** Major Spoilers for IT Chapter Two to follow. You cannot complain that I did not give you a spoiler warning on this one. **
Of all the articles I expected to write about IT Chapter Two, I can definitely say that writing about how they made the relationship between Richie Tozier and Eddie Kaspbrak canonically romantic was not one of them.
I had hoped that the film might dive into the subtext for both characters, but I never actually thought that director Andy Muschietti and screenwriter Gary Dauberman would actually make their relationship canon, with little to no room for argument. Richie is canonically not straight, and Eddie is highly coded as not being straight either. Richie is also in love with Eddie, going as far as to carve their initials on the kissing bridge in town, which is not something you just do for your best buddy. Eddie’s untimely death cuts the possibility of romance short, but Richie’s feelings are still there and Eddie’s feelings are highly implied.
There is a lot to be discussed about this particular plot, ranging from Richie’s canon journey to Eddie’s implied one to whether or not this film is decent representation. It feels almost surreal to have a major film that actually wants to engage with this reading of the text, rather than to just blink past it or turn it into the butt of a joke.
As much as I’ve always loved Richie as a character, in the first IT film he was somewhat underwritten compared to the others. He gets some of the best jokes for sure, but while the other Losers have emotional arcs, Richie just sort of operated as snarky sidekick for the entire film. His emotional journey in the second film retroactively gives him more depth in the first film as well as advances the character beautifully in Chapter Two, because we realize what his deepest fears and insecurities were about.
Richie’s greatest fear has always been being himself. During his first appearance in the original novel, he talks about doing his voices and impressions because it’s easer to be brave when you’re someone else. It’s easy to translate this fear into a fear of being open about his sexuality or his feelings, and in fact is part of why his sexuality and his relationship with Eddie have been speculated about long before the first IT came out in 2017. The subtext has always been there for fans, and is only now being explored in a canonical adaptation.
In IT Chapter Two, Richie’s sexuality is key to his journey of self acceptance. He remembers a specific moment in which he was publicly humiliated and shamed, which then leads into an encounter with Pennywise in which the clown mocks him for his “dirty little secret.” His remembered trauma is entirely about not being able to be who he truly is and how he fears having his secret exposed. And yet ultimately his final moment in the film is to return to the kissing bridge where he carved his and Eddie’s initials all those years before to re-carve them, as Stan’s voiceover reminds him to “be who you want to be. Be proud.”
It’s a powerful narrative, albeit a somewhat tragic one, and it marks one of the first times I’ve seen a major event film feature a queer hero and relationship that isn’t just brushed aside or a blink and you’ll miss it reference. Yes, Joe Russo, I’m talking to you specifically about this. While Richie never openly says he’s gay or bisexual, the intention is there, and that is what matters. The writer, director, and stars all seem to treat this plot as a love story, and a serious part of the film rather than a cheeky blink and you’ll miss it reference.
Of course, there’s the fact that Richie’s story is the saddest of all the surviving Losers. Bill returns to his charmed life as a writer, Ben and Bev get together, and Mike finally is able to leave Derry. But Richie is in mourning when we last see him, and while that final voiceover and the smile he gives his carving seems to point towards some hope, it’s undeniably sad. Richie never comes out to his friends and therefore never has his fears of rejection be proven baseless. We have hope for him to have a future where he’s happy, but we never see it.
Richie being canonically gay (though I hesitate to assign a specific label to him, since in the book he’s had serious relationships with women while still having subtextual feelings for Eddie, while the film seems to imply he’s gay rather than bisexual) is not a decision thrown in to appease or pander to the “Tumblr crowd” as some Redditors have already dismissively said. The book lends itself strongly to a queer reading of both him and Eddie and the original 2015 script for the first IT featured a line about “don’t touch the other boys Richie, or they’ll know your secret” which occurs when Richie is trying to help Eddie.
Stephen King is also a massive fan of this film and reportedly gave an enthusiastic blessing to this subplot, according to Vanity Fair. Dauberman told The Hollywood Reporter that he “loved that love story” between Richie and Eddie and that they based the progression of his character on the subtext in the novel. So, again, this is not pandering or some sort of snap decision thrown in at the last minute. This is something the writers and actors definitely took care with, and the fact they haven’t spent the entire press tour touting their bravery for adding in this element speaks to a level of respect for the plot.
It is interesting to me that they decided to make Richie’s sexuality more of a plot point and keep Eddie’s sexuality as more of a subtextual arc. For the most part, Eddie’s arc has a lot of subtext about his sexuality (just like the novel and original miniseries) but no “oh, there is it” moment like Richie’s story does when it comes to analyzing his sexuality in Chapter Two, which is slightly frustrating as a fan of the book but also slightly understandable as a film critic.
I’m going out on a limb here to argue that perhaps Muschietti and Dauberman decided against making Eddie’s sexuality more explicitly text in the film because of the risk of blowback over Eddie’s death. Eddie has been doomed to die since the book came out, and it was unlikely that Muschietti or Dauberman would’ve wanted to change that particular plot point so that all of the Losers survive their final encounter with Pennywise. The film also opens with a brutal homophobic attack on a gay man, so to kill off two out of three openly gay characters might have drawn ire, and rightfully so.
