“He thrusts his fist against the posts and still insists he sees the ghosts.” – Bill
This isn’t just a tongue twister that helps Bill, the protagonist of IT, it’s a phrase that encapsulates the Loser’s Club struggle against something that they can’t see or touch. Lets talk about these intangible things, these abstracts. The children in IT are in a war against fear incarnate: Pennywise, A killer clown—from outer space maybe—that mutates to form fit children’s fears. IT feasts on those who fail to survive their fear, and like any fear, it gets stronger the more it’s fed. It represents many fears, but if it were reduced to one, it would be the death instinct that drives all fears: The big old fear of kicking the bucket.
I’m getting Freudian for a reason. Regardless of whether you dig Frued’s take on the psyche, I think his theory that lust and our fear of death—eros and thanatos—are the primary instincts in all of us fits nicely into the yin and yang of this film. It’s also reflected in the colour scale of the film: The characters in the film are always clad the primaries of Red, Yellow and Blue.
On the one side you have, Pennywise, the incarnate fear of death, and on the other you have the losers club, a collection of young boys in lust with a girl that they barely know because she talks to them treats them humanely. They’re enamored by her body, and stuck in a young wonder-lust for her, that’s hard to explain, though I’m sure most felt this with their first crush. That first crush somehow comes off more effervescent and beautiful in memory then the yearbook photo collecting dust in your storage.
I want to be clear that this early lust isn’t sinful or wrong; it has nothing to do with any of the philosophical leg weights of shame that religion has attached to it to make sex more exciting. These are children that think they’re in love, but have yet to really experience the depth of love. They’re operating off the tales they’ve learned of love, like the frog prince—a book in Beverly’s bedroom. And in a way it is love, at least in Ben’s case, because he believes it to be love when he kisses Beverly awake like sleeping beauty. He believes it’s true love in much the same way Bill believes the nail gun is loaded. Within the film, the power of belief is the greatest weapon against fear and the greatest ally of love.
The fear of death is always in the forefront of the film, considering children are dropping off like weak magnets on a fridge door—Too bad all the parents in Stephen king novel’s are shit. But the fear that runs in the background, the real subtext of the film, is the fear of growing up. Mike has to take over his father’s business; Eddie has to shake his mother’s paranoia’s; Ben has to stand up to the school bullies; Stan has to go through the Jewish rite of passage, Bill has to come to terms with his brother’s death, and Richie just has to “grow up” in every sense of the word. Beverly also fears growing up, the changes happening to her, and more to the point, the negative repercussions of growing up, when one has a pedophile father who doesn’t want that to happen. Hence why blood and hair seem to be the thing coming up from the deep and suffocating her. They fear the death of their infantile egos.
They’d rather spend the summer having fun, but they’re forced to face their fears and slay that juvenile side of their person. In certain aboriginal societies children were dragged out of their home by men in masks that represented some form of boogieman—something bigger than life, godlike. The masked monster is played by an adult that feigns loss to the child in a wrestling contest. By slaying the monster, the children move from a place dependence to a place of authority. When the children go up against IT, the stakes are certainly higher, but this rite of passage is the same. They slay the mask of their fears and come of age, leaving the child they knew behind them in that sewer. They take authority over their fears, and make a pact to face them together, should they ever return.
Unfortunately, sometimes they come back. In the case of Eros and Thanatos, they never go away. We just get better at handling them when their rear their ugly heads. Maybe the next film will deal with these primary instincts but it think that it will move onto into the more evolved responses to these primary instincts; from Fear of Death, to Courage in life, and from lust to love. Please leave a comment if you agree and let me know your take on the film.