It Chapter Two
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Credit: Warner Bros.

The case for and against nostalgia in It Chapter Two

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Oct 2, 2019

You can never go home again, or so the popular idiom goes. But when you grew up in Derry the desire to return is minimal. In the world of It, the hateful, violent streak of attacks that occur in October 1988 are part of a much larger reign of terror, which restarts in 2016 when the killer clown reappears after nearly three decades away.

Nostalgia is described as "wistful or excessively sentimental yearning for return to or of some past period" or "homesickness," something that doesn't describe how those who left come to think of this town in Maine. Those that do voluntarily return with fond memories are quick to learn about the dark underbelly as represented by the nauseating and incredibly violent opening sequence, in which a homophobic hate crime leads to the death of former resident Don Hagarty's (Taylor Frey) boyfriend. A trip down memory lane at the fair for Don descends into a nightmare scenario.

Spoilers for It Chapter Two ahead ...

IT Chapter Two Mike

Credit: Warner Bros. 

Everyone from the Losers' Club, except for Mike Hanlon (Isaiah Mustafa), has moved away and forgotten everything they went through during the summer of 1989 — at least, on a conscious level. After a string of attacks, Mike calls each of his old friends, telling them they need to return home. The response from some is visceral as Richie Tozier (Bill Hader) literally vomits his anxiety over a fire escape and Eddie Kaspbrak (James Ransone) crashes his car. Those are not the reactions of people dying to go home for a long-overdue reunion.

Rose-tinted memories of the movies we watched and the books we read partially explain why reboots and revivals are such big business. The desire to return to a place that no longer exists (except in the mind) is a potent drug. Despite being incredibly scared by Tim Curry as Pennywise in the 1990 TV movie of It, I have incredibly fond recollections of the sleepover where I first watched this movie. I can't tell you much else of what happened, it might have even been a terrible evening riddled with teen anxiety, but the memory of that first scene with Georgie is seared on my mind. The shared experience of being terrified in a group and our reaction to the ridiculous end is one that outweighs adolescent insecurities. The second time I saw It was during a horror marathon in my dorm at university with more booze and less apprehension than before. In Chapter Two, fear and belief are interconnected as one feeds into the other; with nostalgia, sentimental longing is attached to a variety of emotions informed by notable experiences.

When the Losers' Club reunites over beer and Chinese food, it is as if they have never been apart. With some friendships, it doesn't matter if you haven't seen each other for decades; you can slip back into old dynamics and interests with ease. Those shared moments are a tether, and over the course of this dinner, it's as if those bad things never happened. The group is in for a rude awakening when the fortune cookies arrive, but in any childhood reunion, there are events you would probably best leave off the table. Unfortunately for the Losers, the bad manifests itself in the shape of nightmare creatures and a message regarding the absence of one of their own.

It Chapter Two

Credit: Warner Bros. Pictures

Mike doesn't have the luxury of forgetting; as the one person who stayed in this town, he remembers everything. He has gathered information about previous attacks as well as researching a method to stop Pennywise (Bill Skarsgård). Mike is the guy who won't let you forget the embarrassing thing you did at prom when you were wasted — but in this case, he wants each member of the Losers' Club to reach back into the trauma of their childhood for an artifact that will help defeat Pennywise once and for all. Each event is tinged with shame or fear, so this is basically an anti-nostalgia trip.

All of these tokens are also imbued with positive emotion, no matter how fleeting. The actual token Richie uses at the arcade is entwined with the first flutterings of a crush before it was stomped all over and shame replaced the butterflies, the haiku Beverly Marsh (Jessica Chastain) has cherished reminds her she is not alone in the darkness, and the yearbook page Ben Hanscom (Jay Ryan) has kept in his wallet all these years is a beacon of light in a time of loneliness. Even the boat Bill Denbrough (James McAvoy) made Georgie, which is a symbol of his younger brother's death, was originally made with love. In the same way that nostalgia lets us see the past from one particular angle, these artifacts of their trauma-filled childhoods are also capable of revealing something good about this time. This group saved every each other from solitude, abuse, or grief. However, confronting the past is painful, particularly as they all have to go off individually to the dark recesses of their mind. This is a twisted form of immersion therapy.

It Chapter Two

Credit: Warner Bros. Pictures

Derry has itself seen better days; the building Beverly lived in is derelict, the bustling arcade is abandoned with posters advertising You've Got Mail (1998), revealing how long it has been since it thrived. Who wants to move to a murder town, anyway? The fair resembles the carnivals of the past, which is one of the reasons why activities like this endure. The rides might get updated and revamped, but there is something particularly sentimental about a funhouse, stuffed toy prizes, and hot dog vendors.

Nostalgia can be dangerous, however, as it makes us yearn for something that doesn't exist and likely never did. In It Chapter Two, memories tied to objects represent the worst experiences of their childhood. Nevertheless, the trauma is what helped these kids find each other and form the Losers' Club in the first place. This isn't to say that deep and meaningful friendships can only flourish after a negative shared experience, but it ensures they are forever linked. A scar across each of their palms acts as a reminder, even when they don't remember; the blood oath they made at the end of the first movie means they can never truly forget.

It Chapter One

Credit: Warner Bros. Pictures

Objects relating to despair are not the only flashback to the items from the past. Bill spots his old bike hanging in the window of an antique store. The owner (played by Stephen King) inflates the price when he realizes Bill is a famous author, and while it is certainly not worth $300, to Bill it is priceless, so he pays. The happy memories are quickly shattered by the quality of the ride in the present day. It is essentially a hunk of rusted metal, but ultimately it does serve its purpose, even if he is too late to save the day.

The timewarp of Derry is reminiscent of other Stephen King stories, with past, present, and future bristling against each other. Time travel is a big element in several of his novels, coupled with a desire to go back to the past (usually to fix something like the Kennedy assassination). In It Chapter Two, the past is a danger to the present, but without revisiting the repressed memories there is no way to defeat the monster at the heart of the story. Instead, balance is required as sometimes you need to remember. This isn't a case of nostalgia getting in the way, rather it becomes a tool to defeat trauma.

Instead of forgetting as they did when they left Derry behind all those years ago, the memories are scorched on their brains, as the bad no longer outweighs the good. Bill has come to accept that it wasn't his fault his brother died, no matter how much guilt he feels, Beverly has broken the cycle of abusive men in her new relationship with Ben, and Mike is free to leave. It isn't a happy ending for all in this scenario, as Eddie dies and Richie still can't address his sexuality out loud even if he can finally finish his old childhood tribute on the bridge.

There are ways to remember without being consumed by those memories. It Chapter Two shows nostalgia can be a rose-tinted weapon as well as a curse — but to truly look forward, it must be reconciled.

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