Like listening to someone else tell you about their dream.
Do you remember when you realized that adulthood wasn’t real? I was 21, maybe 22, and I was with a friend who was in her early 40s. I asked a question about a mutual friend and her response was “I’m not friends with her anymore.” The sentence stayed with me all day and well into the evening. Here I am, 30 and I’m still haunted by it. “I’m not friends with her anymore.” This was a sentence I’d heard people my age and younger say with a pout and a sneering tone. It was something you said in high school. It wasn’t supposed to be something you said when you were old enough to have kids in college. If this thing, maturity, seriousness, adulthood was ever more than a quickly crumbling myth I could no longer see it.
It set me off on a kind of panicked trajectory. Where were the adults? Where were people like my parents? Unemotional, normal people who took problems in stride, were sparingly confessional about their issues, who made my life as their son as easy as possible by keeping the myth of adulthood alive? I never looked at them and saw the kids they once were. To me they were always grown-ups who knew how to handle responsibility, including raising three emotionally difficult kids. There never seemed to be anything they couldn’t do. I’m grateful for that illusion. I’m also grateful I heard “I’m not friends with her anymore” from someone only a decade younger than my parents because it made me see everyone older than me as a person with problems just like mine.
Andy Muschietti's “It Chapter Two” is going to wind up a foundational text when we’re trying to signify the generational split by which everyone’s currently transfixed. This is a movie about the ceiling of Gen X responsibility, about the people who, by now, were supposed to be adults, but when asked to take responsibility for their emotions and livelihood, could at best manage one. This is unsurprisingly a film that has brought out soul-searching, personal pieces from writers unaccustomed to writing them. That could be because Stephen King is an author who tends to find and hit people hardest when they’re forming their worldview and the kids who grew up reading him are now culture writers and critics, and it could be because the concept of adults looking at the hollow lives they’ve lived, formed in the shadow of tragedy, has uniquely pervasive appeal. Everyone feels a twinge of imposter syndrome time and again. “It” has a villain in clown make-up taunting children who woke up 40. Everyone’s an imposter here. The movie dramatizes a very familiar balancing act of blaming ourselves and the external forces that shaped us. We are and are not to blame for what ails us.
Gen X and Millennials are the last group of children raised before the Internet. We didn’t know about global climate change until it was too late. We became addicted to social media, some of us already married with kids by then. We were born sarcastic but could afford it because it seemed like there would be adults to take things more seriously. Now? There is no adult in the room anymore. For better or worse, that’s us now and if we don’t fix everything we’re doomed.
That’s what “It Chapter Two” is about. Look at your friends now and remember the friends you used to have. Those drunks who you used to make dick jokes with, who’ve seen you in your underwear, who know what your weaknesses are but don’t care really because their's are worse? It’s you and those losers who have to do something. If you don’t it’s over. No one else is gonna save us.
The movie starts with a hate crime. That’s the sign that things have gone so badly that seven people have to be dragged from their lives to fix a supernatural wrong. The hate crimes we read about every day in 2019—trans people murdered, police killing black people, immigrants abused—pick one, and hear it as a wake-up call. We’re supposed to do something, or at least in Stephen King’s heavily stylized naïveté that’s the way the moral pendulum is meant to swing. Evil swings hard, and good is meant to respond. Of course, it’s not always that easy. Think of the small evils we ignore all the time and why? Because we’re scared. We don’t think we can change anything. We can’t even change ourselves.
When the losers, the seven friends united by trauma, face the horrific in “It Chapter One,” they can bolster each other. They’re afraid but they don’t know really that this thing can hurt them. Like all kids, something is supposed to stop them from coming to real harm. Of course, they have ample evidence to not believe this—all their parents are unreliable in some way, and in some cases actively dangerous. The kids discover the hard way that adults won’t save them. Bev’s (Sophia Lillis) dad abuses her; Eddie’s (Jack Dylan Grazer) mom turns him into a hypochondriac; Mike’s (Chosen Jacobs) parents are killed by their bad habits.
The perfect storm of no supervision, the need to escape from failing parents, and the need to prove that they aren’t afraid of the thing that wants them to be terrified—that’s what drives them. That mission is so clear and simple and Muschietti films the movie as a straight-forward King adaptation for this reason. Calum Marsh astutely pointed out that the book name-checks Stephen Spielberg and seems to have taken the shout-out as permission to go all-in on an Amblin-styled family adventure like “E.T.”. The reason in hindsight has revealed itself to be because in order for the perversity of the second chapter to hit as hard as it does, it needs to seem like a shaggy, twitching mess in comparison to the cuddlier original. This is not Amblin, this is a cocktail of shattered recollections from a gang of screw-ups who let their lives slip away.
