(WARNING: This post contains spoilers for a film that is still in the theatres.)
By now, the latest adaptation of It has been out for a little bit. Inevitably, the first question on everyone’s mind at the film’s announcement was whether or not THE scene would be included. For those of you who haven’t read the book, I’m going to go ahead and spoil something that’s been published for a good 31 years now (that’s far beyond the statute of limitations): Beverly Marsh, at the age of 11, has sex with all 6 of the other Losers Club members when they become lost in the sewers after defeating It. She does this to bond the scared children to one another, to give them a something that It can’t break if they have to fight her again. It’s completely taboo, and it wasn’t included in any film adaptation, which touches upon several aspects of both the novel and the medium of film with which we’re uncomfortable.
Let’s start with the book. Stephen King emphasized that the scene signified the passage of the children into adulthood together at the same time, in one of the more adult actions they could take. King’s reasons for the scene can be summed up by the explanation of our own resident King analyzer, Dan: “Because cocaine.” Really, you have to be snorting the nose candy to think that including a scene of an 11-year-old girl fucking six of her closest friends in a sewer (Jesus the germs alone are squicking me out) in a novel is a good idea. But not so fast! Here’s the thing: Bill (who was a proxy for King, which made the whole “giving a prepubescent girl the big O” factor about as comfortable as a gynecological exam with a cold speculum) engages in the Ritual of Chud, an ancient process designed to grant him passage into a mystical realm that allows him to gain access to various secrets and defeat It. However, we’re overlooking one crucial part to most ancient rituals: virginal sacrifice. We can’t even point fingers and claim gender politics, because cultures all over the place offered up both males and females to appease their gods (Christianity and the Mayan practices both favored young boys as opposed to girls). In this case, though, Bev offers herself in a sort of priestess role. King lets everyone live through this sacrifice, allowing Bev to take control and initiate each of the boys into sex together. And as much as we don’t want to admit it, Bev’s got a point here when she creates this link to the other Losers. Sex bonds us to another person: you must inform former partners in the instance of disease, and you very well could wind up with a souvenir nine months later that sticks around for quite a while (I believe the little ditty starts out, “Eighteen years…”). Sex creates a tie, whether it’s a memory or a deep wish to forget an event. Bev gets this and uses the physical bond to disrupt the psychic impact It has on the group.
The other component of this scene stems from the fact that the act isn’t as straightforward in its meaning as one would think. The act isn’t one that’s intended to create new life – it’s meant to bond people together through time, which speaks to something we’re not quite saying about the character It when we compare It to Beverly. Stan is the one that figures out that It is not only female, but laying eggs. She’s having babies, which is problematic because it’s explained in the book that she’s the polar opposite of The Turtle – she’s not the creator, she’s the destroyer. As such, she can only end things, not bring them forth. Furthermore, nothing is fathering these children with It – It is trying to create babies from nothing. I’d be willing to argue that her act of killing ultimately steals and repurposes life force to fulfill a need to reproduce, which means that she’s mocking the process of sexual reproduction, or at least bastardizing it to achieve something she can’t do normally. In that same vein, then, one can argue that Bev (who operates under the guise of “love and desire,” as the segment of the book is called) counteracts It’s goals by reclaiming a rite of reproduction that It can’t participate in. It doesn’t have a partner – hell, Bev even refers to sex as “doing it,” which puns the name of the evil force the kids are fighting. Likewise, one of the past euphemisms for orgasm is “the little death,” which further emphasizes the balance of death (destruction) with conception (creation). While not necessary, the act of orgasm in sexual reproduction is certainly a fucking perk. And while Bev and the other Losers aren’t conceiving anything in the near future – especially considering that four out of six boys don’t ejaculate – she does manage to engage them in something It cannot do. Bev has more power than It because she is capable of sexual reproduction in the future, and the act changes her from child to something more adult that is capable of both orgasm and child-bearing. Bev has the upper hand as the alpha female at this point the story, and she remembers these facts when it’s time to reclaim the bond that held them together in their haze of post-battle. She can overpower It in the future because she has engaged in a sex act, whereas It can only kill.
