How ‘It: Chapter Two’ Defeats Its Devilish Clown
Caution: This article contains spoilers from It: Chapter Two.
It: Chapter Two finds seven childhood friends reuniting after twenty-seven years to face off against an enemy that has returned to terrorize their hometown. The film, while offering up plenty of hilarious moments, takes viewers on a roller-coaster of memory, disguises, and revelatory truths.
Although I’m someone who generally shies away from horror films, I found the defeat of Pennywise supremely satisfying.
If memory serves
After a couple of gruesome murders, Mike Hanlon (Isaiah Mustafa) becomes convinced that Pennywise has returned to Derry, Maine. He calls up the six friends with whom he made a blood oath almost three decades ago. Richie, Eddie, Stanley, Beverly, Ben, and Bill have moved on from the past. But once they return to Derry, it becomes evident that they don’t remember much of what happened during that blood-drenched summer.
Mike convinces them that the first step in defeating their enemy is for them to remember their past experiences. Rich and Eddie argue against this. After Pennywise tortures them psychologically at the Losers Club reunion dinner, the two want to leave the past in the past and return to their current lives. They even go back to their hotel to pack. However, Beverly reveals that she has been having nightmares of each member of the Losers Club dying. The group realizes that they only have one more chance to defeat It. If they don’t, they will all eventually die in gruesome ways.
Each Loser sets off on a mission to uncover something (an “artifact”) from the past—a token of their prior battle with the monstrous clown.
It’s natural to want to block out negative memories and bad experiences—especially when those experiences involve personal failures. But memory is a powerful weapon in our battle with the force of evil in the world.
Paul wrote to the Corinthians, “so that we would not be outwitted by Satan; for we are not ignorant of his schemes” (2 Corinthians 2:11). As each of the Losers take a trip down memory lane, they relive past experiences. Repeatedly, each of them nearly succumbs to Pennywise’s lies about who they are and how they failed in the past. And, repeatedly, each of the now grown-up Losers realizes that they are only being manipulated by their enemy into believing that they are still bound by the failures of their youth. “It’s not real. It’s not real,” they pant in desperation. And then they break free from the mind games—learning from the past, but not living in it.
By returning to their past experiences, the Losers are reminded of their weaknesses and blind spots. This knowledge arms them for future combat with Pennywise. Likewise with believers, by being aware of the temptations that easily beset us, we can brace for the blows of the enemy.
He comes in many forms
The plot of It: Chapter Two is driven by Mike Hanlon’s secretive plan to destroy Pennywise. Mike believes that Pennywise is just a physical manifestation of an extra-dimensional evil force that fell from the sky hundreds of years ago—information he found out from a Native American tribe during his research on the history of Derry. In a drug-induced vision scene, Mike and Bill witness the “Deadlights” fall comet-like from the sky and strike the earth.
The scene instantly reminded me of Isaiah’s words: “How you have fallen from heaven, morning star, son of the dawn!” (Isaiah 14:12). Or, as Jesus put it: “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven” (Luke 10:18).
In 2017’s It movie, the Losers focused on defeating Pennywise the Dancing Clown. However, Pennywise is only a tangible representation of an evil spiritual power. That spiritual power took on a different form for the Native Americans. The clown is only the form in which it appears for the people of Derry. Mike believes that the same ritual that freed the Native Americans from It’s terror can be used again to eradicate Pennywise and permanently destroy the influence of the Deadlights.
Like the Deadlights, the Wicked One in our world is adept at shapeshifting. Satan is a master of disguise who often “masquerades as an angel of light” (2 Corinthians 11:14). However, our method for defeating Satan is always the same. We are not fighting a person, a place, or a set of circumstances. We are fighting a “roaring lion who walks about seeking whom he may devour” (1 Peter 5:8)—even if he appears as a cuddly Pomeranian.
He’s just a clown
In the climactic battle, Pennywise grows to an enormous size. He also morphs into a massive spider-clown with giant shears at the ends of its appendages. It chases the Losers around an underground cavern, making light work of Mike’s elaborate ritual aimed at destroying It and the Deadlights for good. After Pennywise stabs Eddie in the chest, the Losers despair of ever defeating their enemy. In a last-ditch effort, they attempt to trick the clown into following them into a small space so that he will be forced to reduce in size, giving them a better chance at killing it. Pennywise, however, thwarts that plan.
All is lost, until the Losers realize, “There’s more than one way to make someone small.”
They turn the tables on Pennywise and use his own tricks against him. They tell the monstrous circus freak: “You’re a headless boy. You’re a weak old woman. You’re just a clown. You’re just a clown!”
