“I never had any friends later on like the ones I had when I was twelve. Jesus, does anyone?” Oops, wrong Stephen King movie, but the point remains the same whether the film is Stand by Me or It. You never make close friends as you do in childhood. Even in childhood, you don’t necessarily make friends–as the Losers’ Club can attest. Still, when Bill, Eddie, Richie, Beverly, Ben, Stanley, and Mike find each other, their bond is almost immediate. Watching It, audiences felt fear, but also a longing for that part of their lives that seemingly wasn’t long ago: when friendships were easy and thought to last forever.
When the Losers’ Club makes their pact at the end of the film, they fully believe that they will always hold one another near and dear. Watching the 1990 miniseries as a child, the friendships were visceral and I could think of the real-life counterpart in my life that mimicked each relationship. With It (2017), I watched Bill, Beverly, Ben, Mike, Eddie, Richie, and Stanley onscreen and recalled the memories I made as a child. Nearing my 30s, I’ve discovered those friendships that you thought would last forever didn’t.
As adults, The Losers’ Club finds that they have gotten older and changed–in Ben’s case changed significantly physically. The shared background that brought them all together originally is altered by new experiences, new lives. Bill (James McAvoy) isn’t defined by his dead brother or a stutter in Hollywood, he’s a hotshot writer attached to multiple films. Ben has shed the weight that tormented him through childhood and built a successful reputation as a premier architect. Stanley is happily married and trying to start a family with his wife in Atlanta. Eddie (James Ransome) is in charge of a booming limousine business shepherding celebrities around New York. Even Richie’s (Bill Hader) once irritating antics got him a gig in the entertainment industry. And Beverly (Jessica Chastain) escaped her abusive father by moving far away from the East Coast. Only Mike—who never left Derry—hasn’t been moved on. Now a librarian, Mike has diligently been scouring through Derry’s history, obsessively pursuing a way to put a stop to the madness. He’s witnessed every despicable crime committed in Derry and is the one to send out the news that each member of The Losers’ Club always feared: Pennywise is back.
Pennywise was never just one terror to any of the kids. Able to represent whatever private fear a person holds, this demon clown can take all of the ugly human behaviors (racism, misogyny, homophobia) and synthesize them into one horrifying persona. That’s the genius of the character, really, Pennywise exists as the collective violence of our country without delving into the sociological or historical explanations of why it exists. Every hate crime committed in darkness allows many in Derry to simply look the other way. And many do. “Derry is not like any town I’ve been in before. They did a study once and, it turns out, people die or disappear at six times the national average. And that’s just grown-ups. Kids are worse. Way, way worse.” Conveniently, everything the townspeople hate, fear, and envy about others is handled by Pennywise. Their apathy enables evil. That’s why The Losers’ Club swore an oath to come back and finish Pennywise off when the time came. Yet, when Mike’s dreaded call comes, some of the gang prove reluctant to go back home.
While Pennywise’s ability to tap into a reverse zeitgeist is impressive, what’s most frightening about him is his ability to pick at the precise scar tissue of a vulnerable, adolescent mind. “When you’re a kid, you think that you’ll always be… protected, and cared for. Then, one day, you realize that’s not true.” Childhood was ripped from The Losers Club early, and though they thought they moved past the trauma, they didn’t reckon with it. Stanley, the only child to see the deadlights, managed to find happiness outside of Maine. Yet with so many scars from his last encounter with Pennywise, (SPOILERS… FOR THOSE OF YOU WHO HAVEN’T READ IT OR WATCHED THE 1990 MINI-SERIES) Stanley chooses to open his veins rather than face that evil again.
The importance of close friends when dealing with harrowing demons is paramount. But will The Losers Club be as close? I have a childhood friend whom I’ve known since we were five, but when I moved from Maryland to Nevada, the relationship changed. Not all at once, mind you. Commitments to call each other were honored, visits were planned regularly, yet when enough time passes, promises are forgotten. Then, without either of us realizing it, we hadn’t seen each other in three years. We’ve since gotten back in touch, but the closeness isn’t there like it used to be. Too much had changed. If, after 27 years, I got a call from my friend saying that he needed my help to defeat an ancient evil, I would definitely hesitate to answer. Disappointing, considering there was a time when I wouldn’t have thought twice. The now-grown children of Derry face a similar challenge; after 27 years, will any of them reconnect? Once an epoch passes, it’s impossible to predict how people change, especially people whose lives have been transformed by trauma.
Though the time separating It (2017) and its sequel is only two years, it’s been decades for the group of loners who found one another nearly 30 years ago. The nostalgic investment audiences put into the young characters is enough to carry over to make the audience believe in life-long friendship despite the years and adversity. But as with real life, picking up a friendship where it left off isn’t instantaneous, which is why the Chinese restaurant scene is so pivotal to the story. As they gather in the Jade of the Orient, the kids who had grown so close, are a little distant as adults. No one is quite sure how or where to start, despite being all together in Derry, Maine, again. Yet even with 27 years past, the gang reconnects like time stood still. Nothing helps deal with the horrors of everyday life like the presence of friends.
Sharing what has happened in their lives in the interim, they connect again, building back the bond that brought them all together. The collective fog that clouded their memories clears and they’re left with the chance to go back and experience a level of friendship that we often abandon as adults. Before the Loser’s Club knew the terror that Pennywise inspired, they knew camaraderie. As horrifying as the circumstances that bring The Losers’ Club together are, who wouldn’t want a chance to reconnect with their friends from days past? For every person who had a childhood friend that became a long-lost friend, It offers the opportunity to go back and see what might have been. To relive those summers when everything drifted to a slow march that you thought would last forever. Nostalgia–by now, a cottage industry in film–is so powerful that the mere reconnection of The Losers’ Club is enough to dislodge treasured experiences for each viewer watching. A chance for each person in the theater to go back and do it all over again, but right this time.