It Chapter Two

It Chapter Two ½

At its best, the original text, the novel It, released when I was 12, was Stephen King’s goopy gesamtkunstwerk. And I mean the word “goopy” thoroughly. It was a heavily annotated journal, completely full of the excesses and accidents of the Baby Boomers, the things that scared them and the things they imagined might save us. 

But It was always frustratingly vague, and its intentions were scattered. With all the self-importance of a generational warning, IT is ultimately so self-absorbed that it can’t remember to actually care about the children. 

And so the sequel accurately repeats King’s worst tonal excesses, but while the turning pages of the made the sudden tonal shifts feel like hairpin curves, here they are flies in the ointment, and obviously, that’s kind of the point. Horror springs out of the mundane. Every kid fear is represented. 

King himself has emerged as a prominent participant in political discourse, but IT imagines the worst horrors as trans historical, beyond history, bigger than the cold war, bigger than capitalism and socialism, but not beyond good and evil. As I watch the film during a hundred year pandemic, with the forces of evil warring for control of the discourse, it’s both frustrating and a bit diverting that IT Chapter 2 is completely irrelevant. It reminds me that King’s novel found value in friendship and community and ultimately twisted its hippie sentiment into an underage orgy that undoes the mawkish clown.

Thirty years later, there’s a different specter haunting America, and I’m not talking about the virus or the dum-dum fascist clown, Pennywise Trump. No, what threatens us more is an attack on meaning that infantilizes audiences. It’s a project that Stephen King and Chapter Two are complicit in, but to his credit, I think King has moved on. We Americans are so afraid of being wise that we cling to comic books for our entire lives. We put the most cliched platitudes of philosophers into the mouths of superheroes, set them against each other, and symbolically explode the world every year or two to declare ourselves insufficient to the simple challenges before us. We ride our strawmen down a slippery slope and run away from the conversation to jack off in our echo chambers. 

Chapter Two is set in a hazy present, in a nowhere place of midwestern Maine. It’s a story of adults who keep forgetting they aren’t children. It is wisecracks and pregnant pauses, wincing sensitivity interrupted by the sweet relief of child murder. It is children in cages and it is screaming about children in cages, but it ultimately can’t imagine an outside. 

Perhaps I should grant It Chapter Two a star for existing. It is telling when a six hour epic full of 30 years of crunch and splatter fails so spectacularly. It reminds us that the studio system can only observe, that the boomers, god bless them, collectively shrugged their responsibility with We Didn’t Start The Fire, as we younger ones shrugged it with Smash Mouth or Infinity War. 

To be clear, even IT’s evil is ill conceived: delicious spillings of blood and rending of flesh, crushing of bone that, as its antedote, imagines the success of a fat kid turned handsome architect. To me, Ben Hanscome’s prolonged eye contact is the ultimate horror of It, just as in the book. It is a simple man’s lie that a story of personal triumph and sexual fulfillment can unravel great evil, that if we can only break our personal patterns and reproduce ancient ritual, we can live beyond history and abide the evil that has always been.

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