Horror film’s underlying message proves both relevant and timeless
September 28, 2017
All films ask a question. In the case of “It,” the question is very simple: What is “It?”
In the most literal and pragmatic sense, “It” refers to the film’s face-painted, red-headed, bucktoothed antagonist—Pennywise the Clown (Bill Skarsgård, solid but not especially memorable)—a sewer-dwelling creature that feeds on the people, specifically the children, of Derry, Maine every 27 years. This is a trend that has gone on for some time, yet the people of Derry seem happy to ignore the phenomenon, allow the few casualties to happen as they may and go about their small-town lives.
That is until even stranger things begin to happen to the “Losers’ Club”—a group of picked-on, pale ‘tweens who are out on summer vacation. They have the usual problems— bullies, abusive and/or controlling parents, etc.—but also begin to experience more occult occurrences. In addition to spotting the killer clown, the kids witness paintings come to life, red balloons floating randomly and missing children appearing in hallucinations.
The Losers’ Club is led by the stuttering Bill Denbrough (Jaeden Lieberher), whose little brother Georgie (Jackson Robert Scott) is dragged into the sewer at the beginning of the film and is presumed dead (duh). In an effort to find Georgie and solve the mystery of the missing people, Bill and his pals decide to hunt down Pennywise.
The real magic of the film lies in the scenes involving the kids—who together have terrific chemistry but still stand out in their own ways. The undeniable breakout, however, is Finn Wolfhard (Mike Wheeler in “Stranger Things”) who plays Richie Tozier—the wisecracker of the group. Wolfhard spits out one-liners like Rodney Dangerfield in “Caddyshack,” each one faster, filthier and funnier than the last. One particular moment sees Ben Hanscom (Jeremy Ray Taylor, also terrific), the token chubby kid, inform the group that the town of Derry began as a “beaver trapping camp,” to which Tozier enthusiastically replies, “Still is—am I right boys?” That line alone was worth the price of admission.
Around the midpoint of the film, the thesis begins to emerge. We discover that “It” does not simply refer to Pennywise after all. No, no. “It” is fear.
The generality of the title perfectly matches the numerous forms fear takes in the film.
Sure, killer clowns come to mind when we think “fear,” but so do bullies and bad parents. No matter your upbringing, there is always something to be afraid of.
“It” becomes a movie about identifying and confronting fear. While the adults of Derry sit idly by and allow Pennywise to repeatedly cannibalize children, the Losers’ Club decides to take action.
It is that childlike innocence (as opposed to adultlike jadedness) that allows the Losers to spot their various fears and attack them head-on instead of ignoring them.
At one point, Beverly Marsh (Sophia Lillis)—the lone girl in the group—gives the boys a pep-talk about Pennywise. “We cannot allow ‘It’ to tear us apart,” she says. She sees that the clown, or rather fear in general, is what tears us all apart.
Knowing this, the kids decide to act. They delve down deep into the sewer and face the clown.
During the climactic clash, Pennywise takes Bill hostage and gives the Losers a choice: leave Bill in the sewer and he’ll stop killing people for 27 years or live with the fear that Pennywise will kill them all.
The Losers make up their minds quickly. They grab a few blunt instruments and bludgeon Bozo.
As Pennywise descends back into hibernation (from which he’ll inevitably return), he utters one final word: “fear.” The central theme of the film is said directly to us, but instead of coming across as pandering and patronizing, it comes across as honest and hopeful.
“It” is both a coming-of-age and loss of innocence story. The kids realize a brutal truth about life: Familiar and friendly things— clowns, for instance—can often be corrupted and used to instill fear into us.
It happens in our families, on our televisions and in our Presidential elections. It’s somewhat a shame the film is rated R, because it’s a great lesson for all kids of all ages for all time.
Fear surrounds us and constantly looks to drag us into its metaphorical sewer. The remedy is simple, yet requires profound courage. We must stick together, unconditionally, and use love to defeat evil. Look at any other film based off a Stephen King work, and you’ll see some form of that message.
“It” teaches us that some of us are lovers, some of us are fighters and some of us might just happen to be both. Choose to embrace one of the above and you’ll be anything but afraid. You’ll be anything but a loser.
Contact Jimmy Flynn at jflynn@ scu.edu or call (408) 554-4852.