There are people you can count on to relay the most upsetting news of the day.
“Did you hear about death, famine and murder?” they’ll say, apropos of nothing.
“That’s terrible,” you’ll reply.
“Terrible,” they’ll affirm, ending the transaction and leaving you just the littlest bit worse for wear because now you know a little bit more about death, famine and murder. You’re left to stew in it, to wish you didn’t know, to curse the messenger.
It’s a curious exchange, the intent of which has always eluded me, left me wondering time and time again “why are you telling me this?”
IT (stylized in capital letters here to delineate it from literally anything and everything else), the cinematic adaptation of Stephen King’s “clown lures children into the sewers to murder them” romp, gave me a new perspective on the matter.
The film’s iconic clown Pennywise, the visage you’ll no doubt recognize from all kinds of unsettling marketing, is IT’s nominal horror, the villain in the same sense in which Queen Elizabeth II is a ruler. The true force of antagonism in IT is a one-two punch of a town with a history of the most heinous evening news stories and an utter lack of coworkers intent on making sure everyone in earshot knows about said heinous stories whether they like it or not. That baffling exchange (“death, famine, murder” / “terrible” / “terrible”) never happens in Derry, Maine. One gets the sense that long, long ago someone turned to the person next to them and managed to get out “did you hear about-” before being cut off by barking and the plugging of ears, setting a precedent that grew to haunt seven charming preteen misfits in 1988.
These misfits possess an inherent strength, the strength required to actively participate in the aforementioned exchange, the strength required to look death, famine and murder in its yellow cackling eyes and really, truly see it. It’s the strength to grapple with the worst of humanity because for each of these seven kids the worst of humanity is than the television screen.
Rather than begrudging the ritualistic transmission of distressing information, the protagonists of IT forge friendships out of it, coming together to look at everything wrong with the world and acknowledging it.
Death, famine and murder.
These things are frightening.
These things happen.
These things exist.
Watching IT, it dawned on me that maybe, just maybe, trading reactions to the most upsetting happenings in our world is could be more than just a sick sort of gossip, it could be an exchange of empathy, humanity, strength and mercy.
IT is creepy and hilarious and fun, it’s a horror blockbuster that swaps out exciting fisticuffs for aggressively unsettling ambiance. What’s more, it’s a demonstration of the power that can be gained not only by staring down the terrors of the world, but by doing so as a community, a demonstration of the mercy of friendship and the upstanding willingness to share one another’s burdens.
I still don’t know what to say when served an anecdote of the previous day’s most despicable instances of death, famine and murder, but after seeing IT I’ll at least agree “that’s terrible” with a bit less spite.