Still, the fact that Eddie’s sexuality is not addressed in the same way that Richie’s sexuality is addressed doesn’t mean that it isn’t present. Eddie’s arc is about coming into his own and finding his courage after it has been snuffed out by his mother and his wife, who are both abusive figures in the novel and adaptations. He has been told all his life that he is sick, that he is delicate, that he is something he is not, and you see the toll it takes on him during the film when he struggles to find his courage. It is with the Losers, and namely Richie, that he is able to realize that he is more than what he’s been told he is, leading to him taking a stand and helping to defeat It.
The act of coming into oneself and one’s courage is a powerful narrative, and it works just as powerfully if you read Eddie as being closeted and coming into his own identity throughout the course of the novel or film. The ultimate tragedy with his story is that despite finally coming into his own, he never gets to be free of both the specter of his past trauma and It and live his life how he wants, regardless of whether or not that future would’ve included a happily ever after with Richie.
There are more in-depth queer readings to be made of Eddie based on the book, miniseries, and film, including a direct parallel in the novel between the murdered Adrian Mellon and Eddie that is mirrored in the film. Both have asthma, and when Eddie is told this in the book, King makes a point of describing him reaching for his own inhaler. In the film, we see Adrian using his inhaler during the attack, and Eddie of course is seen using his throughout the film; the visual language directly compares the two. Much like Richie’s sexuality, Eddie’s sexuality has been discussed since the book came out — this is not a new phenomenon.
Interestingly enough, Dennis Christopher, who played the adult Eddie in the 1990 version of IT, has tweeted about how he wanted to include discussion of Eddie’s sexuality in that adaptation but the filmmakers there shied away from it all. That was four years after the book came out, which means that a queer reading of Eddie has always been on the table and has been talked about by a variety of critics and actors.
It’s also worth noting that prejudice and bigotry are very much villains in the world of IT, and homophobia is included in that. Adrian Mellon’s death is in part due to Pennywise fanning the hatred of the town; this is much clearer in the book than it is in the movie, but it’s a present thread throughout the chapter focused on him. Pennywise reaches into the worst parts of the human soul to create hatred and stir chaos and violence. The darkness of the human condition and the pain we inflict on others is just as much a monster as Pennywise, and that includes the homophobia that Richie and Adrian Mellon face.
IT is not a story about a spooky scary sewer clown. It is a story about fears and hatred, and how belief in oneself and in one’s community can overcome that, then Richie and Eddie’s story becomes even more powerful. They accept themselves, and they accept each other. Even if they don’t ever share a love confession or a kiss, the parallels between Richie and Eddie both coming into their own throughout the film strongly lend themselves to a reading that Richie and Eddie’s feelings were requited, even if they are never said on screen. This veers into headcanon territory, but you know what? That’s okay. That’s what engaging with the text will do to you.
The discourse around the film will probably center on extremes, on whether Richie is quality representation or if the film is deeply homophobic. Would it be a better, less “problematic” (I hate that term) film if Eddie survived and he and Richie got a happily ever after? Yes. The film does veer into burying your gays territory as it stands now with Adrian Mellon’s death, Eddie’s death, and Richie’s somewhat unhappy ending. It is far from perfect, and if you found yourself troubled by it, that’s a perfectly valid response.
But at the same time, Richie is canonically not straight, with there being a strong reading that Eddie is also not straight. We got a big budget film that was willing to engage with the queer reading that many have taken from the text, and not just wink at it but make it part of the actual canon itself. Even with the tragic nature of the narrative, I find it to be somewhat of a win personally, though I’m not about to tell anyone else that their reading is incorrect, unless you’re trying to tell me Richie is straight.
This is a discussion in which there’s no easy way to say “this is good” or “this is bad.” You might find the Richie/Eddie story to be another example of burying your gays, especially coupled with the Adrian Mellon scene, and a terrible moment of representation, or you could feel it’s a big step forward for blockbuster films engaging with queer text. You can love that they made Richie canonically not straight and still feel like his narrative should’ve been handled with a little more grace and care. Honestly, it really is both, and nuance is the Internet’s least favorite thing. A weird sewer clown movie can have representation and still fall into homophobic tropes. Nuance can exist in this particular discussion.
Ultimately, it is up to the viewer to decide how they feel about the Richie/Eddie plot. I greatly enjoyed Louis Peitzman’s take on the Richie/Eddie plot if you’re looking for more reading to do on this topic, because there are multiple perspectives on this story and all are incredibly valid reads. Ultimately, one’s take on Richie/Eddie is going to come down to personal perspective.
Still, as someone who’s rarely felt like blockbuster films engage with the queer subtext they present (Marvel, Star Wars… the list goes on and on) or even recognize that queer people exist, I found this decision to be particularly moving. Richie is still a hero, as is Eddie. Their relationship is treated as being important to the narrative without winking or “no homo”-ing. Richie’s story doesn’t have an easy ending, but there’s a sense of bittersweet peace there. Maybe, even though the world is still homophobic and cruel, Richie can be who he truly is.
It’s a narrative I did not expect from IT. And I’m glad they chose to include it.
(image: Warner Bros)
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