Andy Muschietti’s It Struggles with Adaptation

There is no hard and fast rule for parsing out the relationship between literary sources and cinematic adaptations. Context is key. When it comes to Andy Muschietti’s It (loosely based on Stephen King’s 1986 novel), the correspondence between versions is too complicated and vital to ignore. The novel uses a network of perspectives and interwoven timelines to translate the individual experiences of seven alienated people (the self-proclaimed “Losers’ Club”). These characters bond over their shared traumas and work together to defeat It, a malicious shape-shifter occupying the sewer system of their small home city, Derry. In the time that elapses between the characters’ childhood and adulthood confrontations with It, they uniformly repress and forget the past. King’s decision to oscillate between timelines and points of view is not only a structural choice, but it’s also crucial to his book’s allegorical concerns: the titular “It” functions as a socially denied and repressed object of violence (manifesting often in the form of misogyny, racism and homophobia), while also taking on the shape of horror built into the social-collective unconscious. King takes matters further by attributing It and its foil (the turtle) with cosmic qualities, suggesting that humankind’s ugliest sociohistorical trends are the work of some twisted higher order. Questions of King’s “literary merit” still occasionally haunt discussions of his work, but It demonstrates the author’s ability to meaningfully deconstruct his own genre of choice while also employing techniques specific to modernism, postmodernism and realist fiction — and this is not to mention the book’s complex philosophical and critical questions, many of which arise from disturbing engagements with psychoanalytic thought.

Read the full review in Vague Visages.

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