This post contains spoilers about Stephen King’s It and the film adaptation out in theaters Friday.
When Stephen King’s It arrives in theaters on Friday, it will refamiliarize viewers with killer clown Pennywise, the novel’s iconic antagonist who was so memorably brought to life by Tim Curry in the 1990 television miniseries based on King’s book.
But what fans of that landmark television event won’t see on screen is the novel’s most controversial sequence: the climax’s pre-teen orgy.
Toward the end of King’s book — which typically runs over 1,000 pages in print editions and switches between timelines — our heroes, the Losers’ Club, get lost in the Derry sewer system after defeating Pennywise… for the moment. Understanding that the group won’t be able to escape without being unified, the gang’s lone female member, Beverly, decides she needs to have sex with the six boys.
“I have an idea,” Beverly said quietly.
In the dark, Bill heard a sound he could not immediately place. A whispery little sound, but not scary. Then there was a more easily place sound… a zipper. What—? he thought, and then he realized what. He was undressing. For some reason, Beverly was undressing.
The plan works. As soon as Beverly has finished having sex with each of her friends, one of the boys immediately remembers where the group made a wrong turn and they subsequently escape.
As recent as 2013, King has commented on the scene, offering some explanation for its inclusion and expressing an understanding of how it’s aged.
“I wasn’t really thinking of the sexual aspect of it,” King writes in a post on his official site’s message board via his office manager Marsha DeFillipo. “The book dealt with childhood and adulthood — 1958 and Grown Ups. The grown ups don’t remember their childhood. None of us remember what we did as children—we think we do, but we don’t remember it as it really happened. Intuitively, the Losers knew they had to be together again. The sexual act connected childhood and adulthood. It’s another version of the glass tunnel that connects the children’s library and the adult library. Times have changed since I wrote that scene and there is now more sensitivity to those issues.”
Removed from the context of the book, the scene obviously loses some of its significance — but it’s hard to deny its problematic nature. Like the TV miniseries, the new film directed by Andy Muschietti — from a script credited to the film’s previous director, Cary Fukunaga, as well as Chase Palmer, and Gary Dauberman — skips the sequence entirely. Once Pennywise is defeated, the Losers reappear outside the tunnels in the next scene, with no indication they got lost at all.
Dauberman, who took over writing duties when Fukunaga left the project, spoke with EW’s Clark Collis about the scene and the production’s debate over whether to include it in the film. “Besides Georgie in the sewer [the It opening], I think it’s the one scene that everybody kind of brings up and it’s such a shame,” he says. “While it’s an important scene, it doesn’t define the book in any way I don’t think and it shouldn’t. We know what the intent was of that scene and why he put it in there, and we tried to accomplish what the intent was in a different way.”
A 2014 draft supposedly written by Palmer and Fukunaga alone includes an interpretation of the sex scene, albeit a much cleaner alternative: After their climactic showdown with Pennywise, the Losers are lost in the tunnels. Beverly, sensing the boys’ panic, takes each of their faces into her hands, providing the “light” they need to come together and escape.
While the original scene has been the subject of debate ever since the book’s release in 1986, it has proven an interesting experiment in adaptation. Throughout King’s career, he has pushed boundaries, especially in his depiction of adolescent sexuality, and the fact that the two produced adaptations of It have avoided the book’s most challenging scene entirely is telling about the respective mediums and what happens when words on the page become light and sound.