Throughout the 1,000-plus pages of Stephen King’s It, and the combined five and a half hour running time of It (2017) and It: Chapter Two (2019), characters frequently wrestle with their own hazy memories. Two decades after the most harrowing summer of their lives, the Losers’ Club — a gang of adolescent misfits who become best friends against an evil force — reunite as adults, unable to grasp why they forgot everything the events of that summer as soon as they left home.
Pennywise, played by Bill Skarsgård, is an ancient demon who takes the form of a sinister clown. It thrives not only on the fears of children but also the ignorance of adults. To dispel this eldritch magic, the Losers must do the most difficult thing they could imagine: Remember.
“I think as an adult, we all have some repressed trauma somewhere in us,” screenwriter Gary Dauberman tells Inverse. “I’m the same age as the Losers in this movie. I followed up on my own childhood, and how easy it is for memories to fade. Even the more traumatic ones. Like getting details wrong or [asking], ‘Did that happen? When? I can’t remember.’”
It: Chapter Two takes place in the more recent past of 2016, nearly three decades after the first It set in 1989. Although the Losers swore to stay friends forever, they reunite as adults having virtually forgotten everything about the summer of “It,” including each other. It’s only when Mike (played by Isaiah Mustafa and Chosen Jacobs) calls them back after Pennywise’s return that the Losers remember, and they’re in no shape to fight again.
Dauberman, who also directed the Conjuring film Annabelle Comes Home and just finished a draft for another King adaptation Salem’s Lot, says he didn’t perform any intense research into the behaviors or neuroses of repressed trauma. Rather, his understanding “just came from the book,” meaning King’s tome published in September 1986, as well as the real-life “phenomenon” of adolescent bonds that survive into adulthood or vanish with time.
“I thought a lot about my own personal experience, my own friendships. I’m fortunate to have a couple friends from when I was 12,” Dauberman says. “It’s funny how you can go years without talking to them, but pick up a conversation you had when you were 13 when you’re 40. That’s a really interesting phenomenon and something I think the book, the movie, and a lot of King’s work speaks to. The power of youth and the strengths of bonds we form when we’re kids, how much they influence our years ahead.”
A lot of the fun of It involves the characters’ growths into adults. Like people from your hometown, It illustrates just how radically people change, or become exactly what you expected them to be. In King’s story, Ben, for example, transforms from an obese, lonely child into a tall, fit, sociable Adonis. But most, if not all of the Losers’ psyches remain intact.
“I think people are capable of great change and growth, but I do think that growth is, a lot of the time, spurned by fear,” says Dauberman. “As adults, we encounter new fears, but I think a lot of how we act as adults is guided and dictated by how we were as children. Whether we’re different or the same.”
As one of King’s most popular novels throughout his long, exhaustive oeuvre, It received one adaptation before: A two-part network television miniseries in 1990, with Tim Curry as It. But today’s environment of nostalgia-driven franchises helped bring the definitive blockbuster adaptation in 2017’s It and now It: Chapter Two, which fleshes out the book’s adult-centric half.
Now the book is officially closed on Derry, Pennywise, and the Losers. King never wrote a sequel to his book, so there won’t be a third film, at least one that Dauberman can foresee.
At this rate, it’ll be another 27 years until the next emergence of Pennywise.
“I wouldn’t want to take the victory away from the Losers,” the screenwriter says. “There’s great stories to tell in Pennywise, in Derry. With the founding of Derry. It, he’s been on the planet for many years. I think there’s stories to tell there. But I’m interested in focusing on the Losers, and I want them to be the ones who ultimately defeat Pennywise.”
It: Chapter Two is in theaters now.