“Sometimes we are what we wish we could forget.” – Mike Hanlon, IT: Chapter Two, 2019 (film) directed by Andrés Muschietti
Recently, I was fortunate enough to be able to see Stephen King’s IT: Chapter Two twice, within the same weekend. I had already seen Chapter One and as a huge fan of Stephen King’s work, I was excited to see the final chapter. I was invited by two persons (also fans) to go see the movie. I was first introduced to IT as a child in my mother’s bookcase. I remember lying in bed and cowering under my sheets as those wicked eyes, on the cover of the UK Mass Paperback Edition, stared at me in the dark. As a young adult, I watched the 1990 mini-series directed by Tommy Lee Wallace and adapted by Lawrence D. Cohen and finally read the book in its entirety. Although I could not quite critically grasp it then, I remember feeling overwhelmed with the emotional impact and severity of each character arc. Now, after jumping back into the world of IT, I was struck with how integral the theme of trauma was to each character’s fate.
I would average that I was probably somewhere between 20-23 when I watched the 1990 mini-series. I immediately sympathized with three characters: Billy, Beverly, and Mike. Billy, of course, had lost his little brother Georgie to the monstrous, other-worldly entity that was IT. Beverly had endured many erratic, toxic and sexually tainted episodes from her father, in addition to losing her mother. She also suffered sexual abuse at the hands of bullies and her own friends (under the influence of IT.) Mike had watched his parents burn to death in a fire at a young age. He was also a reoccurring victim of violent race mongering in the small town. The premise of the ‘Losers’ Club’ was that they were all outcast in some form or the other. Grief, trauma and being abnormal were the running themes. Now at 26, with critical thinking skills and a deeper consciousness, I was able to clearly see and understand the traumas of the other “Losers” and how each character’s trauma had shaped and affected their life, personality and decisions as adults. It struck me heavily this time around.
For example, if I dissected Mike, it now made sense that he would never leave Derry. He was orphaned at a young age after a brutal, traumatic experience. He would surely have survivor’s guilt and the uncle who became his guardian was tough, cynical and scary (e.g. making Mike shoot the sheep). Finally, let us factor in his later unspeakable encounter with IT. It fit that Mike, who was inherently hopeful, slightly naive and amicable, would remain in Derry. This was the only stable thing he knew. He became the town librarian and obsessed over historical records, lineages, and events in Derry. He knew the town inside out. He wanted to truly feel like he knew the town inside out and this surely gave him a strong connection to Derry and its roots. So, it made sense that he was the most motivated and the most mobilized to defeat IT.
In the same vein, Beverly also remained in the same place she was as a child – only psychologically She was brave enough to venture away from Derry, arguably no person would remain in a home like that, but unfortunately she found herself in a marriage that was a replica of the abuse she endured as child. A pattern that is all too common for victims of abuse in childhood. With the extent of sexual abuse that Beverly’s character endures (not sure why though Mr. King), it is not surprising that she continues a pattern of submission to men in her life. The same can be said for Eddy who went on to marry a woman who would replace his mother. He needed a partner who was needy, controlling, dominant and codependent. This is what he learned growing up with a mother who had attachment and boundary issues. Paranoia and neuroses are what she passed on to her son and we can all see the clear relation between the aforementioned and fear itself. These are just a few of the insights I was able to discern as an adult. The marks left on each character’s psyches before they even encountered IT.
The topic of fear, now in relation to trauma, took on a whole new meaning for me in this remake. The most dramatized subplot would be Stanley’s character arc. As a child (Chapter One), Stanley was introduced as cautious, reserved, observant, riddled with deep rotted fears and the offspring of a deeply religious home. It is my belief that this combination is what caused his reaction to the shared traumatic experience to be more damaging and insufferable. Stanley was already existing in a deeper world than his fellow losers. Young Stanley repeatedly expressed the desire to not be involved in the Losers’ ambitious, impulsive and amateur plans to confront IT. His religious practices and community were already opening a door of wisdom for him. Later on, it is clear that Stanley could not cope or bare with the idea of having to relive the ordeal. He chose to end his life rather than face the demons again. This depiction by King is the worst-case scenario for any person who has suffered trauma/abuse and is trying to now live a normal and functional life, with the hope that their future will be full of healthy and happy events.
Each character had their own unique cocktail of trauma with different coping methods.
The best-case scenarios represented include Billy, Ben, and Richard, who all go on to be successful in their careers. More importantly, neither of them necessarily repeat dysfunctional family patterns like Beverly and Eddy. Richard’s coping method remained the same – a strong and unshakable sense of humor. Billy still grieved for his brother, but he was able to reconcile that the events were not his fault. He led a relatively okay life, only suffering from a few hicks in his creative abilities, which was probably caused by some of the blocked trauma. Sure, it seemed he did not have the strongest marriage (hence entertaining Bev), but that is a struggle of the ordinary. In the end, however, (in the book) he shows that he does indeed fancy his wife. Overall, his ability to overcome his pain, grieve and forgive himself for Georgie’s death is best case for anyone suffering through the loss of a loved one, while also processing trauma surrounding it.
Ben takes the cake for the way he undergoes a complete 360, in terms of his health and physical appearance. In the movie, Chapter One, Ben also makes it his mission to research and dissect IT, in order to understand and beat the beast. Ben was the kindest, most sensitive and thoughtful of the “losers”. A true romantic at heart. This trait carries over into adulthood, where instead of remembering the bad stuff from his childhood, Ben has pushed forward by holding on to the sweet memory of his first love Beverly and his poem.
It was Richie’s storyline in the adaptation that touched me the most. He moved away from Derry and enjoyed a successful career as a comedian. However, his secret and his “shame” was his sexuality. The movie and the book open up with the scene of a gay couple being beaten by town bullies. Richie relives a memory as a young pre-teen where he is bullied for possibly showing interest in another young man, at the town arcade. It is clear that although we do not see Richie break down, or ever have any emotional moments as a child, in relation to this sexuality struggle, this event scarred him and caused him to bury an unrequited love. This is significant, especially with how this 2019 adaption ends off, alluding to Richie’s closeted homosexuality and his well-nursed and hidden love for Eddie (who does not survive..I brought the story full circle and revived it in a way that reaches even further into the audience’s emotions.
I believe Chapter Two truly made it clear how insidious and destructive trauma is, like bad karma sweeping through your life. Take for example how each character reacts when they get the dreaded phone call from Mike. It was clear that the trauma was just sitting dormant in their minds, ready to attack their nervous system at the opportune moment and begin messing with their peace.
The point is that trauma needs to be addressed and dealt with. Do not ignore it, bury it, run from it or let it win. Otherwise, like the evil Macroverse alien’s presence in Derry, Maine, its poison will continue to leak into the psyche and sabotage the chances of a healthy and enjoyable life. King’s world of IT sends us an age-old message: we must literally face our demons. Face our fears. Face our nightmares. Stand up to bullies. Live our truth. Accept the tragedies and the hurt that is beyond our control. All in the name of embracing the beauty that does, in fact, remain in our lives and in ourselves. Moreover, this story shows us, that it IS all possible.
This is exactly what Stanley tells us in his suicide or (for a better way to phrase a passively messed up ending) goodbye letter. Face it all, conquer it all and then live. We need to be brave, face our individual battles, support each other and show up to make the big changes where we can.
‘Things we wish we could leave behind. Whispers we wish we could silence. Nightmares we most want to wake up from. Memories we wish we could change. Secrets we feel like we have to keep are the hardest to walk away from.’ – IT, Chapter 2, 2019.
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