- The Doctor Sleep scene where Danny comforts a dying patient is emotionally impactful and resonates with the author’s personal experiences of grief.
- Mike Flanagan’s empathy for Danny’s character and his own struggles with sobriety adds depth and authenticity to the redemption arc.
- The scene’s message that death isn’t the end provides comfort and reassurance, regardless of religious beliefs, offering solace during the grieving process.
Though based on a book by horror icon Stephen King, one Doctor Sleep scene packs an emotional punch that helped me through some dark times. Acting simultaneously as an adaptation of The Shining sequel and a direct follow-up to Stanley Kubrick’s 1980 movie that diverged from King’s 1977 novel, the movie centered on Danny Torrance, now 30 years older, as he grappled with the demons of his past at the Overlook Hotel, drowning them in alcoholism. Just as he finally begins to embrace a clean life, Danny is pulled back into the dangerous realm of the supernatural to help a young girl with Shining abilities bring down a clan of vampire-like psychics called The True Knot.
Led by Ewan McGregor and Rebecca Ferguson, Doctor Sleep garnered largely positive reviews for its melding of King and Kubrick’s worlds, the performances of its cast, and Flanagan’s layered screenplay. Though the filmmaker has gone on to receive praise for his work on Netflix’s The Haunting anthology and Midnight Mass, two of my favorite projects of his to date, my mind consistently comes back to his work on the 2019 movie. At the time his second King project, Flanagan had already proven his talents in adapting the author’s work with Gerald’s Game, a so-called “unfilmable” novel, and his follow-up was an ambitious endeavor. But it’s one Doctor Sleep scene in particular that continues to resonate with me to this day.
Danny Torrance’s Doctor Sleep Scene Explained
The scene actually relates to the title of the movie itself, a nickname that McGregor’s Danny receives from some of the patients at the hospice where he works for using his Shining abilities to comfort those dying. While technically featured across two moments, the Doctor Sleep sequence that’s remained with me is the second one, in which George Mengert’s Charlie awakens to find Danny at the side of his bed while the death-sensitive cat, Azzie, lays in his lap.
As he awakens, Charlie begins to experience the various stages of grief for his impending death. While in the midst of his acceptance, he finds himself grappling with the existential dread of whether everything goes dark when one dies or whether there’s something waiting for him. Danny, with his rudimentary knowledge from his horrifying past, assures Charlie that death isn’t the end for someone, but instead that “we go on.” He subtly uses his Shining abilities to remind the ailing patient of his wife’s baking and the sounds of Frank Sinatra’s “Come Fly With Me” permeating their home, with the scene fading to Danny returning to his apartment without showing Charlie’s passing.
Flanagan’s Empathy Signals Danny’s Redemption
Across his acclaimed filmography, one of the most notable things Mike Flanagan has excelled at is crafting authentic characters and meaningful arcs for them, regardless of whether it is an adaptation of a prior work like The Haunting series or an original work like 2013’s Oculus. But it’s Doctor Sleep in which he was able to infuse some of his deepest empathy for a character with Danny, a man who has to hit literal rock bottom before finally taking steps to overcome his alcoholism.
While it was a theme Flanagan would explore deeper in Midnight Mass, part of the reason Danny’s redemptive journey back from his alcoholism feels so true is the writer/director’s own past striving for sobriety. Torrance’s arrival in the small New Hampshire town not only marked the start of this betterment, but also his greater chance at redemption in helping Kyliegh Curran’s Abra take down the True Knot. His interactions with the patients aren’t just a method to comfort elderly patients in their final moments, but rather act as his slow embrace of the abilities he worked so hard to hide from the world after they nearly got him killed as a child.
Danny’s empathy becomes a further driving force for him in the movie, taking the words of Carl Lumbly’s Dick Hallorann about helping the next generation of Shiners embrace their powers more deeply to heart. Rather than turn his back on the young girl and return to concealing his abilities, Danny works just as hard to comfort Abra and keep her safe while she endures the same terrors he endured at the Overlook Hotel. Even as he succumbs to the influence of the various spirits trapped there in Doctor Sleep‘s ending, Danny is able to overcome his literal and figurative demons. Ultimately, he succeeds in wiping the evil place off the map and allows the young girl to escape, effectively closing his arc.
Why Flanagan’s Doctor Sleep Stands Out Across His Filmography
Outside the sheer ambition Flanagan had to combine Kubrick’s equally acclaimed and polarizing The Shining adaptation with King’s novels, one of the most significant reasons Doctor Sleep stands out across his filmography for me is the previously mentioned scene of Danny comforting Charlie. Despite being a seemingly simple sequence — and one that some may even argue should’ve been excised from its lengthy two-and-a-half-hour runtime — it’s one that can carry a lot of emotional weight for an audience member, especially those in the process of grief.
Having recently endured the loss of a close family member myself, the stages of grief have practically raced in circles through my mind, with fellow family and friends assuring me it’s a normal process and offering a variety of words of comfort, including the possibility of seeing him again. Though, internally, I accept and appreciate everything said to me, there’s something in the way Flanagan writes Danny’s Doctor Sleep scene that’s ultimately made the process easier.
Rather than try and appeal to any generalities or one’s specific religious beliefs, Flanagan, through Danny’s character, simply strives to assure both Charlie and the audience that death doesn’t mean the end for a person. Between McGregor’s calm and quietly hopeful delivery and Flanagan’s intimate camerawork, it may not be confirmation of an afterlife any more than an episode of Ghost Adventures, but at the same time, it offers me the same sense of comfort as the characters Danny is speaking to.
It’s a piece of dialogue so powerful, in fact, that Mike Flanagan would find a way to utilize it a second time for the ending of Doctor Sleep and Danny’s own goodbye to Abra. Having lost her father to Zahn McClarnon’s Crow Daddy, rather than become an emotional zombie so many do when losing someone close, the young girl acts as a rock for her now-widowed mother. Abra reiterates Danny’s words by assuring we do “go on” and they’ll both get to see her dad again, even as she admits to missing him. Though it may be a theme Mike Flanagan’s touched on in his subsequent works, I’ll forever find the ultimate sense of comfort simply in the idea that “we go on.”