Warning: SPOILERS FOR “IT” CHAPTER ONE AND TWO
“It Chapter Two” is the sequel to the horror-adventure movie, “It” (2017). If you enjoyed the first you’ll surely enjoy this chapter. It does have problems though, like it’s unbalanced tone. It has strong horror moments but then goes back to it’s coming-of-age adventure roots. What I find the most compelling problem is the treatment of Richie Tozier, Eddie Kaspbrack, and their relationship.
In the first movie, we see the gang, which they call themselves, “The Losers Club”, as early teens in the 1980s, as they try and discover what is causing the worrying amount of missing kids in their small town of Derry, Maine. The young teens become very close over the course of the film due to trauma, which and bullying they go through at their school. The characters’ dynamics between each other are interesting and entertaining to watch on screen. You want to support this fun, loving group of friends, but one pair of characters whose relationship caught the most attention online was the one between Richie Tozier, played by Finn Wolfhard and Eddie Kaspbrack played by Jack Dylan Grazer. The internet went crazy for the two of them, not only for their individual performances, but fans saw their interactions, stood up and all collectively said: They gay. Fans made fanart of the two of them, wrote stories about their budding relationship. They couldn’t get enough of it. Not even the more canonical relationships like Bev and Ben or Bev and Bill gained as much popularity as our two comedic relief characters, Eddie and Richie.
The best part was that the actors were supportive of the idea! They weren’t surprised that for the second film the writers wanted to make the relationship more blatant. In an interview for It Chapter Two, Wolfhard told the Hollywood Reporter,
“I thought it totally made sense…It’s something that he’s so ashamed of that he doesn’t even bring it up to his friends until it shows in the second movie. He’s still in the closet when he’s 40, and once they finally defeat Pennywise, the fear goes away. You’re finally comfortable with who you are.”
When asked how overt he and the director, Andy Muscetti, wanted to make Richie’s sexuality, Bill Hader told the New York Times,
“I said if it’s not overt, then why is he in the movie? You can’t do a half measure on it. You’ve got to go the full way or don’t even allude to it. Let’s not be coy. Let’s just say what it is.”
The idea of seeing a fan-supported couple become canon in a big budget horror movie is exciting. Seeing such interesting characters be able to be who they are, and be supported and actually make sense within the narrative of the film gives hope that future projects will do the same. It’s beautiful that we get to see a happy gay couple get together after all they’ve been through.
But alas that isn’t exactly what we got.
In the final battle against Pennywise, to get Richie out of his entranced state and save him, Eddie attacks Pennywise. He thinks he’s killed the clown so he runs to Richie, who’s fallen out his possessed state. After looking deeply into each others eyes, Eddie is stabbed through the chest by one of Pennywise’s spider legs. Richie is terrified and heartbroken. He tries to revive his love and even tries to bring him back to life with the gang as they try to escape as Pennywise is destroyed.
What we have here is obviously tragic, but also what is called the “Bury Your Gays” trope, the cliche where a story kills off it’s queer characters or couples before the writers or directors even consider doing the same for it’s straight ones. It’s seen in the 100, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, the Vampire Diaries, Cloud Atlas, and so many more. While the trope in the late 19th and early 20th centuries was used solely because the authors would be scrutinized if they portrayed LGBT couples positively. It’s bizarre this trope is still so prevalent. This trope reinforces the idea non-heterosexual or non-cisgendered couples don’t get happy endings and are therefore doomed to either end up dead or single, while all their straight friends get a happily ever after. I mean it’s either that scenario or have your studio tell everyone that your character is “the first gay”, but the character’s sexuality not be clear in any way, or the one time it be clear be “cut for time”.
Not only does arguably the more interesting couple get broken up by death, but the movie begins with a hate crime against a gay couple by a group of homophobes, with Pennywise subsequently killing the couple to signify his return after 27 years, although it’s not clear if both in the couple or killed or just one of them. It’s violent, sad, and a painful reminder that LGBTQ people still have a long way to go before achieving the equality they deserve.
Why was it decided to go this way? To have, at least in this installment, the some of the most pain and violence inflicted on the queer characters?
Well, some would argue that it’s because that’s how they’re treated in the book these films are based on. Well, the book also had all the boys of the Losers Club each have sex with Beverly after the defeat Pennywise the first time to “bond them” but you don’t hear those people complain about that being cut making it “inaccurate to the book.”
May I point out that Richie’s sexuality is less overt in the book than it is in the film, it’s much more vaguely implied. Wolfhard even says in that same interview with The Hollywood Reporter,
“I think that’s what’s interesting about making these movies because they’re not the exact same as the book.”
Muschetti and Wolfhard are trying to make it clear that with Richie, they don’t mind that they’re making changes to his character in adaptation.
Then the film cuts out the scene in the book where the surviving man from the hate crime in the beginning receives justice and his assaulters go to prison. So already we’re seeing adaptational changes that impact the story and it’s messages.
So why not change this? Why not show a contrast to book end the story? Why not show that LGBTQ people go through so much hardship in this world but happily ever after is still a possibility?
Others might argue that Eddie’s sacrifice might have more to do with his character arc: Eddie was an anxious, cowardly kid, and him sacrificing himself for his love shows growth in his character and shows that people will do anything for the people they love. And honestly, that’s a better argument than that “well it was accurate to the book” stuff. I would argue that any other Loser sacrificing themselves would help fulfill their character arc:
Stanley already sacrificed himself for the group when Mike first called them to come back to Derry. Bill would finally, once and for all, be able to stand up to Pennywise and avenge his brother. Mike would be making up for lying to his friends about the ritual being fake. Bev would be taking a symbolic stance against the abuse she’s faced all her life and stand up for herself, refusing to let this happen to her anymore. Ben would be standing up to the bullying he faced, the feeling of rejection he lived with, and could even be protecting Bev, revealing his lifelong love for her in the process. Narratively, every single one of the Losers have something they’re facing through Pennywise, besides possible death and more people dying in the future because of Pennywise.
Is it easy to pick Eddie to die? He is one of the more popular characters in the group, which would mean more emotional impact. How tragic is it to see the “adora-gays” hold each other in their arms while one dies before they can confess their love for each other? Why choose the easy way out in your writing? Wouldn’t be better to take a risk and be praised for the steps forward you took in that risk? Wouldn’t you rather be applauded for your willingness to take risks and create a positive representative for someone, rather than take the easy way out and be remembered for being cliche? Hasn’t the lamb you’ve been sacrificing for decades had enough?