It Chapter Two Made Stephen King's Bad Ending Even Worse

In Andy Muschietti's 2019 film "It Chapter Two," based on the novel by Stephen King, the character Bill Denbrough (James McAvoy) has grown from being a fearful child into a struggling author of acclaimed mystery novels. Throughout the film, multiple characters point out to Bill that his books are good, but that they all have unsatisfying endings. These criticisms serve as something of an in-joke for Stephen King fans, who frequently point out that the bestselling author has an infamous inability to end his stories strongly. Indeed, the in-joke is taken so far as to include King himself; King appears in "It Chapter Two" as the grumpy owner of a tchotchke shop who also points out to Bill that his endings suck. 

The ending of King's "It," first published in 1986, was also a strange affair. The book was about seven children growing up in 1950s Derry, ME who must confront an ancient, malevolent monster who emerges every 27 years from the town's sewers to feed. The monster has taken the form of a clown named Pennywise, which lures children into its lair to make a meal of their fear. The children end up facing and defeating the clown monster using childhood totems — slingshots and the like — and swear a blood oath to face the monster again, should it return in 27 years. When the children become adults, the monster does indeed return, and they must trek back into the sewers of Derry to kill It once and for all. 

Muschietti altered the original ending for the 2019 film version, but golly, it was no improvement.

Muschietti's 1980s vs. King's 1950s

"It," released in 2017, was a perfectly decent haunted house movie, containing plenty of jump scares to keep a rambunctious theater full of fright fans satisfied. Muschietti time-shifted the events of King's novel forward, so that the childhood segments took place in the late 1980s and the adult segments took place in the present day. Unlike King's novel, however, Muschietti's film is not critical of the past. King aimed to show the 1950s as a time of secrets and repression; A blissful post-war suburb secretly full of rage and abuse. Muschietti, in contrast, was not critical of the '80s, and indeed seemed to enjoy rolling with the nostalgia. 

"It Chapter Two," absent criticism, lost its thematic focus. In the book, the adult characters trek into the sewers to find that Pennywise has transformed into a giant spider. Bill cracks through its exoskeleton, burrows through the monster's interior meat, locates its heart, and crushes it in his fists. It's an unsatisfyingly literal solution to a problem that was previously more abstract. Fear, it seems, can be defeated through brute force. But, given that these characters had grown out of a dark time in American history, their defeat had extra meaning. They weren't just destroying their personal demons, but the legacy of abuse and bullying born from 1950s suburban America. 

In "It Chapter Two," the characters emerged from a 1980s that merely existed behind the bullying and abuse they suffered. There was plenty to criticize about America in the 1980s, but "It Chapter Two" had no interest in doing that. The secondary defeat of Pennywise, then, lacks a great deal of sociological oomph. The characters were not defeating a dark stain on the '80s; They were merely killing a monster. 

Bullying is a superpower

Pennywise is ultimately defeated by bullying, which opens another can of worms.

The adult characters of "It" have all suffered at the hands of bullies or abusive/neglectful parents. The evil sewer clown was only one of many major problems they faced as children. Pennywise was merely a concentration of their already-held fears, psychically manifesting and shape-shifting into the things in life they had already become afraid of. It was, in a sense, the ultimate bully. It had no motivation other than to torment children and make them feel fear. The title refers to a monster, but also to an ineffable emotional force, seemingly constructed to making us feel lost and neglected. 

At the end of "It Chapter Two," the adult characters have finally captured Pennywise, its powers waning. They gather around the withering clown and ... taunt it. They call it a clown, and it shrinks and dies. 

While there is a satisfying "taste of your own medicine" logic behind that, the "It Chapter Two" ending seems to be declaring that bullying and mockery can have a positive outcome. In a film about overcoming bullying and facing the abstract notions of loss and neglect, it's dizzyingly antithetical to declare that bullying is a force that can be wielded for good. The unsatisfying action climax from the book was transformed into an unsatisfying bullying climax in the movie. 

Perhaps there is an ending to "It" that could have left both readers and filmgoers satisfied. Sadly, it was neither of the ones we got.