September 20th. It is closed for the winter."
You didn't expect Kubrick to give us all the answers, did you? Reviews of this original ending were decidedly mixed. The week after the change was made, New York Times critic Janet Maslin suggested that the change was "mildly damaging," as the original ending "helped maintain the film's languid, eerie rhythm." Roger Ebert, though, declared that "Kubrick was wise to remove that epilogue," because "it pulled one rug too many out from under the story." Screenwriter Diane Johnson, who co-adapted the screenplay with Kubrick, reported that the famously chilly auteur originally included the scene because he "had a soft spot for Wendy and Danny" and wanted the audience to see that they made it out all right. Shelley Duvall, on the other hand, thought the scene was essential to the story: "The scene explains ... the importance of the yellow ball and the role of the hotel manager in the plot," she said. (Earlier in the film the ball mysteriously rolls up to Danny and lures him toward Room 237, and Duvall took the closing scene as a clue that Ullman was in on it.)
We still don't know how much the scene changed before it was committed to film (though we do have some continuity Polaroids to examine). But perhaps it's best to do as A Serious Man suggests, and "accept the mystery."