Existentialism in “IT: Chapter One”

Introduction to the Film:

“IT: Chapter One” is a 2017 horror film based on the novel IT by Stephen King and produced by Andy Muschietti (Muschietti, film). The film follows the story of a group of children, AKA “The Losers Club” who investigate into the reoccurring disappearances of other local children in their hometown of Derry, Maine (Muschietti, film). In order to solve the mystery, The Losers Club: Billy (Jaedan Lieberher), Richie (Finn Wolfhard), Mike (Chosen Jacobs), Beverly (Sophia Lillis), Eddie (Jack Dylan Grazer), Ben (Jeremy Ray Taylor), and Stanley (Wyatt Olaf) team up to track down and defeat the clown, Pennywise (Bill Skarsgård), who is kidnapping the town’s children (Muschietti, film). However, the task is more daunting than it seems not only because they have to face a killer clown, but because the clown is also able to possess and appear as whatever the children fear (Muschietti, film). Although Pennywise the Dancing Clown is a scary entity in himself, he is really only a representation of the main characters’ (The Losers Club) personal and emotional fears. In order to render him powerless in order to defeat them, they must first face the fears inside themselves.

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Anxiety and Fear Personified within Monsters:

The idea that monsters are created to physically represent our own personal fears of life and the future is not a new idea. The monsters in a majority of horror films and media are created with the ideal of representing everything most humans fear: change, harm, death, loss of some sort, and even the fear of emptiness after loss. Stuart Hanscomb within his article, “Existentialism and Art-Horror”, states: “Monsters must of course have the power to threaten – to be strong, violent, deadly, aggressive, malicious, and so on – but also they are outwardly vile and grotesque.” (Hanscomb, 3) Pennywise is a prime example of this as he is able to physically turn into whatever it is the subject who views him fears (Muschietti, film). For example, he is able to turn into physical examples of the children’s deepest fears: he turns into Georgie (Billy’s fear of the loss of his brother), a lecher with the bubonic plague (Eddie’s fear of sickness), exploding Easter eggs (Ben’s fear of the past incident in the town), Mike’s burning parents who died in a house fire, a bathroom drenched in blood (Beverly’s fear of her period and the significance of “becoming a woman”), a threatening painting in Stanley’s father’s office (Stanley had to stare at this painting while being scolded by his father), and as himself (Richie is afraid of clowns) (Muschietti, film). However, each of these fears hold a deeper meaning for each character than just the fear of the physical form Pennywise represents.

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The Fear of the Unknown:

Within Existentialism there is the fear of the unknown and the fear of death, however, there is also the ability to decide one’s own path in life. This amount of freedom, however, may only create more fear- especially in the lives of adolescents who are on the path of growing up. Stuart Hanscomb states:  ”…we experience anxiety in the face of something ‘indefinite’, ‘diffuse’ or ‘uncertain’. Its source might be felt or intuited rather than perceived or understood, or it might be ambiguous (Hanscomb, 10).” Although Pennywise is a monster who falls into some of the stereotypical horror tropes, he also has the interesting twist of being a creepy clown and, therefore, a personification of the loss of innocence. Viewers can see this loss of innocence portrayed through the different members of The Losers Club and each of their own personal fears: Billy fears life without his brother and being an only child, Beverly fears her father who sexually abuses her, Mike fears growing up in a world of racial inequality without his parents, Stanley fears disappointing his father and their religion, Ben fears being in a new town due to constantly moving, Eddie fears sickness due to his mother’s controlling nature, and Richie fears only being seen as a class clown and never being taken seriously (Muschietti, film). Although the children can feel their fears, they do not know consciously what they are scared of. Instead, they personify and put their fear into the monster of the film, Pennywise, in order to have a definitive enemy to defeat. However, they must first recognize and overcome their own fears to get rid of the killer clown: “The employment of the usual means of overcoming threats (medicine, guns) fails, and a categorical shift is required for effective confrontation, a shift that can require a change in the protagonists as well (Hanscomb, 14).” Once they get over their own fears and accept the unknown that comes within life, they are able to take away Pennywise’s power.

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Acceptance of Fate and the Letting Go of Fear:

Before defeating Pennywise, each member of The Losers Club first defeats their own fears. Billy kills his fear of life without his brother Georgie by killing Pennywise while he is in the form of Georgie (Muschietti, film)  and therefore, accepting that he is gone. Beverly defeats her fear of her father by physically beating both her real abusive father and Pennywise disguised as her father (Muschietti, film). Stanley overcomes his fear of his father’s disapproval by attacking Pennywise while he is in the form of the painting (Muschietti, film).  Eddie faces his fear of harm and injury by simply gaining the courage to attack the monster clown despite his broken arm. Finally, Mike and Ben overcome their fear of the town and Richie overcomes his fear of clowns and what they represent by also fighting against Pennywise. Although Hanscomb makes this statement: “… art-horror is an inauthentic substitute for a more transparent existential awareness; a process facilitating flight from the truth of our condition (Hanscomb, 16).” with the generalization of all horror, it can easily be applied to the situations in which the characters of “IT: Chapter One” overcame and grew from due to the fact that Pennywise was only a physical representation of what all the youth were scared of facing later in life. This idea is supported when Hanscomb states: “… art-horror allows us to release and/or ‘exercise’ inchoate or latent existential feelings through their crystallization in the form of monsters (Hanscomb, 15-16).” At the end of the film, all of the members of The Loser Club are no longer fearful of their own impending lives: Billy learns to live without Georgie, Beverly moves in with her aunt and gets away from her father, Ben becomes comfortable in the town, Mike learns how to be independent without the help of his parents, Richie learns to take himself seriously even when joking, Stanley develops his own opinions outside of his father’s, and Eddie no longer fears the sickness that his mother had been instilling into him (Muschietti, film). In essence, they no longer fear the responsibilities, freedom, and uncertainty that comes with growing up.

Bibliography

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