A summary of evil
It’s the most frightening thing, this movie “It” based on the novel by Stephen King.
For some strange reason, I decided to watch the film. On my own. I read the novel back when I was 13 and in high school, and adored it. What could be so scary? I told myself. I’ll breeze through it the way I did with “Stranger Things.”
I was wrong. The film was rife with frightening imagery, a hair-raising musical score, and a twisted restructuring of concepts of innocence. It was disturbing, as far as disturbing can get. Thirty minutes into the film and I had filled my quota already. But that’s just me.
Pennywise, the nasty clown that you’ve seen in the film’s trailers and on internet memes seems to serve as the manifestation of the banal problems that plague an unassuming suburban community, like the film’s Derry, Maine. Problems such as bullying, parent absenteeism, or that picture of the lost kid on the milk carton.
For quite some time, I have reduced the monsters of the horror films of my youth to mere symbols of the problems that plague our world. Those supernatural creatures are concoctions of dualistic religions to scare people into adhering to a moral conduct.
My mother taught me in my childhood that the angel whispers good things and the devil whispers bad things. I outgrew these teachings, reduced the dude with the pitchfork to a myth, and went on believing that evil is relative, not absolute. It is not darkness per se. It is just the absence of light. Thus, it is not a separate entity. The monstrosities in the news are consequences of human nature, not caused by a monster himself. Pennywise, insidious grimace and all, is not real. He cannot be.
In the movie, the monster bites off a kid’s entire arm before the kid squirms through puddles of rain trying to reach safety. An inconspicuous door becomes a gateway to hell. A painting comes to life and a headless phantom chases a child in the dark. Quite a stretch of the imagination.
But so is the image of a bright-eyed youth beaten to death in the name of brotherhood, his bruises the size of the palm of a hand. So are the trails of missiles launched into the sky before falling into the waters like a condemned angel banished from the heavens. So are the ghosts of abandoned streets tormented by war.
In the movie, the monster is strengthened by both cruelty and apathy. In reality, it may just be the same.
Years have taught me that humanity is indeed capable of evil, that we can be monsters ourselves. But I have also learned that devils are very real, not myths. The Italian friar Padre Pio said that devils are so plentiful that had they taken bodily form, they would blot out the sun.
Stephen King’s “It” was written during a time of interesting events: Ronald Reagan’s presidency, Chernobyl, People Power, AIDS. Kate Knibbs writes that the scariest part of the book is the realization that the “menace has always just been on the periphery.”
Three decades after the novel’s debut and we still see evil in the edges, tucked on the sides, so much so that it has become part of our psyche. It isn’t surprising, therefore, that for Freud the most familiar things are the most terrifying.
With today’s social media, I wonder if we have shed light over the evils of our world—terrorism, poverty, crime. Have we faced the monsters under our beds and the terrors that live in the shadows?
Or perhaps we have just learned to live with them all?
We haven’t really confronted the devil. He has just become familiar. In “It,” Derry, Maine, was hard-pressed to acknowledge the horrors in its own backyards. In the Hebrew Bible, where the devil is a specific reality, Leviticus says, “Thou shalt not stand idly by the blood of thy neighbor.” And perhaps that is the greatest evil of all.
Let me admit that I didn’t finish the movie. Critics say the fright wears off deeper into the film. Maybe I’ll get back to it. For all its worth, “It” was frightening in its popcorn-blockbuster goodness. It was also frightening because it seems strangely appropriate these days.
“It’s true what they say,” says Pennywise. “We all float down here. And you will, too.”
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