Pennywise is back and more vicious than ever before in IT Chapter Two, director Andy Muschietti‘s followup to his record-smashing 2017 adaptation of Stephen King‘s IT. Set up 27 years after the events of the first film, Chapter Two picks up with the adult Losers club — James McAvoy‘s Bill Denbrough, Jessica Chastain‘s Beverly Marsh, Bill Hader‘s Richie Tozier, Jay Ryan‘s Ben Hanscom, James Ransone‘s Eddie Kaspbrak, Isaiah Mustafah‘s Mike Hanlon and Andy Bean‘s Stanley Uris — when the child-eating creature known as It returns from slumber with a rather literal vengeance.
Adapting King’s sprawling horror classic was never going to be an easy task, but the second half, in particular, has always been a tricky beast. Where the childhood adventures of the Losers club offered a tight coming-of-age narrative to tackle in the first film, the epic finale of their adult journey includes mind-bending rituals, astral journeys into cosmic voids, and a giant god-like turtle that threw up the known world in a fit of indigestion. It’s almost too much to fully wrap your head around when you read the book, and certainly not the kind of storytelling that easily translates to the screen.
Which means that when it came time to figure out how to reinvent King’s cosmic mythology for IT Chapter Two, the filmmakers had to find a way to make impossible ideas cinematic. And that meant a lot of changes to the source material. Muschietti explained,
“I was trying to find a function, dramatically, for the Ritual of Chüd. That’s how I reintroduced it in the story. The Ritual of Chüd is the last resource, something that exists in mythology.”
In King’s novel, the Ritual of Chüd involves two parties metaphorically/spiritually biting down on each other’s tongues and telling jokes until one party, the losing party, laughs. It’s a psychic battle of wits, waged with the power of belief in the vast expanse of the Macroverse. In the book, it happens twice. First, Bill enacts the ritual as a child, when he communes with the Turtle god Maturin while floating through the Macroverse. Stick with me here.
Maturin is sort-of an anti-Pennywise; a more-or-less benevolent Lovecraftian god-creature, who accidentally created our universe by throwing up. He’s also a power player in King’s Dark Tower series but we do not have time for all that here. While Maturin usually keeps out of human affairs, he occasionally nudges people in the right direction, as he does with young Bill in King’s novel, pushing the boy towards the Ritual of Chüd and his battle against It.
In the movies, things are quite different. The Ritual of Chüd is never mentioned in the first film (though Muschietti noted he wanted too, but could never find the right spot for it) and the ritual doesn’t play a part in the Losers’ battle against Pennywise, though there a few easter egg references to the Turtle throughout the film. (Most notably when the kids go for a swim in the quarry.) In IT Chapter Two, however, The Ritual of Chüd becomes a key anchor to the film’s structure, with some massive revisions from the ritual in the book.
As the only Loser who stays in Derry, Mike bears the memory of Pennywise alone and spend his years researching a way to kill him, which leads him to a Native tribe just outside of Derry (and thus, just outside of Its reach,) who teach him about the ritual. Mike passes his knowledge on to Bill when he drugs him with the Maturin root (a nice Easter egg for book fans) and shows him the visions of the ritual, which involves hunting down totems of their forgotten memories and sacrificing them in a ritual to trap It in an ancient receptacle.
Of course, what the Losers quickly learn is that the ritual doesn’t work at all. Mike hid a key bit of information from them — the last people who tried it were all slaughtered by It. As Muschietti explains, Mike saw it as a way of unifying their belief.
“It doesn’t really work. But he knows that the only way to defeat Pennywise is using the power of unified belief and this is the McGuffin that he decides to use.”
And the Ritual of Chüd may not appear in the first film, but Mike’s decision to embrace it stems directly from their last showdown with Pennywise. Muschietti continued,
“He experimented the first time in 1989 when he saw that all the kids thought that stun gun was loaded. And he kept repeating it, ‘It’s not loaded, it’s not loaded!’ And as all the kids are saying, ‘Kill it! Kill it! Kill it!’ and they all believed that there’s a charge there. He ends up shooting and they drill a hole in his head.
That’s an important piece of information to understand better how Mike uses this. And he explains it. There’s so much precision in the cabin when he says it’s really something to believe and make you believe. So basically, if you pay attention, Mike tells Bill about all the research that he did. And we can only assume that all the research that he did to actually find the weapon against Pennywise, to kill him, because he knows it’s coming, is fruitless.
There is nothing that can kill Pennywise. The only weapon is believing, which is a weapon that actually Pennywise uses to kill his victims.
For Muschietti and screenwriter Gary Dauberman, much of the challenge in adapting the mythology came down to making it something practical and functional that played out on screen. Muschietti said,
“In the book it’s a little more loose and it’s very hard to understand how it works. It comes from a mythological source that is impossible to practice in real life because you have to bite to the tongue of the Glamour, and then tell jokes, and then the person laughs like he’s defeated. So, it’s a little crazy.”
As it that wasn’t tough enough, King’s narrative weaves between the two timelines, bleeding the lines between past and present in a way that immerses the reader in the sum total of the experience. Dauberman pointed out the challenge of losing that inner-dialogue.
“We knew the biting of the tongue, the riddle, and all that stuff wasn’t going to fly on the screen like it does in the book. So, it came down to also thinking about, well how can we tell this? In the book, going back to the internalization of the characters, we know they remember. We’re sort of hearing their thoughts, or King’s telling us they remember these memories, then going back into it.”
But what about Maturin? Was there ever a plan to include the cosmic Turtle and Bill trip to the Macroverse? For the first point, Muschietti once again teased more hints towards Maturin in the extended cut, but don’t expect a trip to the end of the universe. With a laugh, Dauberman explained why the mind-bending trip through space was never really on the table.
“I don’t think I ever entertained that, because I just know the conversations I’m going to have to have. ‘What did you mean when you said “exterior space”?’. [Laughs] So you kind of get ahead of those conversations. You can do it but it’s not going, so there are moments where you just have to take creative license and go, does it need to be in space? Can it just stay in this, in the nest of It? It just makes sense narratively to the movie as well. I know the personalities involved well enough to go [know] it’s going to be hard for me to defend that one.”
However, if you’re bummed you didn’t see more of the hallucinogenic insanity of King’s big finale, keep an eye out for the extended cut Muschietti has been excitedly teeing up during press rounds. Producer Barbara Muschietti teased a longer version of the ritual that will probably end up in that cut. “We showed more,” she said. “This is like a reduced Ritual of Chüd.”
Note: This article was previously published at a prior date but is being pushed in conjunction with the Digital HD release of It: Chapter Two. The film is now available on digital.
For more on IT Chapter Two, check out the links below.
- Let’s Talk About Pennywise: What Exactly Is Stephen King’s ‘IT’?
- ‘IT Chapter Two’: The Odd Moral Message at the Center of That Ending
- IT Movie Timeline Explained: A Complete History of Pennywise, the Losers & Derry’s Horrors
- The Weirdest Scenes from Stephen King’s ‘IT’ That Never Happened in the Movies