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The brilliant social commentary of Stephen King’s “It”

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Let’s be honest: A fear of clowns in this day and age is such a cliché.

While Stephen King’s original monster is effective, it has been so bastardized and shamelessly copied by now that it’s almost tacky. By contrast, the most recent adaptation succeeds in putting more narrative time on the lives of the kids, which ultimately culminates with “It” serving as a criticism to the normalization of abusive families.

Let’s start with Eddie. Eddie is a hypochondriac with psychosomatic asthma, which is to say it’s a physical illness inflicted by his belief that he has it. This is instilled primarily by his mother, a woman who has Munchausen syndrome by proxy, a form of child abuse in which the parent convinces their child that they are ill often by making them sick through means of medications or viruses. In doing so, his mother is able to control him and keep his affection through guilt and a sense of reliance.

Munchausen syndrome by proxy is complicated and difficult because it doesn’t at first glance seem entirely malicious or dangerous. There are very real psychological and physical threats to this sort of behavior, resulting in inhibited self reliance and possibly, in serious cases, resulting in the death of the victim. If anything, the use of manipulation and guilt makes it all the more insidious, and grotesque, to watch on screen.

While it’s easy to feel for Eddie, it’s much harder to do so for Henry, the bully who torments the protagonists throughout the film. His abuse is more obvious to the audience when his father berates his son and even, in one scene, shoots his gun at him. Henry’s reaction to this says a lot about the dynamic between the two of them, specifically the terror and hatred that build in his character towards his father. But rather than reaching any sort of reconciliation, his anger is instead directed at the Loser’s Club.

It’s a familiar narrative that doesn’t excuse any of his actions, naturally. But it does shed light on the experience of an abuse survivor, while also addressing the cycles of abuse — a concept explored even further by the reappearance of Pennywise every 27 years, a headnod at the tendencies of childhood trauma to resurface.

Of all the instances though, Beverly’s abuse is likely the most sympathetic. The sheer gravity of her sexual abuse and the way it’s handled throughout the film is intense. Many of the scenes between her and her father are difficult to watch, especially so for survivors of abuse. It’s quiet but violent and grotesque, and in many ways more scary than Pennywise as it’s so easily within the realm of possibility.

This terror is also more effectively explored through the forms Pennywise, the demonic clown, takes on when attempting to frighten her, appearing primarily as disembodied voices, blood (a reference to her menstruation and the womanhood associated with it) and at its peak, her abuser himself.

This social commentary is refreshing to see in a blockbuster film, as children are often overlooked in narratives in favor of focusing on their adult counterparts. By exploring their abuse, “It” extends past a spooky creature feature and manages to serve as a reaction to American suburbia and its willingness to overlook abusive families, as well as their subsequent consequences.

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The brilliant social commentary of Stephen King’s “It”