Stephen King's It: Pennywise vs. 'The Losers' is a parable for a tormented nation
The movie is a surprise blockbuster at $123 million. Here's one reason why.
What accounts for this (literal) monstrous opening? Monstrous times.
The new adaptation of Stephen King’s It annihilated expectations — earning $123 million in its opening weekend, nearly doubling even optimistic predictions of $65 million.
It touched a frazzled nerve no one expected. Despite being a horror story showcasing the scariest clown in who ever walked or crawled, also brimmed with warmth and humor. The bonding of the kids has been compared to King’s beloved coming-of-age story “The Body,” which inspired Rob Reiner’s equally adored film Stand By Me.
In the film, the so-called “Losers Club” – a black kid, an abused girl, a stuttering boy, a Jewish kid, and a class clown, among others who feel lonely and besieged – may have connected on a deeper level, showcasing a microcosm of marginalized people standing not just for themselves, but protecting each other and uniting against a greater threat. At one point, one of the Losers in the film even warns: “It wants to divide us!”
They can’t — and don’t — let It accomplish that goal.
Director Andy Muschietti, who previously made the 2013 Jessica Chastain horror film Mama, and his sister Barbara, who produced It, say this may be one factor in the massive turnout: People love scary clowns, and there was deep affection and nostalgia for King’s book and the 1990 Tim Curry TV movie.
But moviegoers also may have come back again and again for the inspiring story of outcasts joining forces. All for one, and one for all.
“Everyone needs reassurance that it’s good to be part of a group, and it’s great to come together against division and fear,” Andy Muschietti told EW on Monday morning. “Fear is used as a tool these days to divide and control and conquer. And hate is a tool. And that’s something Pennywise does, so that’s something resonating in our society right now.”
One things that contributes to the frustration are those under the sway of the monster, who refuse to see the reality of what’s happening — much like the adults in It, all of them grotesques whose darkest sides are activated by the monster lurking below.
King himself hit this comparison right on the red nose, joking in a speech at the Women’s March in Sarasota, Fla., last January: “We just elected Pennywise as president.”
Andy Muschietti said those who “don’t understand how this is happening in our day and age” may have found a story in It that makes sense to them and gives them hope. Even if it’s fantasy, even if it’s horror.
“I think the best thing that can happen is if people take this as a parable about what it is to live in a culture of fear, and understand that we’re better than that. And we have to stick together against those producers of fear, and stay strong,” Andy Muschietti said.
Barbara Muschietti said they noticed something unusual about the horror film when they checked in on audiences watching the film this weekend: happiness.
“We would look back and there was this contagious joy in the room. Put to the side the scares and the hard-hitting comedy moments, it was people having joy and sharing empathy with these characters.”
She said her brother was right. “For almost a year people have been beaten up, in both parties. I don’t know that anybody on either side of the political spectrum is feeling great,” she said. “As a country, we’ve been pummeled and suddenly you see these kids who are very much a representation of that, and they fight – with love and togetherness – and they beat the monster. And that’s nice.”
Nice, in a time of distress, turns out to be the movie about a malevolent clown getting his comeuppance.