The 2017 movie version of It works as well as it does because of how it’s structured. In the original novel, the Loser’s Club’s battle with Pennywise as adults is interwoven with their clash with him as children. The Losers are essentially haunted by themselves, their memories returning the longer they stay both in Derry and in the habitat of the terrifying supernatural predator that has returned to menace them. It’s a brilliant conceit and one that the new movie could so easily have been caught up in trying to emulate. Instead, sensibly, it focuses entirely on the Loser’s Club’s Summer war with Pennywise as children. It: Chapter 2, which is already in pre-production, will focus on the adult versions with flashbacks to the children.
That adult plot is bookended by arguably one of the most important Losers, Mike Hanlon. Mike becomes the Derry town librarian, voluntarily staying in town as a ‘lighthouse keeper’ to monitor the town and make sure that Pennywise doesn’t return. Mike has a tough life, facing racial discrimination constantly for being one of the only people of colour in Derry and puts his life on hold to make sure the nightmares his friends faced as children don’t return. Knowing full well as he does that they have no memory of those nightmares or of him. Mike’s one of the largely unsung heroes of the book and without him, the story simply doesn’t happen.
The big screen version of Mike has already undergone some changes, with his obsession with Derry’s history being handed off to Ben Hanscom. However, in a recent interview director Andy Muschietti made it clear he has big plans for Mike in Chapter 2. In a recent interview, he said the following:
“My idea of Mike in the second movie is quite darker from the book,” the filmmaker said. “I want to make his character the one pivotal character who brings them all together, but staying in Derry took a toll with him. I want him to be a junkie actually. A librarian junkie. When the second movie starts, he’s a wreck.”
Muschietti said he wanted to “infuse more agency to him in those 30 years we don’t visit.”
“He’s not just the collector of knowledge of what Pennywise has been doing in Derry. He will bear the role of trying to figure out how to defeat him. The only way he can do that is to take drugs and alter his mind.”
Superficially that makes a lot of sense. Mike being the last man on post means he’s going to be under incalculable strain so of he’d consider dealing with it by medicating. Likewise, if, as they’re talking about, the second movie will introduce the extra-dimensional elements to Pennywise there’s a raft of context for it being discovered through pharmaceutical exploration. It even speaks to Mike’s courage right? If not him, who else?
Yes. And no.
In fact, mostly no.
Firstly, Mike is the only member of the Losers Club who is a person of colour. And, like Bev, the only female Loser, Mike is a lightning rod for bad writing and bad narrative choices. King’s work has often struggled with its portrayal of black and female characters and Mike is notable for being one of his definitive success stories. Genre fiction as a whole has a catastrophically terrible record with treating POC and female characters as anything other than walking targets and for Mike to not only be interesting and vital to the plot but live is amazing. The fact he survives in Derry without drinking heavily or getting a drug problem just drives that home. Mike Hanlon is TOUGH and the second you change that, you weaken him. And there is no way to weaken him faster than turning him into a stereotypical, drug-addict let alone the colossally loaded implications of giving the only black character in the book a drug problem.
Of course the rebuttal to this is also in that interview. The original novel deals, a lot, with the idea of enhanced perception and Pennywise as a near Lovecraftian evil. It makes sense to have Mike, the man who stays, get drawn into that world.
But, again, it also fundamentally reduces him. Mike Hanlon is the Loser that bends but never breaks and the price he pays for that is already heavy. He doesn’t need to be driven half mad, he doesn’t need to be sacrifice his health and his mind to find the truth. Because the moment you do that Mike becomes an absolutely industry standard, cookie-cutter character. That isn’t giving him agency, it’s taking it away.
We don’t have anywhere near enough Mike Hanlons. Even now, there is still a default assumption that every character is white by default, the black guys dies first and every female character has to have either maternal trauma or an abusive spouse in their past. The Dark Tower, released earlier this year, did the exact opposite of that and it was one of the movie’s true strengths. For It, one of King’s most recognizable stories to fall back on something so old and tired is as unnecessary as it depressing. The novel deserves better than that.
Mike Hanlon deserves better than that.
We deserve better than that.
Here’s hoping Muschietti remembers that.
Thanks to EW for the original interview.