'It Chapter Two' and Using Queer Violence as a Narrative Prop
By Kaitlin Konecke
It Chapter Two
and Using Queer Violence as a Narrative Prop
It Chapter Two, the follow-up to the highly successful 2017 horror film It based off of Stephen King’s novel of the same name, opens with a jarringly violent hate crime. Taking place 27 years after the events of the first film, the scene provides the lead-in to the resurgence of the evil clown, Pennywise, the embodiment of fear who feasts on children in the town of Derry. But the hate crime has nothing to do with the return of Pennywise; it simply is adjacent to the return. Which begs the question: Why include the hate crime at all?
The movie opens at a carnival in Derry, where a gay man, Adrian, has just won a carnival game and has given his prize to the young girl he has beaten, whispering in her ear, “Thanks for letting me win.” We know he is gay because, after handing off the prize, he kisses his boyfriend, Don. They walk hand-in-hand, and we learn that Don grew up in Derry.
Their public display of affection prompts a child to begin flinging homophobic slurs at the men, backed up by a group of Derry locals. The couple leave the carnival, amidst this altercation. As they walk through the dark holding hands, they are discussing their future together, and deciding where they will live. Suddenly, the people at the carnival who taunted them appear, and begin to violently beat the couple. Adrian has asthma, and tries to reach for his inhaler, but is denied. Instead, he is punched several more times and lifted off the ground by the mob, who drag him to a bridge and push him off of it, before leaving Don laying on the ground in a pool of his own blood, screaming Adrian’s name in agony.
Don is able to get himself to the bridge, and he sees Adrian in the water, being swept away while struggling to stay afloat. Adrian is begging for help and sees Pennywise reaching for him. Don manages to get down to the bank of the water in time to see Adrian in Pennywise’s arms, having been rescued from the water. Pennywise proceeds to reach in and tear out Adrian’s heart while Don watches.
And then...that’s it. It’s the last we see of Adrian, the last we hear of Don, the last we hear of the event at all (minus a newspaper headline informing the public of the attack). The audience was subjected to a traumatizing hate crime with no follow-up or resolution. It didn’t even have anything to do with the story! Pennywise could have returned in any number of other violent ways. He could have killed a non-queer character. He could have killed a character with an ambiguous sexuality because, really, the sexuality of Pennywise’s victims doesn’t have anything to do with anything. Pennywise is an equal-opportunity murderous clown.
Instead, the film took the time to introduce us to two queer characters, give us the tiniest bit of backstory so that we understood that they were seemingly good people who loved each other, only to destroy them. These two queer characters are used as a catalyst in a story that then has nothing to do with them; they are the curtain that opens to reveal Pennywise. They are a narrative prop used to show us that Derry is a pretty terrible town and, oh yeah, Pennywise is back. This, however, is the only vignette we are shown that demonstrates the rot that exists in Derry. Pennywise has already killed several people before the Losers Club (the group of characters the story is really about) returns to vanquish him for good, so why show us this particular crime?
Apparently, this scene was pulled straight from the novel. But that book is over 1,100 pages long! And it’s not as though It chapters one and two have been adamant about remaining faithful to the source material, as there is plenty the films have left out, including a child orgy. That’s right: child. orgy. An orgy. With children!
There are a lot of disturbing topics in both chapters of It. The films touch on child rape, suicide, racism, homophobia, Mundchausen by proxy, and physical, emotional, and sexual abuse. But the presentation of such horribleness is balanced--each story is given equal weight, and every heavy thing is broken up by lighter moments of comedy. This is not the case with the opening scene of It Chapter Two, which chose to go full throttle on something too violent...even for a movie about a clown that eats children.
The problem with this particular violence is that queer people experience violence and hate at a disproportionate rate than their heteronormative counterparts. Queer people, particularly trans people, have less protection under the law than people who identify as one heterosexual gender. Because of this drastic inequality and the adversity the queer community faces daily, depictions of violence against queer people need to be dealt with cautiously and with respect. That means that it should exist in a story for a purpose, and that purpose can’t just be to show a clown coming back from his hibernation in the sewers.
I don’t think It Chapter Two was trying to make any sort of statement or do any harm, but that’s kind of the problem. The film simply used these queer people and the violence done upon them as a narrative prop and nothing more. In this world of violence and cruelty, where the life expectancy of a transgender person is a mere 35 years, there is already a distinct lack of queer narratives. Whenever we do get queer characters, even if they are in minor roles, they need to be something more than voiceless victims, especially if they are used to propel someone else’s story forward.
Evil clowns with magical insidious powers aren’t real. But queer people are. Don’t throw them in the sewer simply so we can see a clown emerge from one.