Pennywise’s biggest weakness turns out to be the very tool he uses to terrorize his victims. He twists the truth to keep people under his power, but he can’t handle the truth about himself.
Similarly, Satan deceives us into believing that our faults, failures, and weaknesses are the be-all and end-all of our existence. He wants to keep us trapped and tormented by fear so we can never cast him out and be made perfect in the Father’s love (1 John 4:18). If we believe Satan’s lies about ourselves—and Satan’s lies about himself—we will never break free from fear, torment, trauma, depression, anxiety, and sin. Like Rich and Eddie at the beginning of the film, we will believe that there’s no hope and that we are better off not attempting to fight the evil that has taken hold in our lives and in our environments.
Pennywise doesn’t know how to handle the Losers telling him the truth about himself. He turns out to be just as vulnerable as any child. As the verbal assault continues, he stumbles backward, falls, and shrinks in size till he’s no larger than a toddler. With every second, the Losers grow bolder. They realize that they’ve had this power all along. They just didn’t know how to use it.
Like Christ in the wilderness, we defeat Satan with the power of words—God’s words, the living Word that abides in our hearts and minds. And what does the Word tell us about our enemy?
“The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet” (Romans 16:20)
“Resist the devil, and he will flee from you” (James 4:7)
“Little children, you are from God and have overcome [demonic spirits], for he who is in you is greater than he who is in the world” (1 John 4:4)
“And the great dragon was thrown down, that ancient serpent, who is called the devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world—he was thrown down to the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him” (Revelation 12:9)
“I saw an angel coming down from heaven, holding in his hand the key to the bottomless pit and a great chain. And he seized the dragon, that ancient serpent, who is the devil and Satan, and bound him for a thousand years, and threw him into the pit, and shut it and sealed it over him, so that he might not deceive the nations any longer” (Revelation 20:1–3)
Satan knows Scripture, probably better than we do. He’s had a lot more time to study it, and he was there when a lot of it was being recorded. But he can only enslave us to fear if we don’t know—and believe—what Scripture says about him. We must realize that our enemy is just a clown. He’s a loser. He’s already been defeated. He casts a large shadow, but he’s small and shriveled. He only has the power that we give to him.
Stephen King’s a clever writer. He frequently uses biblical themes and concepts to heighten the sense of grandeur and impact of his writing. But he def ain’t Christian.
The two most recent chapters of the webcomic I Love Yoo featured a parody of this movie:
Thanks for the review of the movie and the repeated references to Scripture. I found your comparison between Pennywise and Satan interesting and feel it has some merit–though I think you overstate your case, so some Bible-based disagreement is in order.
Yes, thinking Satan is all-powerful or nearly so and we cannot do anything about him are sure roads to defeat. Yes, Satan is a “loser” in the literal sense in that the outcome of the war between him and God has already been determined–and Satan has lost.
But is Satan a “loser” in the sense people often use the term? Is Satan a “clown”? Is Satan “small”? Is he a bumbler, a good-for-nothing, unable to accomplish anything, friendless “loser”? Er, no. Satan has lots of friends in this world–lot of powerful people. Satan achieves many of his goals. He’s continually knocking down well-known Christians and ones not as well-known. He’s moving in the world of entertainment and trying to turn our culture against God as much as possible. And, in some ways, he’s succeeding marvelously. He will succeed so well that false Christs acting under his power have in the past and will even more in the future come on the verge of even deceiving the people of God (Matthew 24:24). He will succeed so well, he will unite the entire world under the power of the Beast/Antichrist, as the book of Revelation reveals. Yes, we know the end of Satan and we know we don’t need to fear the Devil–if we stand strong in the Faith, there’s nothing the enemy can do to us. And much we can do to him, much to turn back the advance of world-system-under-the-control-of-Satan by reaching people for Christ.
But does Satan only have the power we ascribe to him? That is, if we mentally think Satan is powerless, does he become powerless? If so, why does the Bible say he is like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour? (I Peter 5:8, the second half of the verse, which you quoted.) A lion, an ambush predator, looks for a wild animal not being alert (as well as going for the young and weak)–that’s what it prefers to attack. Which is why the beginning of I Peter 5:8, the part you didn’t quote, tells us to be “sober” or of a serious mind and “vigilant” or alert.
The situation with Satan reminds me of my time in Iraq and Afghanistan. The Coalition in Iraq and ISAF/NATO in Afghanistan enjoyed overwhelming combat power over the insurgency. If we brought our best to the battle, the enemy would lose, every time, guaranteed. Even devastating “roadside bombs” (in military lingo, IEDs) were powerless if we simply could spot where they had been placed before they detonated. If you saw one, you could call the UXO 9-line and the route would be cleared out, so close to with complete effectiveness that we might as well say it worked every time (in reality it didn’t work 100% of the time, but almost always).
