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How Does the New It Movie Deal With Stephen King’s Orgy Scene and Beverly's character?

How Does the New It Movie Deal With Stephen King’s Orgy Scene?

By E. Alex Jung via www.vulture.com

Since its publication in September of 1986, It has enjoyed a long shelf life, first as a book that spent 14 weeks at the top of the New York Times best-seller list and then worming into nightmares as a TV mini-series in 1990 starring Tim Curry as the titular demonic clown/embodiment of children’s deepest fears. The monster, which a group of kids simply name “It,” manifests as something different for each person based on their specific fears — burning houses, lepers, a dead sibling — and, perhaps because of this, the story has maintained a compelling hold on our collective psyches for more than 30 years. This week, It hits theaters for the first time as a feature film, with a script that was originally set to be directed by Cary Fukunaga, before New Line decided to pivot to Andy Muschietti. (Fukunaga retains a writing credit on a reworked script).

But one controversial scene from King’s novel has dogged the book and subsequent adaptations. After defeating It, the kids get lost in the sewer tunnels on the way out; this is attributed in part to the fact that they’re losing their “connection” to one another. The solution is to bind them together, which Beverly — the only girl in the story’s main group of protagonists, called “the Losers” — says can only happen if each of the boys has sex with her. Where they’re timid and unsure, she’s confident and maternal. (King writes the first boy Eddie comes to her “the way he would have come to his mother.”) The sex is a “consensual” gang bang, with each of the boys losing his virginity, and thus entering manhood, through Beverly.

The ’80s was a bonkers time, but the orgy scene in particular has aged poorly; critics and readers looking back at it have called it everything from “disturbing” to “sick” to “insane.” A Reddit reader from last year simply asked, “WTF?” and generated over 500 comments. For almost ten exhaustive pages, King describes each of the boys having sex with Beverly and their orgasms as a version of “flying.” (You also get the sense that King is a bit of a size queen.) Beverly’s desires are positioned as a way for her to overcome her own fears around sex, but mostly the narrative centers on how the boys literally enter adulthood through Beverly’s vagina. Kingreleased a statement a few years ago through his fan site Stephenking.com, where he wrote, “I wasn’t really thinking of the sexual aspect of it… Intuitively, the Losers knew they had to be together again. The sexual act connected childhood and adulthood.” Perhaps most horrifying to modern sensibilities is that there is no talk of birth control, condoms, or a realization that a circle jerk would have sufficed.

When the new adaptation was announced, many wondered whether it would feature the scene, or some version of it (though the 1990 version eschewed it entirely). As fans often like to say: It’s canon. So does the new version feature a bunch of kids engaging in an orgy? The tl;dr version: No. But while it evades the obvious graphic horror and legal problems of minors simulating group sex, the new film retains a lot of the original scene’s problems — namely, its regressive gender politics and sexualization of its adolescent-girl lead.

The 2017 film flattens and reduces Beverly as a character in retrograde ways. It plays up the love triangle between Beverly (Sophia Lillis), Bill (the protagonist played by Jaeden Lieberher, who loses his little brother Georgie at the start of the film), and the chubby kid, Ben (Jeremy Ray Taylor), who pines for Bev and writes her a precocious love haiku. The climax of the film — when the Losers reconnect to defeat It after they initially disband — is prompted by It capturing Beverly and taking her to its lair. From there, it’s a classic tale of a damsel in distress: When Bev’s friends come upon her, she’s suspended in midair, like a pendant lamp. The boys eventually get her down, but she’s zoned out, her eyes clouded over. And just as in Sleeping Beauty,Ben kisses her and she awakens. She exists first and foremost as an object of their desire.

It’s an odd decision, in part because this is a more classically sexist narrative than what Fukunaga and Chase Palmer wrote in their original screenplay (which was leaked online after Fukunaga and the studio parted due to “creative differences”). In fact, some of the major differences between the old and new scripts involve Beverly in this way; the new script sexualizes her several times, like when she flirts with a middle-aged cashier at a pharmacy to help the boys steal some supplies. (In the Fukunaga script, the hypochondriac kid Eddie, played by Jack Dylan Grazer, fakes a medical emergency). In Fukunaga and Palmer’s version, Beverly flirts with zero old dudes and needs no saving. She goes with the boys to Pennywise’s lair, launches herself into a waterfall and goes headlong into the fight.

The Fukunaga script does have elements of physical horror that hew more closely to the book. But the focus is different: Beverly’s It manifests as blood — buckets of blood that spew from the sink — and Fukunaga makes it clear that the blood is a metaphor for her own fears around growing up and becoming a “woman,” something she fears would make her more of a sexual object to men, including her father. The new version, on the other hand, removes the physical horror, but leaves in the male gaze: Her father leers at her, calling her his “little girl” and attempting to harm her physically, but there is no blatant indication of sexual abuse. And while the bathroom blood remains, it’s not visually connected to her period or to her fear of her dad, making it seem displaced and random.

The Fukunaga version also wisely sidestepped the orgy scene, but still contains a moment where the kids are lost in the sewer, starting to panic. Beverly reins them all in in a way that’s appropriately childlike and innocent.

BEVERLY

Guys, stop it. Focus.

Everyone turns to Bev. Their muse. Their light.

