The most intriguing aspect of Stephen King’s renowned novel It, has always been the coming of age story that is at the forefront of the narrative. This particular theme was elevated with Andy Muschietti’s 2017 film adaptation, which focuses on the core group of characters as children. His follow up film – It: Chapter 2 – studies the characters 27 years later, grown up and still reeling from the trauma they experienced as children. When watching It for the first time, I was struck with a profound nostalgia that I hadn’t felt in a long time. While I didn’t grow up in the 80’s, the small town of Derry is very similar to the town I grew up in. Children wander the streets alone looking for solace in their peers, adults seem to be aware there is something not quite right about the town yet ignore it, and the overall aura of the town is decrepit.
There is something so special about the first installment of the franchise, a mostly quiet study of a group of kids that just happen to be being stalked by a supernatural clown. In fact, when the film reminds you it is a horror movie is where it falls flat – cheap jump scares accompanied by obnoxious sound design to inflict fleeting fear. This film perfectly portrays how vulnerable being a child makes you – helpless and naive – and this is amplified when the adults in our lives are neglectful, or downright monstrous beings. When you’re young and alone, finding solace in your peers can be life saving, and you become latched to these people in a way that feels organic and not dependent. As a kid, there are truly “no good friends. No bad friends. Only people you want, need to be with; people who build their houses in your heart.”
Experiencing individual trauma as a child is horrific, but there comes a point where you discover that you aren’t the only one who these things have happened to. In the case of It this happens to manifest itself into a demonic clown, but represents so much more. The first instalment to this horror franchise perfectly displays the resilience and love that is discovered through finding ones “found family.” You become tethered to these people in a way that you feel it is impossible to manifest in your own home, with your “real,” family. While separation is imminent – as we all move on with our lives – you are all bound by a time where the only thing you had was each other.
In the second film, the Losers Club are now adults and have forgotten each other and the events of the summer of 1989. This is a result of Pennywise, but moreover, this speaks to how the mind responds to trauma. Specifically when you’re a child, the brain takes those traumatic parts of your life and hides them away, to spare you perhaps. Something as simple as the name of an old friend, a phone call, or a smell can trigger the mind and make you remember things that you didn’t think were memories, rather thoughts. There’s a quote in Scott Heim’s novel “Mysterious Skin,” that goes; “- my eyes are open and I’m not eight anymore, I’m not ten anymore, I’m nineteen and now I know what’s happened to me, and I know they aren’t dreams. They’re memories.” The mind can gaslight itself, it’s true. Figments of memories that I assumed I must have made up – seen on a television screen or read in a book, or were just the result of my imagination – feels like a sledgehammer to the head when I realize that those figments were, in fact, real. It’s also cathartic in a way, to realize “I didn’t make this up,” because this thing is real and it happened and it’s what has made me the way I am today.
In regard to the Loser’s themselves, the group dynamic between them resonates and rings through my heart like a bell. In small towns, there’s nothing to do when you’re young but to just hope that you don’t get caught doing things to preoccupy yourself. Pyrotechnics and trespassing aside, the group of friends I made in my youth greatly reflect the faces I see within Stephen King’s story. No matter what stage you’re at in your life, there’s always going to be tropes the people in your group of friends fall into; the Leader, the Loudmouth, the Smartmouth, the Shy one, the hypochondriac, the “Mom,” the Backbone; and while that’s the case, you can’t help but wonder how, you all manage to mesh so well. It is like a force bigger than yourself that has picked these people and dropped them into your life when you so very much needed it. Although time goes by, and people fall out of touch, when you’re reunited with these people and you still connect in the way you did as kids, it’s solidified; you are meant for each other. Towards the end of the posthumous novel Ben states with shock; “I think we still all love each other…do you know how rare that must be?”
While It: Chapter 2 packs less of a punch than its predecessor, there are still moments with such heart and tenderness that it feels like these truly are the characters we saw in the previous film, now just grown ups. Adulthood is never as magical as childhood – you’re meant to face the harsh realities at full force now, and most of the time you’re doing it on your own – so is it really a surprise that this film doesn’t feel as magical as the first? That’s why where the film really succeeds – again – is not the horror aspects, but the character moments such as something so simple as the Losers having dinner together. The ending of Chapter 2 follow a different route than the novel or the 1990 miniseries, as Muschietti allows the characters to remember each other when it’s all said and done. They don’t forget each other when they leave Derry for the last time, and that is the most impactful change to the source material. In the end, the most important thing about this story is the resilience that comes with love; the reliance to remember a part of your past, whether good or bad, because the past is what makes us, even when we have enough strength to move forward. The source material and the live-action adaptations have never just been about a demonic clown, and the most important thing this story leaves us with is that “they still love one another. Things have changed over the last twenty-seven years, but that, miraculously hasn’t.”