Stephen King’s It: the bathroom cleaning scene is secretly feminist

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Stephen King’s new hit adaptation This broke a slew of box office records over the weekend, including marking the biggest opening weekend for an R-rated horror film. This is definitely an R-rated horror movie, it contains surprisingly little blood – with one major exception.

And it is this exception that makes a compelling argument that despite criticisms of the film (and novel) as regressive in matters of sexual politics, the new This advances at least one progressive feminist idea – and surprisingly rare.

In a largely recreated scene from King’s novel, Beverly Marsh (Sophia Lillis), the only female member of the group of friends known as the Losers’ Club, meets the evil entity It, who speaks to her from the pipe. evacuation of it. bathroom before spitting “a drop of blood” into the air and all over the bathroom. In the book, as in the 1990 miniseries, blood mainly covers the mirrors and the sink.


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In director Andy Muschietti’s version, however, blood spits out all over, soaking the whole piece in buckets of rouge.

This isn’t all that surprising – in a film that appears to contain numerous tributes to other iconic King movie adaptations, the geyser of blood that covers Beverly’s bathroom is both a throwback to Carrie and The brilliant and an obvious metaphor for Beverly’s maturity. (Shortly before this scene, we see her nervously shopping for tampons.)

But what’s really unusual about this scene is the following. After a tense encounter between Beverly and her abusive and predatory father, who cannot see the blood, the male members of the Losers’ Club stop. Fearing that she had imagined everything, Beverly leads them to the bathroom – where, to her relief, she realizes that they can all see the blood.

In terms of plot, this scene is significant because it helps convey to the Losers’ Club that everything that happens in the small but terrifying town of Derry is somehow connected to the town’s drainage system. In King’s original novel, the boys then spend about half an hour helping Beverly clean up the blood. As they work, writes King, Beverly feels that “her heart is getting lighter and lighter.”

In the film, however, Muschietti does not only briefly show this cleaning scene; he films an entire slow, relaxed and almost boring edit of the boys working tirelessly to clean every inch of the blood-soaked bathroom. It’s a weird moment, a break from an otherwise fast-paced movie with an incredible amount of intrigue to cover, and necessarily invites the question: why is the scene here? Why spend so much time on this cleaning fixture?

The answer has a lot to do with the film’s function as an analogue for the current socio-political moment – and a lot to do with its larger deviation from the book.

This positions Beverly and her sexuality in the context of a story about boys becoming men

Warner Bros.

A number of critics have pointed out the ways in which This sexualizes Beverly. Writing for Vulture, E. Alex Jung argued that the new film “flattens and shrinks Beverly as a character in a retrograde fashion,” positioning her in the film as the subject of a love triangle between friends Ben and Bill. Her character gains strength as a result of sexual trauma, as she eventually overcomes her implicit sexual abuse from her father – but she also conveniently uses her sexuality to manipulate adult men when necessary. In the final moments of the film, she is reduced to a stereotypical damsel in distress, ultimately having to be saved, Snow White-style, by Ben’s kiss. None of this happens in the original novel, although many of the issues with Beverly’s character in the film – particularly her primary portrayal as a victim of domestic and sexual abuse – stem from King’s. This.

But the film’s biggest deviation from the novel still hangs over Beverly’s film characterization: the famous sewer orgy from King’s novel, in which Beverly has unprotected sex with each of the boys, in order to bond over her. ‘somehow get the group together in the future and give them the ability to escape it in the present. The scene portrays Beverly’s sexuality as something mystical, bestowed on each of the boys as a coming-of-age talisman – despite being the only girl in the group, King presents the scene primarily as a gift from her. to each of them. King said in 2013 that when he wrote this scene, first published in 1986, “I wasn’t really thinking about the sexual aspect of it.… Times have changed since I wrote this. scene and there is now more sensitivity to these issues.

So obviously 2017 This was never going to include the infamous sewer scene – but its omission made the question of how the film would treat Beverly’s sexuality all the more important. Considering all the ways the film sexualizes Beverly and presents her agency as related to her sexual attractiveness, it’s difficult to portray it as a feminist portrayal. This, for all the attention Beverly’s entry into the Losers’ Club and the bullying she experiences, is inherently a film about childhood and the transition from childhood to adulthood, like the are so many King stories.

But it is this background – the film’s function as a message to and about boys learning to be men – that makes the bathroom cleaning scene so important.