The problem here is that the scene presents some uncomfortable realities regarding sex and age. First and foremost, the largest complaint is the sexualization of children. I’m not going to argue that it’s not exploitative – it is. Most people read this part of the book and go, “I just read a preteen gang bang,” especially considering that it goes on for pages. In the crudest of terms, that’s what it is. Our immediate reaction is that this girl is being taken advantage of and turned into a sex doll for six boys. However, this assessment sells Bev short. We’re there in her head as the entire thing happens, watching as a girl whose abusive father has been asking her if she’s still a virgin defies a male authority figure and shares her body with the people that matter most in the world to her. Deciding to let someone fuck you is a pretty powerful thing, and for her to grant that to the other Losers helps her regain some of the control others sought to take from her. Then there’s the great issue here that many don’t want to face: kids’ sexual awakening can happen at any point around the age of the Losers Club members. Some kids hit the age of curiosity and sexual exploration earlier than others, whether it’s mental, hormonal (because puberty keeps hitting younger and younger) or exposure to outside stimuli. Crushes – which the boys each experience with Bev – are a natural part of sexual awakening as a child hits the beginning of maturation. Some wind up exploring their bodies through masturbation, and sometimes, that’s as young as 11; however, this age is inconsistent. Hence, we have four out of six that clearly don’t orgasm and aren’t ready for sex. Then we see a curious piece here: Bev manages to orgasm during her encounters with Ben and Bill – respectively, the man she later ends up with and her first love. Ben’s poem to Bev is a beautiful piece of courtship, and her experiencing her first orgasm with him is a bond that becomes something beautiful despite the age. That’s a progression from childhood sweetheart into adulthood. There’s something strangely bittersweet concerning the passage of time and experience in that tidbit of information. Up close, though, we’re disconcerted because we watched an 11-year-old have sex with her best friends one after the other, and at this age, we don’t want her growing up too fast. At this age, we want her thinking about playing and having fun, not what it feels like to have a penis inside of you. We want Bev to remain innocent because there’s the belief that a young age means that your life is far better than adulthood. It’s not an accurate statement, but it’s a widely-held one. No one wants to admit that though; quite a few folks would rather think that being 11 is the best feeling in the world rather than being an adult, despite that a child that young is subject to bullying and abuse that can age them and make their young lives hell. Sex makes her more of an adult, which shatters the illusion of an assumed happy childhood continuing; suddenly, she’s liable to be a sex object rather than a budding person with thoughts and feelings. The assumption of youth equating to happiness is a dangerous misconception. Take a good, long look at the Losers – we’d all have to admit that these kids are far better off as adults than they were as children.
However, in terms of what you can show in a film, this is still really fucking taboo. You’d have more luck getting someone to agree to curb-stomping a puppy onscreen in great detail than you would of including an 11-year-old girl having sex with multiple partners, despite that this is a reality for some kids growing up today. Historically, audiences have freaked out at the idea of a young girl getting down; examples include Lolita and the rape scene in Hound Dog. However, stuff like this happens – girls that age can and do have sex, and if you don’t believe it, I kindly invite you to go be a fly on the wall of a middle school (the stories I could tell would make this book look like See Spot Run). This instance has meaning to the story, and if handled correctly, it could have worked. You don’t have to get graphic – you just have to show respect and make sure the context is there.
So why are we so hung up? Simply put, two reasons: there are perverts in the world who would be freeze-framing the hell out of this, and the notion still makes us deeply uncomfortable. It makes sense that all films shied away from the sewer scene – audiences simply aren’t ready to see this scene played out in front of them because it’s too psychologically difficult to reconcile with social values. However, the new film isn’t entirely turning its back on the aspect of young sexuality. One of the plot issues of the 2017 film is the fact that Beverly (played to absolute perfection by Sophia Lillis, whom I hope to witness have a career that is long and prosperous) is the victim of rumors concerning her sexual activity. While she’s still virginal, she’s firmly called a slut by other characters, with a cloud of social pariah hanging around her. While she’s an outcast based upon her tomboy nature and latchkey kid status in the book and miniseries, she’s clearly been slandered and slut shamed in the recent film. The hints are there from Bowers that “she’ll do you all if you ask her nicely.” Some deeply disagree with this plot change for Beverly; I found that it created a bridge between what couldn’t be shown and the adaptation/update of Bev’s status as an outcast. In the 1950s, Bev’s status as a tomboy and latchkey kid was pretty out of the ordinary, whereas both circumstances were far more normal in the 80s. And frankly, for everyone screaming about her being an object of desire rather than a person in the latest iteration, I have two points: 1.) … are we really going to start screaming that kids aren’t normal for watching someone sunbathe and developing crushes? and 2.) Bev really is the focal point of all the Losers in this film, not Bill. Think about that one: she’s the one who literally gets hit in the face with blood in the bathroom after buying a box of tampons, has a pervy dad, and later grows up to continue the cycle of abuse by marrying an abuser. To expect a girl that young to come blazing out like she’s Sarah Connor doesn’t even fall in line with the book; King’s got a history of abused women who have to find their voices, and lest we forget, Bev is the one who isn’t afraid of Pennywise in the latest film’s climax. In fact, taking it a step further, Bev can’t recall everything that happened in the sewer after the Pennywise showdown, which falls perfectly in line with the memory wipe of the 1950s in the book. There are hints for the eagle-eyed reader of what happened, but they’re a bit of an insider wink that’s pulled together by the plot change and execution. Those of us who know the score get it; those who don’t won’t have to sit through and watch something for which they’re woefully underprepared.
It’s far easier to pretend that something isn’t there rather than face it head on. Much like how the adults of Derry refused to see It, we sometimes don’t want to admit that the growing up process includes some uncomfortable truths. When kids take on a great amount of responsibility – like the Losers Club did to save their town and, quite possibly, humanity – they’re more likely to be wise beyond their years. The point is that at the end of the day, Bev’s plan worked, and the Losers remained bonded. They were able to defeat It years later because of their unbreakable bond. That’s got to count for something.