It’s been 48 hours since I saw IT: Chapter 2 and it’s remarkable that it’s not one of the horror scenes with Pennywise the clown that has stuck with me, affected me, and caused me to stop on more than one occasion and consider my reaction to it. Yes, it is an horrific scene from the film and I have felt the need to write down my thoughts, possibly in a catharsis but also to invite discussion of the scene’s inclusion and what it means.
Most, if not all, of my film reviews are spoiler-free. The scene I’m writing about happens in the first ten minutes of the film and does nothing to spoil or influence the ending. So, read on, even if you have not seen the film yet.
The scene, of which I write, is taken right out of Stephen King’s 1986 novel and it features Adrian Mellon (Xavier Dolan) and Don Hagarty (Taylor Frey) enjoying their night at the Derry carnival. He carnival shows everyone having a good time. As the pair talk about getting the hell out of Dodge (or, rather, Derry), a group of bullies descends upon them, hurling homophobic slurs. They beat the men relentlessly until one bully declares they’re going to hurl Adrian off the bridge. As Don screams in horror — Adrian has asthma and needs his inhaler, he pleads — Adrian tumbles into the river. Adrian doesn’t drown but, instead, meets a grim fate when he’s found by Pennywise.
The scene it brutal. No, the scene is stomach-churning. I didn’t write about it in my original review as I was not sure why it was included in the film as it adds nothing to the narrative. I was much younger when I read the book back in ‘86 and I had not experienced a phobic attack myself. Now that I’m older and have experienced transphobia first-hand, the scene had greater relevance for me, I suppose.
The scene sucked all the air out of the room in the screening I attended, and for a good reason. In a film where most of the horror is carried out by an evil transdimensional clown, this homophobic attack scene is a frighteningly realistic event. In fact, King based the death of Adrian on a real-life hate crime. In 1984, Charlie Howard, a gay man, was killed by a group of teens in Bangor, ME. Howard was thrown off the State Street Bridge into the Kenduskeag Stream canal, where he drowned.
There are differences between the version of this scene that Stephen King wrote and the one screenwriter Gary Dauberman interpreted for the screen. King’s novel was written in the ‘80s and set in that time. IT Chapter Two is rooted in 2019, smartphones and all. The couple in the carnival doesn’t feel the need to hide their relationship. They hold hands and kiss because, in 2019, they feel safe doing so. The hate crime suggests that, even in 2019, they could be wrong.
It’s a disturbing notion, especially in an America that is rolling back protections for LGBTQ+ people. In June, the FBI put out a report claiming that anti-LGBTQ+ hate crimes are on the rise. The couple IT Chapter Two are white cisgender men, for trans women of colour, the threat of violence has not changed much over the years.
When the murder occurred, King was still a budding author who was in his mid-30s and living with his wife (and fellow author) Tabitha. Together they were residents of Bangor, Maine and raising their three children.
“At the time I started writing ‘IT,’ the Howard murder had just happened,” King stated when IT as released. “It was fresh in my mind, and fitted my idea of Derry as a place where terrible things happened... and maybe, needless to say, I was outraged. It was a hate crime.”
And yes, many people I have spoken to feel this scene could have been omitted from the film. Indeed many reviewers have said likewise. I would argue that the scene, even though I found it deeply disturbing, is necessary in today’s world. King’s town of Derry seems an idyll. The carnival evokes fun and a safe place. I believe King’s point is that beneath the picket-fenced world of Americana, a darkness lurks both figuratively and literally. Pennywise represents the figurative darkness beneath the town, beneath our streets. The homophobic attack shows us a literal representation of that evil, above the streets, in our towns, in our cities, in 2019.
Yes, it is a disturbing but I believe necessary part of the film.