Childhood trauma is the true villain of It Chapter Two
WARNING: This article contains spoilers about It Chapter Two. Read at your own risk!
Part of the horror genre’s enduring appeal is its ability — not unlike fraternal twin, comedy — to tackle real-world problems or weave apt social commentary into its narrative by literally putting a face on it in the form of some grotesque monster, unhinged murder, or malevolent apparition. It Chapter Two — and even recent horror entries like The Haunting of Hill House and Stranger Things — is no exception to this rule and leans into this genre hallmark by making childhood trauma its central villain.
It’s easy to see Bill Skarsgård’s portrayal as the demonic clown as the central and only force that the now-adult Losers must defeat for good, but if you start to peel back the layers of the haphazard chaotic story, you may begin to see it differently; starting with the following:
1. Whereas the first film deals more directly with fear and grief as children, the second seeks to discuss what happens when you are truly not over either as adults.
In It (2017), the film mostly dealt with Bill Denbrough’s (James McAvoy) grief over the loss of his brother, Georgie (Jackson Robert Scott), and his inability to let go. Making sense of this loss and finding out what “really” happened to Georgie then becomes the film’s central driving force, with Bill taking the Losers for a ride even as they deal with their own individual demons (which include bullying, fatphobia, repressed sexuality, racism, sexual abuse, etc.). The film ends with Bill and the Losers discovering Georgie’s lost belongings (namely his coat) in It’s lair, confirming the young Denbrough brother’s fate and finally giving Bill permission to move on. To have some sort of closure.
Except…It Chapter Two immediately makes it clear that Bill and the rest of the Losers have yet to move on. Beverly (Jessica Chastain), who dealt with abuse at the hands of her disgusting father, is now dealing similarly with an abusive husband. Ben (Jay Ryan), who is older and hotter now (read: no longer fat), clearly still struggles with issues of self-worth upon arriving back in Derry. Eddie (James Ransone) retains his neurotic tendencies and quite literally married someone who is just like his mother. Richie (Bill Hader) is not over how virulently homophobic Derry was (and still is) and struggles with that via the film’s subtext. And finally, Mike (Isaiah Mustafa) not only hasn’t moved on but hasn’t moved away, still living in Derry all these years so he could help the group remember their promise once the time (27 years later) came.
Bill is a slightly more thought-provoking case because his recurring problem this film is that even as a successful author, he’s not able to create suitable or fulfilling endings to any of his otherwise brilliant novels. A writer who has issues with sh—ty endings isn’t new, of course, but in Bill’s case, it can be directly tied to his younger self and not necessarily being over “the conclusion” to Georgie’s life or story. This then takes the It series from a story primarily dealing with grief to one that now has to deal with the childhood trauma that has cemented itself in characters like Bill and et al because of said grief. And in case you, the viewer, are skeptical of this or suspect that anyone interpreting it this way is doing an Olympic-level reach, the film takes trauma from the metaphorical realm to the physical one.
Prime example? The re-emergence of Bill’s stutter.
2. It Chapter Two addresses the physical toll of repressed, unaddressed, or forgotten trauma.
One of the things that It Chapter Two does extremely well is cementing the fact that there is a high physical toll for childhood trauma, especially when we seek to forget it or, even worse, repress it. It is a force and it is bound to manifest. And mind you, this is made clear one of the few times before Pennywise the Clown physically appears before the adult Losers. The film uses Mike, who has assembled everyone, as its mouthpiece, stating that It (read: trauma) functions as a sickness. A cancer that metastasizes and has done so gleefully within the Losers, and will continue to if It is not stopped — even if you don’t know it’s there or wish to ignore it.
And the film nor Mike are not wrong.
If we continue viewing It as a metaphor for childhood trauma, the physical re-appearance of Bill’s forgotten stutter is a good example of this. The assertive author reverts to a state where he is ironically not able to physically communicate properly. It’s also not the only example. Ben’s break-neck reversion to his former and meeker personality — even though his present success and newfound attractiveness should have endowed him with enough confidence to return as the opposite — is another good example. As is Richie instantaneously puking upon receiving “the call” from Mike even though he and the other adult Losers admit they don’t remember him and barely remember living in Derry to begin with.
Richie’s reaction itself is fairly noteworthy because it makes a distinction between actual memory (as it pertains to your brain) and muscle/body memory, or more plainly, PTSD. It’s reminiscent of someone flinching when someone else raises their hand (even if they’ve never experienced violence from that particular person before) or someone’s heart racing when someone raises their voice, or even someone being anxious around fireworks reminiscent of warzone sights and sounds. It’s a particularly bleak but pragmatic reminder that no matter how far the Losers — and even the audience — physically move away from the trauma that is It, the trauma is always going to follow them around. And, in the worst-case scenario, conquer and consume them if they opt out of confronting it.
3. The film presents two choices: confront your trauma or die.
When Mike first assembles the Losers and advises that sealing away the wicked clown forever is the only way to be rid of him for good, no one truly takes him at his word. The fear of confronting such evil is enough to convince most of the adult Losers that returning to their respective homes and forgetting once again — even with the high price of repressed trauma — is better than the alternative. It is not until Beverly reveals that she has been experiencing visions of each of the adult Losers’ deaths, even though they resolve to stay away from Derry, that each of them pauses to consider Mike’s warning. And Beverly’s revelation wouldn’t have happened without the discovery of Stan’s fate.
Stan (Andy Bean) is the film’s main example of the idea “confront your trauma or die,” for he quite literally decides that dying by suicide is better than confronting It, or letting It creep upon him at an inopportune time. And it is his incredibly dark choice that sets this grim challenge of confronting It into motion for the rest of the Losers. His death, for the rest of the film, then functions as a bleak example of the fate that awaits them if they chicken out of confronting It, like Stan supposedly has.
Survivors may (and perhaps should) take issue with his fate and the implication or assumption that his choice to give in makes him “weaker” or “lesser” than any of the other Losers, as voiced reluctantly by Richie. But, of course, by the film’s conclusion, It Chapter Two makes it starkly clear via Stan himself that his choice was deeply complicated. And that much like the grieving process, one’s own confrontation of their childhood trauma is profoundly personal and will always vary from one person to the next.
And the struggle to overcome It does not make one weak. It just means that trauma is powerful. And deeply complex.