Send in the Clown

There’s a strange allegory in the new adaptation of Stephen King’s coming of age story It. I don’t understand exactly what that allegory actually is. I know what it should be, that the alliances we make as children are purer in some ways than the one’s we make as adults. That childhood phobias, fears, and love are much more special, more intense simply because they are the first ones. The movie world of Andy Muschietti’s It is a grotesque parody of life and I ain’t just talking about a killer clown. The town of Derry is itself a grotesque collection of scarred and deranged adults. Compared to Pennywise, the adults are much worse. Pennywise is pure in his malevolence, he is deceitful and uses childhood trauma against the kids who have the misfortune of crossing his path, but the carnage is straightforward. He wants to devour, maim, mutilate, and corrupt in order to live. What the adults of this movie want is a mystery. They appear to be machines of malice, whose presence or lack of presence in their children’s lives are meant to torture.

Whether it’s Mike Hanlon’s (Chosen Jacobs) uncle imparting the ugly lesson of killing without thought or feeling, Eddie Kaspbrak’s (Jack Dylan Grazer) mother manipulating him into being a prisoner in his own home, or worse, Beverly Marsh’s (Sophia Lillis) rapey father, all the adults appear to be set on destroying their kids psychologically and physically. That the adults are this bad makes the plight of the children more desperate. Becoming a meal for Pennywise or a deranged adult, ready to inflict damage on others, doesn’t seem to be a great choice either way. The kids who survive appear fated to be monsters, human gargoyles who see nothing and feel less.

A bereft loss of childhood is the theme of the movie, symbolized by Bill’s brother George’s (Jackson Robert Scott) death. The paper boat scene sets up a movie that feels inevitable. Perhaps it says something about the fragility of childhood, the way children are channeled into certain lives by parents, and events that shape them. All stories told in retrospect have the feeling of fate because they’ve happened to the narrator. Perhaps, this is what It losses in execution. While there’s an immediacy to the story, there is no perspective from those children who have grown up. No introspection about the crater death has left in their lives. Another King adaptation Rob Reiner’s Stand By Me is drenched with melancholy sentiment, aching with the loss of how things used to be. As the narrative draws to a close, we feel the pain of losing friends, of the way childhood is unendurably long until it’s irrevocably gone. Horror is strongest when what’s lost has meaning, not just sensation. Stand By Me is an adolescent quest to encounter death, a pilgrimage to visit the body of a dead child just like each member of the group and ask why him and not us. It’s question is  how can we get revenge. A big deal is made of not fearing Pennywise, but not fearing death and understanding it are different things.

Maybe that’s the juvenile aspect of the movie, the feeling that the inevitable can be stopped. What the kids are fighting for besides revenge and their lives isn’t very clear. Maybe they’re fighting for the future projected outward, away from the small town and vicious adults, away from death and pain. And maybe that’s why there’s no clear delineation other than revenge, killing death for all the destruction it’s caused. Without perspective, the pain of loss is only momentary, a plot point that gets our characters from point A to point B. It does not ask the question that Stand By Me bases its entire premise upon, how can people just like me die and yet I still live. Without this existential question the movie is less powerful, only menacing shadows, a circus trick with no meat or marrow.




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