Bathroom scene sends boys a simple message: support women

Warner Bros.

Muschietti – along with former film director and lead screenwriter Cary Fukunaga, along with several other writers – links Beverly’s anxiety about her own sexual maturation to her sexual assault at the hands of her father, and her fear of these two. things to the bathroom itself. When she’s not with the Losers’ Club, you see Beverly almost entirely in the bathrooms. We meet her being bullied in the school bathroom. Her father assaults her in the bathroom of her house, and it is there that she cuts her hair in an attempt to ward off his sexual attentions. She is first threatened and then abducted by Elle in the same bathroom, and it is this bathroom that He covers in blood – itself a metaphor for menstruation.

Beverly’s dad doesn’t see blood in the bathroom. On some level, it’s because he’s an adult; a major theme of This is that the innate power of childhood and the ability to remember childhood fears serve as a crucial weapon against Her. But on the other hand, given the play’s association with Beverly’s sexual abuse, it’s a form of gas lighting: As a sexual predator, Beverly’s dad either unwilling or cannot admit the trauma he put on her. When Beverly realizes that her friends can see blood as well, she is relieved to realize that she is not mad or hallucinating.

Not only do the six boys at the Losers’ Club immediately believe in Beverly, but they also recognize that she needs significant support to overcome the trauma of what she has just experienced. Here’s how this scene is described in the book:

“I don’t know how I can get back here,” Beverly said. “Don’t wash or brush my teeth or. . . you know.”

“Well, why don’t we clean up the place?” Stanley asked suddenly.

Beverly looked at him. “Clean up?”

… For the next half hour, the four of them cleaned up like grim elves, and as the blood drained from the walls, mirror, and porcelain basin, Beverly felt her heart grow lighter and lighter. Ben and Eddie made the sink and mirror while she scrubbed the floor. Stan worked the wallpaper with studious care, using an almost dry cloth. In the end, they got almost everything.

… There were still faint traces of blood on the wallpaper to the left of the sink, where the paper was so thin and ragged that Stanley hadn’t dared to do more than gently mop it up. Yet even here the blood had been drained of its former threatening strength; it was little more than a meaningless pastel smear.

“Thank you,” Beverly told everyone. She couldn’t remember ever thanking so deeply. “Thanks everyone.”

Of all the scenes in the book that Muschietti chose to show in detail, it is very significant that he chose this one. The “cleaning boys” montage isn’t sexy, fun, or exciting; it is slow, deliberate and filthy work. But then, there is nothing sexy, fun or exciting about believing and supporting women. All too often, women are disbelieving and undermined when attempting to report their own sexual assaults, and are routinely ridiculed and harassed when speaking about their own experiences with sexism and misogyny in general.

In 1986, the mere fact that the boys believed Beverly was a testament to their shared bond of friendship. In 2017, in a context where “believing in women” is a controversial and perpetually difficult concept, the fact that boys believe Beverly is an incredible and straightforward moment of alliance. And the moment following this is even more striking. When all the boys, mutually silent, begin the inglorious job of helping Beverly clean the bathroom, they absorb one of the movie’s most powerful messages: Supporting women is necessary work that makes the whole community stronger.

In King’s novel, it’s the orgy that seals the Losers’ Club’s bonds, with Beverly’s sexuality functioning as a sort of metaphysical glue binding members to each other and to their future selves. (Muschietti’s movie has them later doing the standard childhood blood pact instead.) But it’s that scene, when they come together to clean up the orgy of blood and help Beverly move forward, which serves as a real bonding moment in This the film.

In the detail and completeness of this scene, Muschietti offers the boys of Derry, and boys everywhere, a role model for what the path to true manhood looks like: These are men with sensitivity, care and awareness when it comes to traumatic experiences women face. Ultimately, the boys at the Losers’ Club don’t fight over Beverly’s affections or treat her like an object, and they never dismiss her experiences: instead, they collectively support her, support her version of what happened and help him move forward.

This is not a feminist film; given how crucial the childhood experience is to This, any movie that stayed true to the original script was probably never going to spend a lot of energy exploring feminist ideals. But in a cultural moment particularly marked by division and misogyny, it at least offers a refreshing take on what a powerful ally for women looks like. It’s remarkable that in its male-centric context, the film makes room for a simple message – believe and support women – that probably shouldn’t be as radical as it is.


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