The journey of a central character in It Chapter Two makes it one of the most uniquely empowering LGBTQ films of the year.
One of Stephen King’s most famous stories saw its newest film debut recently. Not only is It: Chapter Two (along with its predecessor, It) undeniably the best film adaptation of any of King’s works (sorry, fans of The Shining); part of what makes this retelling so particularly strong is the fact that director Andy Muschietti doesn’t just lean in to the human emotion — he dives headfirst.
Upfront trigger warning — Muschietti sets the tone at the start of the film with the first murder. 27 years later, Derry, Maine is the same small-minded town it always was. In this opening scene, a young gay couple is brutally beaten just outside the town fair, and one half of the couple is thrown over the bridge to hide the evidence. Naturally the town greeter, good ol’ Pennywise, is there to welcome him to your favorite New England getaway.
We don’t have enough time for me to go into exactly how much I genuinely loved this film. It currently has a 79 percent audience rating on Rotten Tomatoes, and the criticism it’s receiving is fair — although I disagree, especially about the time length. The overall aesthetic and narrative structure is a beautiful work of art. Director Andy Muschietti, who also directed Mama, is without question a newer director to keep an eye on.
But let’s cut to the chase. While the new adaptations have deviated in their own ways from both the book and the original 1990 miniseries starring national treasure Tim Curry and the late John Ritter, some changes have been for the best. The best change was the decision to put more emphasis on the character of Richie Tozier.
Richie is played by Stranger Things’ Finn Wolfhard in Chapter 1 and Barry’s Bill Hader in It Chapter Two, and his journey is so damn important. Richie is hard to miss in any adaptation, with his natural snark and deflective humor, something that is all too familiar to anyone in the LGBTQ community. Who hasn’t swatted away any inkling that they might be anything other than the cookie cutter cisgender straight American their peers thought they knew with a dark joke or a variation on “I know you are but what am I”?
Richie Tozier sure has; in fact, that is his entire foundation as a character.
The mythology behind Pennywise is inherently fascinating, but one of the biggest keys to his power is the fact that he knows damn well what scares you more than anything in the world, and how to destroy you with it. For Bill Denbrough, it is the guilt over his younger brother, Georgie, being eaten by Pennywise himself (which of course kickstarts the entire story); for Beverly Marsh it’s her abusive father and homelife. For Richie it is something that every LGBTQ person, even as an adult in 2019 America, knows entirely too well.
Pennywise knows that nothing terrifies Richie more than the thought of anyone, anyone learning that he is a queer man.
When we see him as an adult, Richie is doing pretty damn well for himself. He is a famous stand-up comedian who is about to film a one-hour special, presumably for Netflix or Hulu, when he receives the call from Mike Hanlon to come back to Derry. He even mentions, during one of the handful of times that he tries to escape, that he’s “got dates in Reno, man.”
He has a lot going for himself. And for his friends to know his inner truth, let alone the entire world, is a massive risk that could viably end his career. We like to think sometimes that we’re so woke as a society, that things are so different for the LGBTQ community… why is this an issue anymore? I mean, we can get married now, right? Life’s good.
Well… yes and no.
LGBTQ people can still be legally fired in over half of the country — including Virginia, unless you work for the government — and conversion therapy is still very much legal in thirty-three states (although Virginia has been working toward a ban of the process). While Hollywood is traditionally more liberal-leaning, it still has a massive issue with allowing LGBTQ people the right to portray their own stories. Ironically, this is demonstrated by the fact that the actors who portray Richie in both parts of this film series are straight (to my knowledge). But that is another long argument for another day.
The elongated point remains – Richie has everything to lose. And Pennywise knows it. He taunts him in the park outside of the arcade, where we see in a flashback that Richie tried to flirt with another boy, only to take it back and hide it, then was still forced out as slurs were screamed at him. As he remembers this, Pennywise floats down with a bouquet of balloons taunting him: “I know your dirty little secret.”
Richie Tozier is the hero of this entire piece for us, and he was from the very start. We see in flashbacks and at the end that he carved in the infamous kissing bridge the letters, “R + E” to allude that our favorite hypochondriac, Eddie Kaspbrak, was his first love. Richie wants to leave the entire time that he’s there, but who can really blame him? When he keeps coming back, it’s for his friends, sure — but also for his love.
He ultimately became bigger than his fear and uses it to fight back against Pennywise. Who knew that that was what would ultimately win King’s best known Boss Battle?
Well, I guess you did if you read the book. It has been out for 33 years.
What destroys Pennywise is the reminder that he is nothing; that your fear does not rule you. Richie reminded Pennywise that he was just a stupid clown, and in that moment, also reminded himself that he couldn’t let his fear of being outed narrate his life.
I will – and have, sorry to anyone in my life – tell anyone within earshot how fantastic of a film It: Chapter Two is. I’ve already seen it twice in local theaters. While it is hardly marketed or structured as the LGBTQ empowerment film of the year, the fact that both Muschietti and Hader made an intentional point of leaning completely into Richie’s identity and journey is so important.
Much like other marginalized communities, the LGBTQ community is often told what we are and are not capable of. While I’m pretty sure that being able to take down a primordial entity who takes the form of a depression-era clown was not something we were rallying for, well… I don’t know about y’all, but I’m all about embracing the shit out of that.
All Images via Warner Bros. Entertainment