IT Isn't Just About a Scary Clown
It's a rich story about overcoming ingrained hatred
So, I finally saw IT Chapter 2 and I have a lot of thoughts. I was not happy with IT Chapter 1, it got close but ultimately supremely missed the mark for me. It was loud, it was like watching other people walk through a haunted house, there was not much death (kind of important to the story), and worse, it made Beverly Marsh a damsel in distress. I was so disappointed in it that I almost completely lost interest in seeing the second part. I'm really glad I gave it a shot because it fixed so many of the issues I had with the first. I'm also glad it brought back the kids for some extra scenes because they were not at all the reason I disliked the first movie and deserved to act in something better.
Positives of the second movie, there were more deaths which exponentially raised both the horror and the stakes for our main characters, scenes were allowed to build tension and had great payoffs as opposed to overly loud garbage with nothing to show for it after. Letting Pennywise murder children, while horrific, made him a more competent and frightening villain. Bill Hader was just awesome all around, by far the standout of the adult cast. Finally tackling one of the themes of the book, surviving and fighting past traumas. Most importantly, for me, including Adrian Mellon as the victim that set off the new string of attacks...but that brings me to what I want to talk about here.
Do you think the story of a scary murder clown could really take almost 1100 pages to tell? Even with a lot of killings? Of course not. This is one of my favourite King books and that's in spite of a lot of...questionable content. But the reason I love this book so much is the rich history that's depicted in the book. Every time I read it, I am introduced to a new tidbit of information about Derry or about Robert Gray/Pennywise the Dancing Clown that I either forgot or never noticed before. Most importantly, the significant disasters that plagued the town which admittedly were brought up in the movie, but more just as background dressing. That's fair enough both the movies are quite long already and it's easy to see the world-building as something to cut to get to the meat of the story but I kind of disagree with it. I really think that Derry's history is the meat of the story.
Don't get me wrong, Pennywise is terrifying and I happen to have a massive fear of clowns. I never actually intended to have anything to do with IT but I saw part 1 of the mini-series at a friend's house but they were so bored that they didn't want to finish. I was terrified and hated leaving things unfinished so I decided that reading the book would be less scary and then I would get a happy ending and I'd stop having nightmares and maybe be able to shower without keeping my feet as far away from the drain as possible and comically arching my back into the water to wash my hair...uh, hypothetically speaking.
My point is, that while Pennywise is scary, what struck me as infinitely more terrifying is the influence he placed on the town. IT to me was about fear and what that fear can stoke in people. How much will people ignore to save their own skin but worse, it's what kind of monster our own actions or inaction can breed. Adrian Mellon's death was significant because it was what awoke IT from its hibernation period precisely because of the vitriol and hatred it stemmed from.
Worse than the act itself, which was brutal to read and see on the big screen, the movie didn't show us the aftermath which was honestly just as disgusting. The cops' attitude towards Adrian's lover because he was gay was gross. They acted as if whatever they had been doing had incited the incident. Them just existing was asking for an attack on them. The interrogation scene for me was harder to read than Adrian's death itself simply because no one cared about the person that had just died needlessly, other than Adrian's boyfriend. It's here that I started to question, how much of this is IT's influence on Derry and how much was already there to begin with?
You can say that IT has influence over the town and amplifies the hatred and indifference but I'd posit that this type of violence and victim-blaming happens everywhere without need of a scary murder clown. The same could be said for the other significant event of the book; the burning down of The Black Spot, the popular hangout for black soldiers stationed at an army base near town. IT was there, Mike's father all but confirmed that. Yet, did Pennywise start the fire? I don't think so, in fact, it was stated in the book that Butch and the Legion of White Decency (Derry's chapter of the KKK) had a hand in that, Pennywise just seemed there for the ride and the sweet taste of fear.
It's with these acts of outright bigotry and racism that I started to question what the true horror of IT was and I don't think it's Pennywise, scary as he may be. I think it's the atrocities regular every day people are capable of and how much those that aren't directly affected can turn a blind eye and allow that sort of hatred to grow into violence. To me, Pennywise isn't a being that causes death and destruction but a creature we created by our own acts or indifference to it. Yes, IT directly kills quite a few people but the big events are all on the townspeople of Derry and their actions or lack thereof, are what give Pennywise its power and allow him to grow.
I've always read IT as the manifestation of our society's own darkness and fear. Pennywise is the result of a history of violence, bigotry, racism that we all choose to ignore until the problem only gets bigger and bigger and threatens to eat us whole. Some people have issue with the way the book and movie ended, that it was schlocky and cheesy but personally, I thought it was perfect. Ok, maybe it was a bit cheesy but honestly for the narrative, it worked great because the only way to stop hatred and fear from growing into a disturbing evil spider clown from space that wants to eat our children, is to confront it, call it out and make it small. Otherwise...