In a rare cameo, Stephen King pops up in It Chapter Two, portraying an antique-shop owner in the sleepy, creepy town of Derry, Maine. He meets Bill Denbrough (James McAvoy), an author and local prodigal son who’s back in Derry after a long absence. The two share a meta-lament on the challenge of writing satisfying endings before Bill buys back his boyhood bike, which he’d spotted earlier hanging in the shop’s window.
“I don’t know how fast you’ll go,” King warns. “She’s been there a lot of years.”
“You know what, mister?” Bill says with a childlike spark. “She’s fast enough to beat the devil.”
Minutes later, after the bike buckles beneath Bill and he’s nearly dragged to his demise by a swarm of sewer-dwelling demons, it becomes painfully clear to him, and to the rest of us, that evil will not be so easily beaten.
This evil comes in many forms. It Chapter Two, the conclusion to the saga began in 2017’s It (and originally told in King’s 1986 novel), delivers an array of disturbing creatures meant to trigger our most common fears: of spiders, zombies, disease, and, of course, clowns—in this case Pennywise (Bill Skarsgård), a drooling, carnivorous demon clown who periodically preys on the children of Derry. Like the beasts featured in the Book of Revelation, Pennywise and the film’s other monsters function as tangible expressions of the evil that terrorizes us.
But perhaps evil is at its most insidious in the form of temptation. The Bible tells us that the devil comes to Eve in the form of a serpent and convinces her to eat fruit from the forbidden tree with the promise that, as a result, she’ll gain knowledge equal only to that of God’s. A similar scene in It Chapter Two shows Pennywise luring a little girl (Ryan Kiera Armstrong) deep into the shadows underneath the bleachers at a baseball game. He assures her that he could easily remove the embarrassing, blotchy birthmark on her face if only she would just … come a little closer.
The gospel of Matthew shows us the devil at it again, doing his best to tempt Jesus by offering him dominion over all “the kingdoms of the world” if only he’d denounce God. But as we learn in the movie, as we watch the Derry bully Henry Bowers (Teach Grant) graduate to homicide under Pennywise’s sway, the only reward for serving the devil is increased madness, cruelty, pain, and death. In each of these instances, the proliferation of evil depends upon someone giving in to their greed, insecurity, or fear. In this regard, It Chapter Two is a movie about the way evil operates in this world: by seeking out and feeding on the fears and insecurities we have as humans.
Perhaps evil is at its most insidious in the form of temptation.
It Chapter Two is also a movie about “losers.” Set 27 years after the events of It, in which Bill and his childhood friends defeated Pennywise, Chapter Two finds this self-described “losers club” reunited as adults in Derry. Pennywise has returned to hunt down a new generation of victims. Now successful adults who have repressed their coulrophobia, each member of the club nevertheless appears to be living an extended version of the life they left behind. Still guilt-ridden over the death of his brother in the first film, Bill finds closure in neither his life nor his work. Bev (Jessica Chastain) continues to collide with broken, abusive men. Eddie (James Ransone) is paralyzed by anxiety. Ben (Jay Ryan) is unable to shake his “fat kid” angst, despite a new svelte appearance. Gregarious Richie (Bill Hader) remains plagued by shame and secrets. Mike (Isaiah Mustafa) has chosen to fixate on the trauma of his youth, refusing to leave Derry. Meanwhile, that same fixation keeps Stanley (Andy Bean) from even considering the option of going back.
Each of these characters represents a fear that we all face. What if I fail the ones I love? What if I wind up alone? What if I’m unworthy of love? What if others learn the truth about me? What if they hate me for who I am? What if nothing I do matters at all? It’s in these moments of vulnerability and doubt that the devil does his best work—when we make poor decisions that negatively impact our lives and the lives of others, when we seek out strength in that which only makes us weaker. It’s this susceptibility to evil that mars our humanity, making potential losers of us all.
It Chapter Two shows us that we must be willing to confront that which makes us vulnerable: our guilt, fear, resentment, and need to be loved; the choices made and the damage done; the people and places that caused us pain; and the reasons why we chose to forget. In doing so, we better prepare ourselves to meet the devil in the dark, at our weakest points, where he’s attacked in the past, and where he’s likely to strike again. Any battle with the forces of evil requires a look inward; to be a loser is to reckon with the ways in which we’ve “lost” in the past—the times we’ve succumbed to our lesser selves and veered away from God.
And we cannot do this on our own. By reuniting and relying upon one another, the “losers” of It Chapter Two stand, hand-in-hand, to take down the source of Pennywise’s power. For us, this means rediscovering our relationship with God and recognizing that, despite the devil’s attempts to convince us otherwise, we were never really alone in the first place. Jesus’ rejection of the devil’s temptation exemplifies our own capacity to do the same. And through his life overall—his death and resurrection—he has already overcome evil, including our own failures, on our behalf. Our response, to paraphrase Stanley’s words of encouragement to his fellow losers, is to “be true, be brave, stand [and] believe.”