As an avid fan of contemporary horror, I don’t often expect to witness profound elements of romance in the films that I see from this genre. So to say that the tragic queer love story that was portrayed in IT: Chapter 2 (2019) took me and the fans of the franchise by surprise, would be an understatement. However, it would not be factually correct to say that it was entirely unexpected: the queer subtext and ambiguityaround one specific character- Eddie Kaspbrak, and his relationship with his best friend and fellow member of the Losers’ Club Richie Tozier has always been present in the texts from this franchise.
But despite these theories and speculations that have continuously accompanied Stephen King’s story ever since its paperback release in 1986, and have closely stuck through its first film adaptation in 1990 (and vaguely hinted at in the 2017 first chapter reboot), hopes for actual explicit LGBT representation should always be unfortunately kept low when it comes to Hollywood delivering that on the big screen. So with the all grown up Losers’ club returning to Derry twenty-seven years later to defeat the evil clown Pennywise once and for all in IT: Chapter 2, fans’ hopes for Eddie (portrayed by James Ransone) and Richie’s (portrayed by Bill Hader) character development were not high. However, the movie managed to surpass all expectations and did what all other renditions of this story over the years never managed to do – finally feature an unambiguous queer narrative. The emotional effect this story had has left such a lasting imprint on the audience (including myself!), that I cannot move onto the next blockbuster hit without putting my love and admiration for this film into words first.
As previously mentioned, in every adaptation of IT, the viewers and readers have always been able to detect the hidden signs about these characters and their relationship and have always theorised and questioned the meaning behind them. However, up until the release of IT: Chapter 2 and in the case of the original novel and the first film series, there has always been one thing standing in the way of fans getting their answers – the texts’ total lack of explicitness. Neither of the two texts in question ever clearly describe the nature of the relationship between Eddie and Richie, nor do they explicitly state the characters’ sexuality. Despite the evident queer-coding of Eddie’s character’s mannerisms and behaviour and the obviously deeper connection that he shares with Richie, nothing was ever said in black and white. The reasoning behind that is also unclear – whether it was because of the time during which these texts were released (late 80s and early 90s media was still taking its earliest steps towards accepting and normalising LGBT representation, which was still avoided as a taboo topic) or because the respectful creators wanted to keep that side of the story as open and ambiguous as possible, it is just speculations. Thus, the queer subtext, however very much present, still remained just another interpretation of what hid between the lines, with no assertive evidence to paint it as canon.
IT: Chapter 2 however walks down an entirely different road. Not only does it erase all uncertainty and ambiguity and delivers a beautifully told (even if tragic) queer love story, featuring an explicitly LGBT character, but it also manages to break the stereotypes that the previous adaptations of the IT story enforce. The abused age-old technique to portray male queer characters as more flamboyant, in order to hint towards their sexual orientation has been a very prominent occurrence in the past versions of the story. The character of Eddie Kaspbrack has always been depicted with some distinctively stereotypical feminine traits and mannerisms, as a way to allude to his inner demons of his struggles with his sexual identity, and Richie has respectively been shown as the opposite.
However, IT: Chapter 2 paints an entirely different picture. Instead of relying on the same plot elements and reinforcing the same gender norms, the way the movie depicts its queer storyline actually negates the conventional laws of femininity and masculinity when it comes to one’s sexual identity. In this movie, it is in fact Richie who turns out to be gay and struggling with accepting his identity and feelings all along. The story takes every expectation, flips it on its head, and gives us strong and wonderful representation in the figure of Richie Tozier. No need for stereotypical queer-coding, no space for hints and allusions – the focus is and remains entirely on the character and how he experiences and deals with his fears and emotions, and finally reaches acceptance.
IT: Chapter 2 does however follow one tradition from the previous adaptations and keeps one tragic unavoidable story-element which unfortunately denies Richie and Eddie the happy ending they deserve. Although this definitely brings a heartbreaking twist to the overall narrative and the characters’ development, it also serves as a starting point of growth for Richie in his future journey, as well as for all the other losers. And even though so many things are left unsaid, the audience still manages to get a peak into the deep connection that Richie shares with Eddie and the love they feel for each other. So, despite the tragic lack of happy ending for the two, IT: Chapter 2 tells us a beautiful story of love, sacrifice and acceptance, all while we fade into the Dead Lights.