Friday, September 29, 2017


Over the years, I have seen a number of adaptations of Stephen King novels and stories. It (dir. Andy Muschietti, 2017) is one of the best. I think Stanley Kubrick's 1980 film The Shining stands in front of all other adaptations, despite the fact that King himself dislikes it. It's a Kubrick film. It's artful on its own terms, and a reflection of that fact is that Kubrick himself felt free to make significant changes to the plots and the characters in the novel. Even so, he evoked, especially in the film’s first half, the same intense dread that one felt in reading parts of the novel.

It is definitely a horror film. There are many frightful moments. There are several intense scenes of violence, one in particular at the beginning. But the moments of horror are counterbalanced by other elements, the most important of them being the main characters: six boys and a girl on the verge of adolescence. They become wary partners, and then friends, as they gradually learn about and experience the horror at the core of the history of their town Derry, Maine, and of the men, women, and children who have disappeared or been killed in unusual numbers since its beginning. The barely hints at Derry’s history.

The clown Pennywise (“the Dancing Clown”) is the cause of everything wrong in the town. He appears to each child in a form most likely to disturb each his or her psychological fears. The children are on the verge of adolescence. Hormones are beginning to flow. The monstrous clown is a real evil. But he is also a symbol: of the future, of adolescence, of puberty, adult sexuality, all the challenges and disappointments and horrors that lie ahead, or that might lie ahead, in adulthood. He is the unknown, the darkness and uncertainty of the future.

It is also about friendship. One of the main characters, Bill, lost his little brother to Pennywise the summer before the main action of the film. He is still grieving that loss, for which he feels some guilt. For him the clown is a personal matter. He wants to find and destroy it. And he still has hopes that his brother might be alive somewhere. His search for the clown is a way of resolving his grief over his missing brother. The other members of the group support him. Each of the group’s members has encountered the clown, in different forms. They realize they can't ignore him.

As is the case in many films that feature young adolescents as main characters, these boys and the girl have a knack for not asking for adult assistance. There's a reason: the girl, Beverly, is being molested by her father. One of the boys, Eddie, has an overbearing and controlling mother. Bill has a strained relationship with his father. There's a long history in the town of evil and calamitous happenings that the adults have either ignored or never figured out. The children decide it's their responsibility to take action. This does challenge one's credibility. Most children are not as courageous and ingenious as these.  But that's okay. This is an adventure as well as a horror film. You have to suspend your disbelief. It reminded me of The Goonies, directed by Richard Donner (1986), and Stand by Me (dir. Rob Reiner, 1985), based on a Stephen King story.

Friendship, confronting uncertainty and mystery, and loyalty are at the center of this film. It's highly entertaining, suspenseful and sometimes frightening. But I found it a moving experience. That's unusual in a horror film.

The final scene, where the group swears a blood oath to one another, ensures a sequel, as does the fact that much of the novel is not covered at all.

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