Warning: SPOILERS ahead for Doctor Sleep.
Both The Shining and Doctor Sleep include a naked old woman in a bathtub - but who exactly is she, and what does she symbolize? Both films are based on Stephen King’s novels of the same name, and were directed by Stanley Kubrick and Mike Flanagan, respectively.
In The Shining, the Torrance family moves to Colorado and lives at the Overlook Hotel. When supernatural events occur, each family member struggles to understand what's happening. After Danny Torrance (Danny Lloyd) is attacked by a ghost in Room 237, his father Jack (Jack Nicholson) investigates. What first appears to be an alluring young woman who seduces Jack transforms into an old rotting ghost, and Mr. Torrance spirals out of control soon thereafter. The old lady from Room 237 continues to haunt young Danny in Doctor Sleep’s opening sequence, and she appears at the end of the film as well.
The naked old woman mythology dates back to an Overlook Hotel guest named Lorraine Massey, a woman who seduced young employees. In The Shining, she exists to remind Jack of his flimsy morals, and also plants a seed of doubt in young Danny’s head. From that point forward, Ms. Massey serves as a psychological reminder of everything awful that happened in Danny’s life, which explains her appearance in Doctor Sleep’s opening act. Danny (Roger Dale Floyd) and his mother (Alex Essoe) have now moved all the way to Florida, simply to avoid any snow that would remind them of Jack's Colorado demise. What they don’t realize, though, is that the Overlook Hotel stays within them. In the novels, an Overlook Hotel explosion causes Wendy’s cancer, and her death is referenced in Doctor Sleep. Meanwhile, the naked old woman from Room 237 lives in young Danny’s mind.
In Doctor Sleep, a grown-up Dan (Ewan McGregor) has learned how to trap Overlook ghosts in mental boxes, thanks to advice from Dick Hallorann. The sequel’s primary conflict involves a battle with a group of supernatural creepies known as the True Knot, but the subtext is about overcoming addiction and resolving emotional trauma. By boxing up all the ghosts from the Overlook Dan is able to keep them at bay, with the boxes serving as a very literal metaphor for compartmentalizing traumatic childhood memories. However, because he hasn't really exorcized his demons he has to resort to drugs, alcohol, and violence as a coping mechanism. It's only after joining Alcoholics Anonymous and confronting how his father lives on in him that Dan's able to truly fight his addictions.
The Room 237 lady represents lost innocence. Doctor Sleep shows how Dan overcomes internal conflict and bonds with Abra Stone (Kyliegh Curran), an adolescent girl who also has the shining. By trusting each other, they're able to convince others about the darkness that lingers - the True Knot. And by helping Dan confront the Doctor Sleep villain Rose the Hat (Rebecca Ferguson), Abra learns valuable life lessons about how to handle rotting old ghosts. If the Room 237 ghost represents trauma, then Doctor Sleep is about Dan helping Abra to be better-equipped at dealing with that trauma than he was.