Breaking Down the Power of Belief In IT Chapter Two
** Major spoilers for IT Chapter Two. You have been warned. **
“Take this. It kills monsters. If you believe it does.”
That’s what Beverly says to Eddie while handing him a broken piece of fence to defend himself with as the Losers Club descends into Its lair. For some, that might be a cliched moment in a film that does love to veer into the sentimental, but for me, it crystallized that Andy Muschietti understood what Stephen King’s IT is, in part, about. This is a story about the power of belief, not necessarily in a religious sense, but about belief in oneself and one’s companions.
There’s a childlike hope at the heart of IT. This is, of course, in part due to the fact that half the novel, miniseries, and films follow the heroes as children. In childhood, the simple belief that a light will scare the monsters away can be enough. Adulthood is significantly more complicated than that of course, as the Losers learn over the course of their fateful summer facing off against Pennywise. They also face abusive parents and cruel human villains, which are monsters that can’t be banished back under the bed.
When we meet the Losers as adults in Chapter Two, most of them have regressed to their childhood, pre-Pennywise selves. Bill is bitter over a loss he can barely remember. Both Beverly and Eddie have married into reflections of who their parents were. Richie has been so traumatized by Henry Bowers that he’s scared to come out. Ben is still the loner, isolated from others. Even Mike, who remembers his childhood trauma, is trapped by the fact he cannot leave Derry behind and risk the Losers not remembering to return and kill It and therefore has never quite moved on from that fateful summer.
(I’m purposefully not talking about Stan here, because Stan is a difficult character for me to discuss. Expect a piece on the way the film handles him later this week.)
The Losers didn’t defeat Pennywise the first time with a few kicks and a couple well-delivered blows to the head. They defeated him because they believed that they could, that a baseball bat and a couple of crowbars could stop a terrifying sewer demon. It only makes sense that they have to re-discover that belief to defeat Pennywise for good this time, and utilize that power to stop It once and for all.
For kids, fantasy and reality can be blurred. When you’re playing pretend, the stick you’re using as a sword can actually be a sword, or you actually are the hero you’re supposed to be. When you become an adult, belief becomes something different. It can be harder to hold onto the belief that good can triumph over evil, and that slips into the realm of fantasy. But IT is a fantasy, in a sense, and so the heroes must find their inner children and believe that they can win for their plan to work.
In the novel, it is childish belief that ultimately takes It down. Eddie believes that his inhaler will harm It, just as it did when he was a child, and harm It it does. Richie believes that his Voices will save him, and so they do. The film, with the reinvention of the Ritual of Chüd from a cosmic and weird event to a more cinematic vision, still maintains the idea that belief can harm It. After all, It preys mostly on children, taking the form of what they fear most. It makes sense that belief can harm It, since belief tends to be how It preys upon the children of Derry.
Mike is insistent that the Losers have to believe in order for the Ritual to work. Eddie believes that he can defeat It when he throws the weapon Bev gave him into Its mouth and is able to save Richie. In the climactic, final moments of battle, the Losers literally insult Pennywise to death, making the clown small in the same way that their abusers and tormentors made them small with words. It’s a bit After School Special but it works in a weird way, though I’m sure some will take it as a pro-bullying message.
It could never be defeated through a show of strength, but rather with sheer force of will and the inherent, childish belief that somehow good can triumph over evil. The Losers have to believe not only that they can win, but in themselves. The Ritual of Chüd ultimately manifests itself as Bill, Bev, and Ben facing their greatest fears and traumas and overcoming them, Bill with belief in the fact that he has to forgive himself and Ben and Bev by remembering their connection to each other. They have to believe to fight back.
It’s imperfect, for sure, but the fact that the Losers turn the weapons that have been used against them for years into the ultimate way to defeat the literal source of a great deal of their trauma is a powerful moment. As Pennywise lays dying, Its final words are “you’re all grown up.” The Losers have finally managed to break the cycle of their childhood trauma and find the belief in themselves they had before the world wore them down.
Trauma is a tricky thing. It is hard to unpack, and harder still to live with. All of the Losers have suffered immense trauma throughout their lives, both in the summer we see and in the way that the world has hurt them for being “different.” But above all else, they find that spark of hope and they cling to it and they turn it into a weapon. They finally have the agency long denied them by the fact they were not allowed to process, grieve, and unpack their traumas, and the film ends on a happy note because we know they can finally begin to move on.
In the end, as Stan’s final goodbyes echo overhead, the Losers get a sense of peace. Bill, who’s accepted Georgie’s death and forgiven himself, gets to find closure in his endings. Mike is free to leave Derry. Ben and Beverly get to start fresh together. Richie finds closure with his feelings for Eddie. “Be brave. Stand,” Stan reads, echoing Mike’s final diary entry from the novel; a new addition begs his friends to remember “we’re Losers, and we always will be.” He asks the Losers to make a different sort of oath to him, one that is different from the one that closed out the first film: he wants them to be happy and to lead the lives they were meant to lead. Rather than just forget and ignore their pain, Stan asks them to remember it and to try and live regardless.
It’s cheesy, yes, but it is what the novel has always been about. The novel is supposed to be about moving on, though the book ends with the bittersweet note of them forgetting as they finally are freed from Its influence. Here, they remember. Their pain is part of them, but they’ve accepted it. They can fight to find happiness now, without being stuck in the cycles they were trapped in while It was still alive.
IT Chapter Two is not a perfect film, but it is a perfect adaptation of what King was trying to say with parts of his novel. Belief in oneself and one’s companions can kill monsters. That childish sense of hope is not a weakness, but rather a strength. In an era of cynicism, I much prefer that to a bitter ending.
(image: Warner Bros)
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