IT Chapter Two opens with a lengthy and graphic hate crime committed against a gay couple that, while difficult to watch, is deeply vital and important in setting up the sequel. The sequence begins with boyfriends Adrian Mellon (Xavier Dolan) and Don Hagarty (Taylor Frey) being attacked and beaten by teenagers, and ends when Pennywise (Bill Skarsgård) kills Adrian on the river bank. It is undoubtedly disturbing, but the opening is also one of the sequel's most integral scenes.
Much has been made about how the opening violence doesn't fit with the rest of the film, and isn't properly contextualized or even referenced later. It is true that the rest of IT Chapter Two fails to match the level of dread or violence that is presented in this opening, but those who complain that the attack on Adrian and Don is too vicious or unpleasant are missing the point of its inclusion.
The concluding chapter of the Stephen King adaptation is set 27 years after IT. The children are all grown up: they've gotten married, taken jobs and forgotten all about the trauma that they experienced growing up in Derry, Maine. The fact that they have moved on with their lives plays a key role in the film, which is sharply contrasted by the fact that Derry, despite some modern touches, remains the same unsafe, unwelcoming town where they nearly died three decades before.
The hate crime at the carnival that opens IT Chapter Two is integral in four ways. Its first function is to establish how far Derry has - and has not - evolved over 27 years. Its second function is to anticipate Richie (Bill Hader) coming out as gay. The third function links Pennywise and human-on-human violence, to suggest both how Pennywise contributes to and reflects the bigotry that can reside in small-town America. Finally, the opening functions to highlight the significant real life violence that remains an issue for LGBTQ people.
In the first instance, the hate crime serves as exposition to help the audience understand what life is like in contemporary Derry. Despite the violence of this scene, it makes narrative sense to open IT Chapter Two this way because audiences are quickly (and horribly) provided evidence that Derry has not changed in 27 years. The town remains a dangerous place: it is unwelcoming to outsiders or individuals who dare to step outside of behaviors that are deemed "appropriate" or "normal." Adrian violates both with his flamboyant mannerisms and refusal to back down when challenged by the teenagers. These kids highlight that Derry may have the veneer of modernity, but its social politics remain conservative and antiquated.
A lesser component, but still vital, is how the opening reinforces that in 2016 (when IT Chapter Two is set) there are queer couples who are happy and publicly out. In this capacity, Adrian and Don confirm that the larger world has changed and that gay men can come out of the closet, embrace their sexual identity and live a fulfilling life with a partner. In this way, audiences are prepared for LGBTQ representation in the film and (hopefully) more welcoming of Richie's love for Eddie (James Ransone). The two pairings are symbolically tied together by the fact that both Adrian and Eddie use an inhaler, and both Don and Richie end up watching their loved ones die. The opening scene shows, in very visceral and contrasting ways, both why Richie has been so afraid of coming out, and also what he has missed out on by staying in the closet.
The third meaning of the scene - that Pennywise is brought back to life by Derry's dark desires - has been criticized for not being explicit enough (readers of the King novel know that the violence of Adrian's death is what draws Pennywise out of his multi-decade slumber). While this is not entirely clear in IT Chapter Two, there is an undeniable connection between the proximity of human-on-human violence inflicted on Adrian and Don, and Pennywise's subsequent attack. Over the two films, Derry is presented as a town where violence and rot lurks under the surface and within its residents - particularly the adults who surround the Losers' Club as children. Both the teenagers and Pennywise are equally likely to thrive in a place like Derry (possibly because of the other's presence). Theirs is a symbiotic relationship that promotes hatred, crime and death.
The fourth, and final, reason that the opening scene is vital is larger than the world of IT Chapter Two. While it is uncomfortable and upsetting, the inclusion of violence against LGTBQ couples in one of the largest horror tentpoles of the year is an acknowledgement of the real life violence that queer people face every day. There is an argument that this kind of violence has no place in mass marketed Hollywood properties such as IT, but this does a disservice to both the essential function that art plays in promoting dialogue and conveniently attempts to elide the fact that for many queer people, particularly those living in small towns, this is their lived reality. IT Chapter Two's opening scene may shock and appal its audience, it may make them deeply uncomfortable, and it may strike too close to home, but that is precisely why it is so vitally important. This is an establishment of the stakes - in both the film and the world its audience lives in - and the fact that it dares to include such a bold statement is not misguided or deplorable. It is worthy of acknowledgement.
- IT Chapter Two (2019) release date: Sep 06, 2019