Stephen King’s renowned novel and ensuing TV mini-series wrapped its fingers around an entire generation and now, with it’s recent big screen adaptation, another generation gets to experience that sheer terror and obsession.
The core of IT is the clown, Pennywise. Despite the monster’s incessant thirst for the blood of children, people seem to be obsessed with him. Or, ‘it’ rather. And while Stephen King is the king of horror, he is also a masterful writer. Pennywise was carefully crafted so that the audience couldn’t keep their eyes away. The clown is a monster, but we love him and here’s why.
IT is terrifying
While it may seem counter-intuitive at first, we’re attracted to Pennywise because he scares the hell out of us. Clowns scare so many people that the fear has an official title – Coulrophobia. In fact, more Americans are scared of clowns than they are of climate change. That should come as little shock to anyone, though. Of course, everyone is scared of clowns because, if they weren’t, IT would be a lot more comedy and a lot less horror. However, clowns specifically show a different kind of fear.
The reason clowns are so scary is because of their exaggerated features. Clowns resemble the features of humans, but sport them overzealously. Our brains recognize the features, but tip us off that something is wrong. Since the human brain is so sensitive to the way a face is supposed to look, clowns send off signals that tell your body that it may be in danger.
In other monster films, the audience can distinguish between what is human and what is not. Since clowns sit in that gray area, our brains have a hard time putting Pennywise in a spot. Add on top of that fantastic performances by Bill Skarsgard or Tim Curry (take your pick)…
In the context of a movie (or a book), this works in the favor of the audience. In other monster films, the audience can distinguish between what is human and what is not. Since clowns sit in that gray area, our brains have a hard time putting Pennywise in a spot. Add on top of that fantastic performances by Bill Skarsgard or Tim Curry (take your pick), and Pennywise hits a little too close to home. Not too close, though.
Since Pennywise meddles in the gray area of our facial recognition, it gives us a rush unmatched by other horror films. Real people committing murder may be a little too disturbing, and monsters terrorizing a city may be too far fetched. A clown, however, sits in between, enough to scare you, but not so much that you get sick to your stomach. It’s like a roller coaster. Most lucrative theme parks have rides designed to push you towards the idea of death without actually taking you there. Of course, the rush works, but there is no logical basis it. If any injury were to occur, it result in hundreds of thousands, if not millions, in damages, so it’s safe to assume that the theme park has taken the necessary precautions. The same is true with Pennywise. He gives us a rush because he doesn’t look quite human, but the fact that he’s close enough allows to us be attracted to him.
Pennywise explains the theme of the Story
King knew this, and thought clowns were both the most terrifying, and the most appropriate for the story. Clowns showed the gap between children and adults, and thus drove the theme of the story further. The evil monster was not just there to scare us.
IT is about much more than just a scary clown and a group of courageous kids. The book (and the movie) really talks about the relationships between children and adults and, consequently, the transition from childhood into adulthood.
The disparity between children and adults is a theme explored throughout the whole story. Eddie’s overprotective mother, Bev’s abusive father, and Henry’s reign of terror of the losers club are all examples. The biggest example of them all is Pennywise himself, though.
The majority of children don’t like clowns. Despite that, parents think their children love them. King knew this, and thought clowns were both the most terrifying, and the most appropriate for the story. Clowns showed the gap between children and adults, and thus drove the theme of the story further. The evil monster was not just there to scare us. Yes, Pennywise is terrifying, but Pennywise as a character has a purpose. Since Pennywise is not without basis, we are attracted to him instead of repulsed. He has a deeper purpose in the story, and while he’s scary, we can relate with the purpose he serves.
If you haven’t seen IT, you owe it to yourself to go out and do so. The movie is wonderful on multiple levels, with plenty of scares, but a lot more heart. Yes, Pennywise is scary as hell, but the clown itself serves a purpose for the story and taps directly into our shared emotions and inner children, all while being an absolute spectacle to behold. And because of that, we love him.