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[This story contains spoilers for It: Chapter Two.]
Stephen King’s novel It views the end of childhood as the moment that an individual loses their virginity. In an act of love, defiance and desperation, the Losers Club have an orgy in a sewer. The purpose of the act was meant to express love in the darkest hour. The scene met a lot of criticism when the novel was first released in 1986. In the 2017 film adaptation, the children find another way to bond. They make a blood pact. They agree to return to Derry, Maine, to defeat Pennywise should he ever return. But childhood doesn’t have a definite end. Certainly, the decision to have intercourse doesn’t turn an individual to an adult overnight. Scientists still have not concluded as to when human childhood ends. In the United States, the law says 18, but some experts think 25 more accurately measures the end of adolescence.
In director Andy Muschietti’s 2017 adaptation of King’s novel, the time period is moved up from 1958 to 1989; the year the New Kids on the Block were culturally relevant. But Muschietti tried to implement some of the timelessness of childhood Americans often associate with the 1950s and ’60s. Billy rides a metal frame bike instead of the aluminum 10 speeds most kids in his financial demographic would have ridden at the time.
An era update makes sense, with ’80s nostalgia reaching an all-time high with shows like Stranger Things taking over the zeitgeist. But, given some of the trauma the children face, specifically Richie Tozier (played by Finn Wolfhard as a child and Bill Hader as an adult), the script demanded an update it never received. Childhood trauma looms under the skin of the Losers Club well into adulthood as It: Chapter Two explores the unholy reunion of the crew in their hometown. For most of the children, their traumas existed on the surface of the first It film. A hypochondriac, Eddie’s overbearing mother instilled in him a fear of anything that might be unclean. Beverly’s father verbally abuses her and sexually taunts her as she begins to grow into her adult body. Mikey saw his parents burned alive when he was a toddler.
Six out of the seven Losers left Derry as fast as their legs would carry them. Leaving allowed them to forget, but it didn’t remove the trauma they experienced. It seeped out of their pores and impacted their choice in a spouse. Both Beverly and Eddie married a version of their parents. Billy, now a writer, can’t think of a happy ending since his brother Georgie met his bloody end at Pennywise’s doorstep. Stanley is so terrorized by his childhood torment that he “takes himself off the board” permanently. Like every person on the planet, the Losers remain trapped in their trauma. They’ve just found new ways to cope. Richie ended up telling other people’s jokes. He amassed a lot of wealth, but he lives his life alone.
Throughout It: Chapter Two, it becomes clear that Richie is a closeted gay man in love with his childhood best friend, Eddie (James Ransone plays the adult version). Mostly this revelation becomes clear through two scenes. The first is a flashback of Richie hanging out at an arcade the same summer the Losers defeated Pennywise the first time. He plays Street Fighter with a kid we’ve never seen before. When the kid says he has to go, Richie offers to pay for the next round of games. Unfortunately, the new kid’s cousin, Henry Bowers, lives to torment Richie and his friends. Now face to face with a stab-happy bully, and surrounded by the judging eyes of his peers, Richie’s sexual orientation, and therefore masculinity, is challenged by his crush.
This comes at the height of the AIDS epidemic. Gay, especially in a small town, meant alienation and possibly death. Look at Philadelphia (1993), which stars Tom Hanks and tackles the story of lawyer and AIDS victim, Andrew Beckett. Beckett’s entire career is purposely dismantled because his firm doesn’t want anyone with AIDS anywhere near them. He sees maybe a dozen lawyers looking for representation for a wrongful termination suit. Joe Miller (Denzel Washington), upon first meeting Beckett, tells him that because of his sexual orientation and his HIV status, no one will represent him. To the world, Beckett looked like a lost cause. In Tony Kushner’s play turned HBO miniseries, Angels in America, some doctors refused to work with dying AIDS patients, leaving them in dirty beds to be cared for by anyone brave enough to enter the ward.
Richie runs out of the arcade and seeks refuge in a public park. Before him stands the symbol of masculinity; a giant, ax-swinging Paul Bunyan looms 20 feet over a young Richie. In his flannel and denim, he’s a stark contrast to Richie’s blue and pink swirled button-up shirt. The American folk hero instantly becomes a threat with shredded teeth like a whale, but sharp like a shark’s tooth. While the giant tries to stab Richie, a crowd stands by and watches it happen. The fear, bullying and ultimately the way in which adults ignore bullying are accurate to the 1989 time period.
The second scene that reveals Richie as queer happens when Eddie dies. Everyone is sad, but Richie is beside himself, so overcome with emotions he has to be hauled out of the sewer by his friends. Adult Richie doesn’t seem to fit into a 2019 narrative. Not everyone can come out in America. There are many different reasons for remaining in the proverbial closet. Some careers, like a being a professional athlete or conservative analyst, can be difficult for an openly gay man to maintain. But Richie works as a comedian in Los Angeles. Even if he chose to keep his sexual orientation close to the vest, the idea that the ’00s marriage legalization or the ’90s coming out celebration could miss a white man working in Hollywood doesn’t make sense. If it did, highlighting that fact is vital to understanding the character.
The bullying Richie received scarred him. I know. I’ve been called a faggot walking home with a friend after school. But college, a big city and a gaggle of gays made throwing the oppressive weight of the closet away a celebration. That coming out has been a vital part of development for the majority of the queer community. Some of us didn’t join in the party. Many felt there wasn’t room for them because of their skin color, gender identity or financial status. Richie lived outside of these parameters. He didn’t behave in the way repressed gay men frequently represent. There was no forced womanizing, no gay-bashing. Though, he did fear weakness represented by Stanley.
Screenwriter Gary Dauberman and Hader have both shared their thoughts about the depiction. But the murky nature of Richie’s queer identity feels like a letdown. The second chapter of It attempts to reveal the way dormant childhood trauma springs forth in adulthood. Anything buried will eventually rise to the surface. There has never been a more traumatic time for the queer community than the AIDs epidemic. Everything that came after cemented the LGBTQIA community as lawfully represented citizens of the United States. There’s so much more we’re fighting for, particularly our trans siblings. We’re still struggling to be seen in cinema as more than tragic tales. The balance of identity representation within the Losers offered an awesome opportunity to detail the effects of the past 30 years on the most privileged members of the community. Richie never even says he’s gay out loud.
Joelle Monique is an entertainment journalist living in Los Angeles.
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The Gilded Age