The adults in “It Chapter Two” look very familiar. Unshaven, sleepless, pretty, broken things. They look every bit the movie stars they are, beautiful and penetrating eyes and sharp cheekbones behind lying smiles and five o’clock shadows. They’re gorgeous people who all look wired and exhausted, like they’re living in terror that their many bad decisions are about to collide. In the “It” miniseries directed by Tommy Lee Wallace, the losers look like normal schlubby adults. John Ritter, Dennis Christopher, Annette O’Toole, Tim Reid? These are unnaturally normal people called to do something unnatural. There’s poignancy watching them telepathically communicate, fight evil, get frustrated with each other, reclaim lost tokens of their childhood. Their journey is endearing because it feels like they are genuinely looking many, many years into the past to remember that they were once kids who liked fun and danger in equal measure.
The new losers in Muschietti’s film? To quote “Apocalypse Now,” they’re rock and rollers with one foot in their graves. They all kept their neuroses and complexes, they’re all still kids: James Ransone’s Eddie is dating a woman who is just like his mother; James McAvoy’s Bill tells stories to avoid responsibility over his own; Isaiah Mustafa’s Mike stays locked away near tragedy, giving himself imaginary responsibility so he never has to come to terms with his pain or start his life alone; Jessica Chastain’s Bev married a man exactly like her abusive dad; Bill Hader’s Richie made his lack of impulse control and need to laugh through pain instead of dealing with it into his career. When they show up and start drinking together they just seem relieved not to have to hide anything anymore.
The scene where they reunite is lovely, but it’s got nothing on the eerie calm of their next drinking engagement. They’re gathered in the lobby of the bed and breakfast in Derry discussing the evil clown Pennywise, in reality an alien entity that takes the form of what we fear most. They drink together in the beautiful old inn, calm orange light thrown around them, and they can all finally be honest with each other: they are all still afraid. Bev explains that she’s dreamt of all of their deaths and suddenly it seems like they’ll die as quickly as they made the leap from kids to struggling adults. Their lives haven’t even started and they’re about to die. The quiet of the inn, the nervously held drinks, the dawn light coming in, a shared grief. I was transfixed. I wanted to live in this moment, in that inn, that feeling that you’re finally not alone.
There’s a troubling scene where Mike drugs Bill and explains that he did some soul searching (and tripping) with a local native tribe to divine the source of Pennywise’s power. It smacks of unchallenged exoticism but it’s important because it shows that Muschietti was trying to capture the batty, manic feeling of King’s prose, and though he cut out an orgy with middle schoolers, he was gonna stay faithful in spirit to the rest. King’s drug problems have been made fun of to a disheartening degree. I think his devotion to making horror that helped us understand addiction was a great use of his talents and for better or worse the scene of Mike showing Bill his vision has the cocaine-haze of a man who needs you to know what he’s seen. King then showing up for a cameo to give Bill the writer shit (as the antique store owner who has Bill’s childhood bike) nearly had me in tears.
Mike would do literally anything to be believed, to have his friends back, to recapture the hope he once felt with his adopted family of losers. And we’re yanked through his visions at breakneck pace, no choice but to see the hopeless loneliness of a guy who would do anything not just to destroy the source of his fear but to see a familiar face again. I’d bet money that most Millennials know that feeling only too well. That if they could just force their old friend group back together, they could get something back that was taken along with the time they’ve lost. At bottom, the desperate hunger to have your optimism back seems about the most relatable feeling on-screen right now.
Mike makes the rest of the losers reconnect with their childhood fears because he wants them to feel the way he does. He wants them to want to remember their time together because it legitimizes their connection. It makes their friendship feel meaningful in hindsight to all of them, instead of just him. This section is also the most fun and nearly the most poignant. Eddie has to once again do battle with his mother’s duplicitous love. His being sprayed with tar black vomit from a monster while, out of nowhere, “Angel of the Morning” plays is a barnburner set piece; an exorcism of everything he forgot, every fear he needs to conquer.
The Losers are united by one fear: that they can’t do anything to change the lives they live. None of them are happy adults, because they never figured out what it would mean to be a different person. Part of Pennywise’s curse in the movie is that the further you stray from him the more you forget about your childhood. And so with no memories of their past mistakes they just continue to make them.
Nothing has changed for the Losers except the faces. Killing Pennywise doesn’t just give them a chance to live without fear, it gives them a chance to live, period. Watching McAvoy riding his childhood bike, watching Bill Hader let himself cry because he lost someone close to him, watching Jessica Chastain let herself be loved—the shaky first steps towards reclaiming the emotional futures they left in their pasts. People “aren’t friends” with their former selves, anymore. And we have to be now. No one’s coming to save you, loser. It’s up to you now, and the whole world depends on it. It’s not about you, anymore, it’s about all of us. Every friend you’ll never get the chance to lose.
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