Warning: the following post contains spoilers for the recently released IT Chapter Two.
IT Chapter Two based on the second half of Stephen King’s highly successful novel IT, opens at Derry’s annual town fair — Derry being the fictional town in which both the novel and film are set. The camera pans in on Adrian, a twenty-something-year-old man, who boastfully beats a young girl at one of the many carnival games lining the festival.
Collecting the prize, Adrian is chastised by a male companion for not giving the prize to the little girl. Adrian smiles and hands the toy to the girl thanking her for “letting me win.” The young girl is ecstatic and runs to find her mother while Adrian’s companion leans in and kisses him passionately, revealing that they are, in fact, a couple.
This moment was a brilliant subversion of the doomed boyfriend/girlfriend trope found in many horror movies where the film opens with a straight couple about to face their demise at the hands of the villain. Indeed, at first glance, Warner Brothers should be commended for openly depicting two men in love kissing, holding hands, and flirting in a film targeted towards men between the ages of 18 and 40, something many studios remain hesitant to do.
Even if you’re not familiar with the novel, it doesn’t take much guesswork to surmise that these young men are in mortal danger. Expecting Pennywise to make his first appearance at any moment, the film takes an unexpected turn depicting a violent gay-bashing against Adrian perpetrated by a group of homophobic teenagers. He is viciously beaten and thrown over a bridge into a river only to be ‘rescued’ by Pennywise who murders him in front of his boyfriend.
The circumstances of Adrian’s death are contained in King’s original novel but the context is somewhat different. The second part of King’s novel was set in the 1980s and not in 2016 as in the film version. King’s depiction of Adrian’s gay-bashing was motivated by the 1984 murder of Charlie Howard. Howard was a 23-year-old openly gay man who was attacked by a group of teenagers, thrown off a bridge into a river and left to drown. Deeply upset by Howard’s death, King wanted to generate a discussion about hate crimes.
Adrian’s death in the novel, however, has more lasting repercussions than in the film. The attackers are arrested, charged with murder, and Adrian’s boyfriend is involved in the trial. The horror of the attack and its repercussion carries a heavyweight in the book and is clearly designed to call cultural attitudes towards LGBTQ+ people into question. These themes are completely ignored in the film.
Following the film’s depiction of Adrian’s death, the events are never discussed again creating an atmosphere of exploitation. A vicious hate crime is committed but there are no repercussions for Adrian’s assailants nor does it contribute to the plot. It is a bizarre choice for a movie that is otherwise LGBTQ+ positive.
Realizing the opening scene is controversial, the film’s director and stars have attempted to explain the creative decisions behind it. In an interview with Variety Magazine, director Andy Muschietti stated:
“I probably wouldn’t have included it if it wasn’t in the book, but it was very important for Stephen King. When he wrote it, he was talking about the evil in the human community. He was talking about how dark humans can get in a small American town. … For me, it was important to include it, because it’s something that we’re still suffering. Hate crimes are still happening. No matter how evolved we think society is going, there seems to be a winding back, especially in this day and age where these old values seem to be emerging from the darkness.”
There is a great deal of truth to Muschietti’s arguments. Hate crimes against LGBTQ+ people have long been a horrific reality of life for the community. Sadly, rather than abating, these types of crimes are on the rise. While he’s correct that hate crimes highlight the darkest elements of human behaviour, the film’s approach is objectionable for a movie being released in 2019.
Adrian’s death in the film is played out in a trope all too common in horror films; the gay victim. The gay victim is killed in circumstances that are directly linked to their sexual otherness. In Adrian’s case, it is being gay that places him right in Pennywise’s path. Given the poor writing and directorial decisions behind the scene, it is made to appear that Adrian would have survived had he not been attacked because of his sexual orientation.
Muschietti’s defense that they included the scene because it was in the novel is hard to swallow given that the movie veers away from King’s plot in several ways. One such example is the more direct manner in which the film addresses Richie’s unresolved feelings for Eddie.
King’s novel includes a degree of homoerotic subtext between Richie and Eddie. There are hints peppered throughout the book that Richie’s feelings for his friend are beyond platonic. The film, however, makes it much more clear that Richie is in love with Eddie. In a refreshing and positive move, the film steers clear of labeling Richie’s sexuality. Richie’s struggle is not rooted in his sexual identity, but rather in resolving his feelings for Eddie.
The positive depiction of Richie and Eddie is cheapened by the insensitive treatment of Adrian’s bashing. While it is true films shouldn’t shy away from such hefty topics, there should be a moral lesson derived from it.
One way the film could have been successful in depicting a hate crime would have been to link it to one of the main characters later in the film. Perhaps learning of the events surrounding Adrian’s death, Richie would decide to be more forthcoming about his feelings for Eddie.
Another simple solution would have been to omit the bashing scene altogether. Since the creative team behind the film were willing to make modifications to King’s story, Adrian and his boyfriend could have encountered Pennywise hiding in the shadows while taking a romantic stroll by the river.
While IT: Chapter Two is an otherwise decent movie, the gay-bashing scene is primitive, exploitative, and uncomfortable. In a film that is on the cusp of positively portraying LGBTQ+ people through Richie’s story arc, it takes a misstep by relegating Adrian to the role of gay victim.
Daryl Bruce is a freelance writer, blogger, and writer of flash fiction. Writing across an expansive range of topics, he specializes in personal development, the craft of writing, LGBTQ+ issues, and politics. He is the owner of the Top 3 Publication on Medium. When he’s not writing, Daryl can be found in the kitchen or at the local movie theater. Daryl holds a BA with Specialized Honours in English from York University and is currently working on his first novel.
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