First impressions: ‘It’ (2017) and its library scene

I recently was able to watch the recent cinematic remake of It, which I thought would make a good entry in my “first impressions” series of posts. These posts document my initial impressions and memories from watching reel librarian films in the movie theater. These post are never as in-depth as my film analysis posts — and don’t have the benefit of careful notes — but the films are more timely. I’ve done “first impressions” posts in the past for movies like Monsters UniversityTinker Tailor Soldier Spy, The Amazing Spider-Man, and Hidden Figures.

Since this film serves as “Chapter 1” of the story, featuring only the teenage versions of the “Losers’ Club,” I was not expecting to see any reel librarians. (The character of Mike Hanlon, the sole African-American in the group, grows up to be the town librarian.) But I was mistaken! Although I should have expected it, as when I went back to review the trailer, I realized that the public library earned a brief appearance at the 1-minute mark in the original trailer:

Library scene

Ben Hanscom is trying to hide out from the bullies in the public library, while also doing research on the early days of the town, Derry. In the background, I spied a woman shelving books in a bookcase. The woman looks older, in a print dress.

Note:  This “looming librarian” in the back is one of the entries in this article’s “Easter eggs” of the film. Creeeeeeepy!

And on this Reddit thread, the user “literaphile” described this as their favorite scene from the film:

Best part of the scene was when Ben was sitting at the table reading and one of the “librarians” was standing in the background, out of focus, staring at Ben with an evil grin.

Then we get a close-up to Ben, who is startled by another librarian (or is it the same one?), an older woman with glasses with a thick book in her hands.

She says something to the effect of, “Why are you in the library during summer? In summer, boys are supposed to be outside with their friends.” She pauses, and then asks in a condescending tone, “Don’t you have any friends?

Ben cuts her off with a look and a tart reply, something along the lines of, “Can I have the book now?

This was NOT a positive start to this reel librarian character. In fact, my own initial reaction — for real! — was this:  “Judge-y bitch.”

Ben then flips through the book, which also gets a second of screen time in the third released trailer for the film, at the 1:10 minute mark:

Library archives

Then Ben has his own scary sighting with Pennywise. He sees an egg on the floor in a back room, and he walks down stairs to enter what looks to be the archives basement, filled with bookcases and archival boxes. Of course, it’s a trap, and he tries to escape a headless ghost, a figure from the book he was just flipping through. This figure then turns into Pennywise, but his nightmare run stops short when he runs into the reel librarian again, who demands to know why he’s running in the library.

By the way, this reel librarian role seems to be uncredited in the film’s cast list — unless it’s the “Old Woman” character played by Martha Gibson.

The actor who planned Ben, Jeremy Ray Taylor, posted this pic on his Instagram, a photo featuring the storyboard of this library action scene:

The importance of research

We then see more of Ben’s research into Derry, which he shows to the Losers Club members when they visit his bedroom. He has tacked up photos and maps of Derry all over his walls, along with articles about major killings throughout the years. He’s the one who figures out that the murders occur every 27 years.

It is this research that propels the plot forward, and provides a common thread that connects all the experiences and Pennywise nightmares that the teens have been having. Ben grounds the Losers’ Club and gives shape and purpose to their group.

Role changes from the book to the film

While I appreciated that there was a library scene in the film, I was disappointed that the research angle was taken away from the character of Mike, the only African-American and person of color in the group. In the book, Mike was the historian of the group. His father kept an album of photos of Derry’s history, which included several photos of Pennywise. Mike then researches the history of Derry — and later becomes the town’s librarian. Since he is the only one who stays in the town, he is the one who summons the rest of the Losers’ Club back to Derry 27 years later.

As I stated back in my post last fall about the upcoming “It” remake and scary clown sightings:

Although other characters get more screen time, Mike essentially serves as the catalyst for the entire second half of the plot, as HE is the one who contacts his friends to return to Derry, Maine, and fight “It” once more. Since Mike is the only one of the seven lead characters to stay behind, he becomes the “institutional memory” for the havoc Pennywise wreaked on the town. Also, being a librarian and archivist, he has resources to help his friend research and confront the evil plaguing their town.

In my opinion, Mike is the most important character in the story, and in the end, the town’s true hero.

Therefore, it unsettled me that the remake changed the historian and research role from Mike in the book to Ben in the movie. I agree with Zak Cheney Rice, who wrote in this article on the Mic website:

Muschietti’s adaptation goes a step further than merely cutting corners in the name of economy. The film doesn’t just flatten Mike’s backstory. It reduces him to the kind of token black character that King’s novel was so adept at avoiding.

In the film, Mike barely has any lines. The role of group historian has been taken from him and given to a white character instead. He still gets targeted by Henry Bowers, but gone is the racial subtext that made the experience so entwined with Derry’s history of violence. His blackness seems largely incidental. And as a result, the film never has to address the messy topic of race or how it informs the lone black character’s life.

I highly recommend reading the rest of Rice’s article, as it provides more details and subtext into Mike’s importance as a character and his role as historian and librarian in the original book (and 1990 TV version).

Your thoughts of the remake?

Have you seen the newly released remake of It yet? What are your thoughts? Are you looking forward to Chapter 2? Do you lament the historian role change from Mike to Ben? Please leave a comment and share!

Sources:

It. Dir. Andy Muschietti. Perf. Jaeden Lieberher, Jeremy Ray Taylor, Sophia Lillis, Finn Wolfhard, Chosen Jacobs, Jack Dylan Grazer, Wyatt Oleff, Bill Skarsgård. New Line Cinema, 2017. Based on the novel by Stephen King.

Rice, Zak Cheney. “Mike Hanlon, the Black Kid from Stephen King’s ‘It,’ has an amazing backstory. The movie erased it.” Mic, 2017.

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