This essay discusses plot points for “It: Chapter 2,” including moments near the end. Not quite THE end, since this movie has more endings than “The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King: (Special Extended Edition).” But close to the end. Within the last half-hour of the end of the credits, in all likelihood, though it’s hard to say. “It” really is quite long.
Of all the complaints that could be leveled against “It: Chapter 2,” the most curious is that its opening moments — featuring the murder of a gay young man by Pennywise the Clown (Bill Skarsgard) after said young man was beaten up by some local toughs for the supposed crime of flaunting his homosexuality in the dark ages of 2016 — represent a case of stark homophobia.
As one viral tweet breathlessly and caps-lockedly put it, “THE OPENING SCENE INVOLVES THE BRUTALIZATION OF 2 GAY MEN AND THE MURDER OF ONE OF THEM. I FELT SICK AND IT THREW OFF MY ENTIRE MOVIE EXPERIENCE.” A more nuanced take appeared in Slate, where Jeffrey Bloomer acknowledged that the scene in question appears in Stephen King’s magnificent novel, but argued the movie simply didn’t know what to do with the murder other than to treat it as a moment of shlocky violence signifying Pennywise’s return. Bloomer also suggested the filmmakers were aware of this weakness and tried to compensate for it by revealing a member of our heroic Losers' Club, Richie Tozier (Bill Hader), is himself in the closet.
As I said, there are numerous ways one could critique “It: Chapter 2”: It has a sort of video game logic, one in which fetch quests substitute for action or plot and the weakness of a giant final boss must be discovered and exploited; it is repetitive of the first film and done no favors by director Andy Muschietti’s decision to keep cutting back to events and characters glimpsed in the first (and superior) film; it has way, way too many endings, dragging on long past its expiration date.
But, for all their flaws, “It: Chapter 2” and its predecessor “It” are, like the novel on which they are based, very much movies about the evils of discrimination and oppression. Furthermore, they are films about the ways in which marginalized victims can band together to destroy their oppressors. And the creative decision to emphasize Richie Tozier’s gayness in the sequel is the key to understanding what the movie’s up to as it draws to a close.
For reasons that are not worth going into at any length here, friends Beverly Marsh (Jessica Chastain), Bill Denbrough (James McAvoy), Mike Hanlon (Isaiah Mustafa), Ben Hanscom (Jay Ryan), Eddie Kaspbrak (James Ransone) and Richie have gathered beneath the town of Derry to do ritual combat with Pennywise. After the ritual part of the ritual combat fails, they are left to scurry from an enraged Pennywise who has grown to the size of a building and is trying to smash them to pieces.
But then the group starts … yelling at him. Insulting him. Cutting him down to size, literally, by insisting that he is not a terrifying manifestation of evil incarnate but a weak and impotent bully, a paper tiger, nothing much, really, in the grand scheme of things. As they hurl their invective, the clown simpers and shrieks, shrinking all the while. Soon he’s a Pomeranian-size puppet, snarling weakly as they loom over him — looking a bit like an angry mob let loose upon a wrongdoer.
As the camera spins around, we realize this is a Mob of the Marginalized. Bev is the victim of sexual abuse twice over, at the hands of her father and her husband. Mike is a poor African American whose dead parents were called crackheads. Ben was an overweight child who overcame a lifetime of body shaming. Bill grew up with a stutter, his physical disability rendering him the butt of jokes. Richie, we now know, is a gay man forced to live in the closet — an important change, since otherwise he’d be just a rich cishet white guy and utterly out of place in this gathering.
Thus, the film’s conclusion reveals itself as a metaphor for social media, about life in the age of Twitter and Tumblr. Those who were once losers have found their voice; they now shout down the shamers and the scolds. They have learned to use the power of bullying for their own ends, demanding that those who have wronged them be punished for their sins. The Mob of the Marginalized hunts evildoers one bad tweet at a time and cuts them down to size, eventually ripping out their hearts, stamping out the evil of prejudice just as the Losers’ Club stamped out the evil of, well, child-eating space clowns.
So, the next time someone tells you an outrage mob can’t do any good, just remind them of “It: Chapter 2.” You never know when a Mob of the Marginalized will come in handy.