SHE TAKES EDDIE’S FACE IN HER HANDS

SHE TAKES STAN’S FACE IN HER HANDS

SHE TAKES RICHIE’S FACE IN HER HANDS

SHE TAKES MIKE’S FACE IN HER HANDS

SHE TAKES BEN’S FACE IN HER HANDS

SHE TAKES WILL’S FACE IN HER HANDS

While the new adaptation of It doesn’t go as far as 1980s Stephen King did, it’s simultaneously both more PC and more conservative than Fukunaga’s script, cutting out the messy parts of Beverly’s life and character to turn her into a trope — a girl who flirts and needs to be saved — rather than metaphorizing her fears. One scene that unites all versions, though, is when the kids each cut their palms and hold hands in a final blood oath. Of course, in the new version, Beverly and Bill have to have their Hollywood kiss, and they do so with her leaving a bloody handprint on his cheek. But it’s weird and gross and funny — and, unlike King’s orgy, seems exactly like something a kid would do.

ANOTHER RECOMMENDED ARTICLE ABOUT THIS TOPIC:

The New It Is a Compelling Coming-of-Age Story—for the Boys, at Least - Strong as it is, the film makes some puzzling changes to Beverly Marsh’s story

A movie about an Asian sex robot aims to challenge stereotypes

A movie about an Asian sex robot aims to challenge stereotypes

By Alan Zilberman via washingtonpost.com


A scene from Anne Hu’s short film “Cake.” (Courtesy of Anne Hu)

There is a giant box on the living room floor, and a young, attractive, white couple quiver with anticipation as they sit before it. They have been looking to spice up their sex lives, and the box contains their latest solution: a lifelike Asian sex robot, complete with a black corset and spiky black heels.

This is the premise for “Cake,” a short film by New York-based director Anne Hu that is having its local premiere at the D.C. Asian Pacific American Film Festival on Sunday. What makes “Cake” unique — and what elevates its premise into a sharp critique of typical Asian representation in popular culture — is that Hu herself plays the sex robot.

It is not unusual for directors to put themselves in their own films. Alfred Hitchcock became famous for his little cameos, while aging actor-directors such as Kevin Costner and Mel Gibson would typically play the heroic lead role. But by playing the robot and literally objectifying herself, Hu is more vulnerable than the typical filmmaker.



In a recent interview, Hu explains the casting choice was a statement of purpose: “I had always intended to cast myself originally. Then I got scared, backed out, and held auditions for the role. But it never felt right.”

Hu’s performance is silent, and yet her face — dispassionate and hostile — is a comic response to the couple, who speak about their sex lives with an exaggerated, sunny disposition. She adds that casting herself “made me feel like the statements I wanted to make were louder, more in-your-face.”

Hu first got the idea for “Cake” while she was a student at Ohio State University, earning her degree in marketing and art. “OSU didn’t have a film program, so I took as much of their film/video classes as I could,” she says. After working in an advertising agency and moving to New York, she eventually landed a job in 2016 as a senior producer-editor for HBO, where she edits promotional trailers for shows such as “Game of Thrones” and “Vice Principals.” Hu left the idea for “Cake” alone for years — she originally conceived it a feature-length film — only to return to it as a short in 2015. At under 10 minutes, the film nonetheless took months to write, with a lengthy postproduction process after an intense two-day shooting schedule.

“Cake” is ultimately a comedy, one where Hu’s character serves as a mirror for the audience. Throughout the film, we see one deadpan sight gag after another. At first, we do not see the robot’s face: Hu introduces the character with a close-up of her midsection. She is a consumer product, anonymous and blank. Later, with an unmistakable mix of apathy and disgust, Hu stares directly into the camera. It is a look that says, “Yes, I know what you must think of me, and I do not find it the least bit fascinating.”

Through objectification, “Cake” forces its audience to ask what it means when Asian women are endlessly fetishized. Most directors use their camera to expand their vision, inviting multiple meanings. Hu does the opposite, and her sullen eyes imbue “Cake” with the red-hot focus of a laser.



At age 30, Hu has already made several short films across animation, documentary and traditional narrative. And she is keenly aware of the diversity problem on both sides of the camera. “I think change is slow, especially for the big Hollywood companies, because they’re driven by profits and not necessarily by the art,” she says. “But I would argue that’s changing, considering all the backlash they’re seeing at the box office.”

She points to the recent box-office bomb “Ghost in the Shell,” a film plagued by controversy since its star, Scarlett Johansson, played a humanoid character of Asian descent. “I have to personally fight the ‘submissive Asian woman’ stereotype. [People in the industry] have used that stereotype to my face.” One of the rich ironies of “Cake” is that, despite all the dominatrix gear, Hu’s character is subservient to the wills of horny white people — not that she is too keen about it.

After her film tours the film festival circuit, Hu plans to work on her feature-length debut. It’s a revenge horror film about a daughter in an Asian American family. When her stepmother decides to sell the family home, her long-deceased biological mother comes back from the dead. Like the recent horror smash “Get Out,” the film has the potential to dismantle easy racial stereotypes — positive and negative — by using a familiar genre framework. The structure and payoff of “Cake” is similar to the sketch-comedy show where Jordan Peele, writer and director of “Get Out,” cut his teeth. Based on the strength of her short film, Hu just might become the latest cinematic force to be reckoned with.


The D.C. Asian Pacific American Film Festival runs through Sunday at Atlantic Plumbing Cinema. “Cake” is part of the sold-out “Left to My Own Devices” short-film showcase at 4 p.m. Sunday. www.apafilm.org.