WARNING: The following article contains spoilers for Doctor Sleep, in theaters now.
Jack Nicholson's performance in The Shining as the deranged Jack Torrance is one of cinema's most lauded outings. Under the direction of Stanley Kubrick, he delivered as a winter caretaker at the Overlook Hotel in the Colorado Rockies going insane thanks to the influence of supernatural forces. This caused him to embark on a murder spree, targeting his wife Wendy and young son Danny, only to die frozen in a hedge maze. However, as director Mike Flanagan charts the adventures of a grown-up Danny (Ewan McGregor) in Doctor Sleep, the final act of the sequel sees the younger Torrance actually endure a possession that's way better than his dad's.
While many would say Jack's sanity deteriorated, the finale here proves he was possessed by the Overlook Hotel, which in and of itself was a malevolent entity. Its spirit owned Jack, causing him to try to slaughter his family with an axe, which is why we see his ghost in the hotel when Danny comes to battle the vampire Rose (Rebecca Ferguson) at the end to save the soul of young Abra (Kyliegh Curran). Jack takes on the role of Lloyd the bartender but as Danny presses him, his dad admits he was corrupted by the house, albeit it brought out what always lingered beneath the surface.
By film's end, Danny gets possessed himself, not by being a writer whose alcoholism opened his mind to evil, but because he enters the belly of the beast willingly to feed Rose to the Overlook's ghouls. But admittedly, Danny's possession feels more earned than that of his dad, who just so happened to be wrong place and wrong time. It's not happenstance in Flanagan's movie, as Danny has had his mind wrecked by his past alcoholism himself (which he felt brought him closer to his dad's memory). He's been clean for eight years, but apart from that, we discover he's been haunted by not being able to properly grieve and comfort his mom in her dying days due to cancer, as his Shining made him see her face constantly covered with black flies.
Danny has been tortured and worn down over the course of the movie, so much so that, when he loses his best friend, Billy (Cliff Curtis), in the fight against Rose's minions, Danny contemplates drinking again, almost giving in. But while he doesn't slip, you can see he's breaking. And this makes him sympathetic and someone you want to root for, drawing parallels to how Linda Blair's young Regan MacNeil was broken down in The Exorcist. You can't help but feel innocent characters like this don't deserve such a cruel fate, whereas with Jack, he was a jerk who ignored his family, so with that neglect in mind, you didn't empathize or feel his plight as much.
All Danny has at heart, however, is Abra's safety, especially after Rose kills her dad. He has the chance to walk away a couple times, but he relents and sticks by the girl's side, becoming the father-figure he never had. And so, at the Overlook, Danny really is put through the wringer, unleashing the ghosts he trapped from there that he knows will hurt him in due time, all so they could attack Rose. And as he predicts, after devouring her, they go after Danny in a truly brutal sequence that allows the hotel to consume and possess him. It's all self-sacrifice, which is why Abra doesn't even want to leave him at the end, not even when he's rocking an axe like his dad. With Rose dead, she should flee, but Abra knows there's a Danny to be saved.
Abra doesn't want to abandon Danny, as he wasn't selfish like Jack. When he does resist the possession in Room 237 to allow her to escape, it's very reminiscent of Father Damien Karras from The Exorcist. Danny's big play is to hold the Overlook inside him so it can't feed off of Abra, creating a window of opportunity for her to escape. What paints his possession even better is he regains his humanity and childhood innocence when his spirit finds his mom's soul in the boiler room before the place blows up, and they reconcile, knowing what he gave up for Abra to live -- becoming the kind of hero he always wanted his father to write about and even become.
Written and directed by Mike Flanagan, Doctor Sleep stars Ewan McGregor, Rebecca Ferguson, Kyliegh Curran, Carl Lumbly, Alex Essoe and Zahn McClarnon. The film is now playing everywhere.