The danger in that kind of war was complacency. In getting bored with being alert and tired of being on the lookout. To the point of ignoring signs of bombs planted on roads–or forgetting to follow procedures designed to reduce the effectiveness of snipers–or not knowing or applying any number of safety procedures. (Procedures that were not in truth 100% effective, but they were much more effective than not using them.)
Of course not everyone who didn’t stay alert failed to do so out of boredom–some were not alert because they had no fear of the enemy for whatever reason. Some believed the enemy was weak or ineffective and there was nothing to worry about.
So it’s important to note the Bible does not say, “Satan is weak and defeated and only has the power you imagine he has.” No, instead it reveals in many ways that Satan actually is powerful, but God is more powerful. By sticking close to God, we have a safety procedure that really is 100% effective at all times–but if we fail to follow the procedure, we risk failure. Not that Satan will get us every single time we wander away from the Lord or fail to be alert–not every soldier who failed to be alert was instantly killed in Iraq or Afghanistan. But you can never say at what time you are wandering off from God that you put yourself in real jeopardy from Satanic attack. In some ways the spiritual war is more forgiving than the kind of war I’m talking about. But only to a degree. All we have to do to get smacked by Satan is in effect fail to stick close to God, to wander off on our own, to fail to be alert.
If what I just said wasn’t true, the Bible would not tell us to be “sober and vigilant” just before telling us Satan is like a roaring lion. If what I said wasn’t true, the Bible would not bother to tell us to “Submit yourselves to God” in the first part of James 4:7, the part you did not quote, BEFORE telling use to “Resist the Devil.” Without submitting ourselves to God, Satan will not flee from us. Without the power of God protecting us, Satan will ruin us, just like a lion will take down a gazelle that’s wandered off from the protection of the herd and who isn’t paying attention.
So the right attitude to have versus the Devil is caution, not fear. Alertness, not terror. But regarding Satan as a “loser” I think is the wrong approach. “Defeated,” yes–that I agree with. But not as a “loser.” I don’t see that attitude leading to continued alertness–which the Bible actually commands–not for most people anyway. Do you?
In defense of Whyte, Pennywise succeeded marvelously in eating quite a few people. And Pennywise was defeated with words, which is the parallel to our use of the word of God to unravel sin holds over us in our regular lives. So, from the perspective he was talking from, it makes sense. I don’t think he meant it as a perfect illustration–which is why we both offered obligatory disclaimers–but I don’t think he intended it as anything more than showing symbolism and parallels.
Brennan, I was just fine with the parallels–but Mr. Whyte actually said concerning Satan, “He only has the power that we give to him.” That’s a statement that I suppose could be taken to mean more than one thing–but the plain meaning, especially in context of “clown,” “loser,” and “small” implies the only power Satan has is in our minds. That is, if we simply refuse to ascribe to Satan any power, he will collapse. But that’s not what the Bible says. Satan has actual, non-illusory power–not just the power of lies alone (which was the power of the Warlock Lord in the Sword of Shannara, for what that’s worth). Though Satan has the power of lies, too.
That’s the kind of thing for which a reasonable correction is called for.
Kind of have mixed feelings about that. I’m definitely a big proponent of not being complacent or letting one’s guard down when it comes to important things. At the same time, there’s different ways of regarding someone as a ‘loser’. Like, someone can be the most powerful threat in the world, and still be completely pathetic. Sometimes people acknowledge the amount of power and danger a person can present, and are angry and/or vigilant because of that. But in the midst of that anger, they might realize someone’s pathetic traits and mock those traits while they lash out at how awful that person is.
Like, this isn’t a video about people lashing out in that manner, but it’s kind of the same idea, of seeing someone as horrible, or a threat, but still making fun of them. And if Hitler were still alive today and we were trying to overthrow him, some of that humor might actually be important because it would give people the courage to fight him:
I personally have laughed at things obviously dangerous in the physical world–for example, I was in a bunker in Iraq during a rocket attack and somebody said he’d paid of the militia to do the attack, because he had a report to finish that he knew he wasn’t gonna get done on time. In context, it was pretty funny.
Some mocking the Devil might be appropriate–but he’s not going to vanish into nothing because of that. And when the Bible says “be sober, be vigilant” (which is one translation of the beginning of I Peter 5:8), that line quite literally means “take the threat of Satan seriously.” Though it’s possible to believe something is a serious danger and laugh about it anyway. I’ve done that.
There are some things I find too terrible to laugh about–but I don’t mind if other people can laugh at them. As long as they still are serious-minded and alert when they need to be.