Ending Explained is a recurring series in which we explore the finales, secrets, and themes of interesting movies and shows, both new and old.
Endings are hard. A writer spends years contemplating the life of their characters and the plots they travel, and right before they cross the finish line, they stumble. Few of Stephen King‘s novels are as celebrated as IT, but a fan or critic cannot bring up the book without talking about the unsatisfying climax. The book is a beast. The trade paperback cracks nearly 1160 pages, and as you approach the ending, a sense of runner’s fatigue hits your body. You’re almost there; you can do this. Your energy is high if also exhausted, but you gotta know how The Losers Club will finally end the reign of Pennywise the Clown in the town of Derry, Maine.
As children, the Losers put their fear aside, and for the first time in Its life, the creature is afraid. They force Pennywise into early hibernation and they believe they’ve defeated the monster. But 27 years later, the killings begin again. The Losers are now adults, drifting in mundanity. A phone call from Mike Hanlon, the one guy who stuck around town, sends shockwaves of terror through their body as they realize they must return to Derry to fulfill a childhood oath. Pennywise is back, and they are charged with Its destruction.
Back into the sewers, they descend. Reaching the battleground of their youth, they discover a door with a funny symbol carved into its wood. They crack it open and climb further down into the Earth. Now, they’ve reached the home of the parasite Pennywise. Now, they will see Its true form and kill It forever. Behold…
↓Spoilers for ‘IT’ and ‘IT: Chapter Two’↓
…a giant spider. Huh. That’s It? Not exactly. The spider is just a shape that the human mind can understand. The real Pennywise is an indescribable cosmic Deadlight from another dimension called the Macroverse. To defeat It you must lock horns with Its consciousness in the Ritual of Chüd and prove your imagination stronger than your opponent. To achieve such strength, you wrap your belief in everything wholesome in the world: from the love of your friends to your faith in the Easter Bunny. The adult nature of the Losers gets in the way of their final confrontation, and they are nearly killed before Bill and Eddie overpower Its evil with Good (with a capital “G”) and tear Its heart from Its body and give it a good squish.
IT: Chapter Two gives the nod to the spider-thing of the book by allowing Pennywise to sprout a few extra legs but reveals the Ritual of Chüd to be a dud. The film may be nearly three hours long, with a preceding movie of two hours plus, but that’s still not enough space to make sense of the Ritual as King wrote it. Director Andy Muschietti and his producers believed shorthand was necessary, and their Ritual of Chüd is proven to be a bunch of ineffective hokum. The Losers are required to strategize a more effective killing-magic in its place.
In the book, the Ritual of Chüd is discovered at the library by a young Ben Hanscom. As he understands it, the Losers must hypnotize the monster in a staring contest, and when It’s dazed bite down on Its tongue. Ummm. Yeah. Bill Denbrough gets a revision on this method when he engages with Pennywise’s Deadlights and is cosmically transported to the Macroverse where he converses with the Great Turtle that vomited our universe into existence. Ummm. Yeah. Maturin, the Turtle, explains that you can only silence his evil twin Pennywise with the power of Goodness.
The Ritual of Chüd makes a little more sense when you place it in the context of King’s universe. Maturin is one of 12 guardians that maintain the Beams of The Dark Tower. King’s most famous structure sits at the center of everything. As long as it stands, reality continues. Pennywise is one of many vile entities that serve The Crimson King, a devil of sorts that wants to destroy reality so that he may reign upon its ashes. Resting IT on your library shelf next to The Stand, Insomnia, The Dark Tower series, and a half dozen others align its more odd and fanciful aspects to an epic battle greater than one narrative.
IT: Chapter Two cannot mess with any of that beautiful nonsense, and the only references to Maturin are found as little turtle trinkets spread throughout the background of shots. The film version of the Ritual of Chüd was discovered offscreen by Mike (Isaiah Mustafa) when he invaded a local Native American tribe, partook in a peyote-like trip, and learned of Its arrival from outer space. He tells Bill (James McAvoy) that the Natives once defeated It using a ceremonial box to trap the Deadlights and snuff It from existence using the Ritual of Chüd, which involves burning personal artifacts while chanting “Turn light into dark! Turn light into dark!”
When the adult Losers return to the sewers of Derry, they also discover a tiny door marked with the alien glyph. They open the hatch and crawl further into the pit where they encounter Pennywise and Its Deadlights. Inside the Chüd box, each Loser adds their memento: Georgie’s paper boat, Beverly’s secret admirer postcard, Ben’s lonely yearbook page, Eddie’s inhaler, Richie’s arcade token, Mike’s bloody rock that saved his bacon as a child, and Stanley’s spider-proof shower cap. The Deadlights appear, and they chant to no avail. Pennywise laughs at their attempt and reveals that Mike has been lying since they reunited. Back in the day, the Native tribe failed in their Ritual of Chüd, and the Losers have no chance either. Mike tries to explain that he thought their belief would be stronger than the Natives, but his friends aren’t hearing it. They’re too busy running for their lives as tentacles and claws snatch at their flesh bits.
The manner in which the Losers defeat Pennywise in the film is a lot like how their childhood selves did so in the book as well as in IT: Chapter One. They stop believing in Pennywise. They show the monster that It has no hold over them. They tell It that It is small, and they refuse to shrink from Its scare tactics. Their strength reduces Pennywise to a shriveled up head, crying out in fear. Rather than letting It flee as they did before, the Losers reach into Its tiny chest and pull out Its heart. Together: squish. The Deadlights fade. The Losers stand together victorious.
Whether or not this ending is more or less satisfying than the book’s conclusion is left up to the viewer. Hollywood has yet to crack the cosmic terrors that plague King’s stories. Hearts in Atlantis shed its connections from The Dark Tower. The Stand miniseries keeps itself concerned only on the demon Randall Flagg. Gerald’s Game keeps an odd line about the Beams, but just enough to raise an eyebrow. Of course, even The Dark Tower movie didn’t know what the hell it was and ran as far from its source material as it possibly could. Maturin, the Crimson King, and the Ritual of Chüd would probably best be served on series television. Two hours, let alone five hours, cannot contain King’s madness. His doorstoppers were built for streaming.