Major spoilers ahead. From the nauseating hate crime that opens It Chapter Two to the devastating flashbacks Richie Tozier (Bill Hader) has of his childhood, it is clear that living in the town of Derry as a marginalized person is treacherous, as the the creature living beneath the town amplifies hatred and violence. No one knows this better than the Losers Club, who have to face their childhood trauma and overcome their fears in order to defeat Pennywise for good in this sequel. Despite the stomach-churning stress of It’s return, the relationship between Richie and Eddie (James Ransone) offers some hope and humor in a world of bigotry and fear — despite their tragic ending.
In the opening scene of the film, Adrian Mellon (Xavier Dolan) is beaten up by a group of homophobic townies and tossed off the side of the bridge in present-day Derry. His partner goes into the water to try and save him only to discover Pennywise holding his body on the bank of the river. The scene is taken directly from Stephen King's 1986 book. The author based it on the real murder of Charlie Howard in 1984 in the town of Bangor, where King was living at the time. The details — minus the supernatural aspects, of course — are disturbingly similar, and the scene sets a chilling, malevolent tone.
"The sequence is jarring and very hard for the brain to comprehend—how humans can behave like this, attacking someone for whom he loves," says producer Barbara Muschietti in the It Chapter Two press notes. "Ultimately, it's essential to understanding Derry, how crazy and blind it is."
In the film version, the attack becomes even more tied to the main storyline as you learn more about Richie’s identity and look deeper into Eddie and Richie’s friendship. Since the novel came out, there's been a huge fan contingent that has interpreted Richie and Eddie as queer-coded characters. There are moments in the book that have sparked an assortment of fan theories — like the scene where Eddie asks to lick Richie's rocket pop or the time Richie says that he thought Eddie was "cute" from the first time they met. The first movie does not delve into this speculated romance explicitly (and neither did the 1990 miniseries), but in It Chapter Two, Richie's identity, at least, is not relegated to subtext.
When the gang all parts ways to find their tokens (for the Ritual of Chüd), Richie finds himself back in the abandoned movie theater arcade. In his flashback, Richie (Finn Wolfhard) nervously asks a boy he's playing a game with for another round and is subsequently shamed by a few other boys (including Henry Bowers), who hurl gay slurs in his direction. This scene is heartbreaking, especially since it's a rare moment when the typically sarcastic Richie is so earnest, and we can see how it influences the person Richie is today. He uses humor to escape awkwardness or ever being called out for his impulse to run far away from Derry. Later, Pennywise taunts Richie about a "dirty little secret" he has been keeping. "Richie has always had a lot of denial," says Hader in the press notes. "There's stuff about his past that he's never wanted to face so, of course, he's petrified that that will be what Pennywise latches onto."
Although he puts up this wall with everyone, we see it come down with Eddie, the group's resident hypochondriac who has a tendency to freeze in critical moments. As kids, Richie and Eddie (Jack Dylan Grazer) are obviously close. Eddie's mom is always the butt of jokes and Richie takes to calling him nicknames that Eddie hates, but at the same time, he'll face anything if Eddie is in trouble. In the first movie, Pennywise pretends to be Eddie to lure Richie, who is the Loser who fears clowns the most, into the clown room to make sure that his friend is safe. The fear of losing Eddie inspires him to do the impossible.
But according to the movie's mythology, after these characters leave the town of Derry, they forget everything. When Eddie and Richie meet again after 27 years apart, it is like no time has passed. Their sniping at each other provides much of the comic relief in this bleak world, and the affection they have for one another propels both of their characters into fully realizing themselves. For example, Eddie is convinced he is a coward and incapable of doing his part to destroy Pennywise, but proves otherwise after Richie's pep talk.
Throughout the film, we see the way childhood fears and traumas seeps into the adult lives of the Losers Club, from Ben's (Jay Ryan) worry he will end up alone to Beverly's (Jessica Chastain) troubled family life. Richie and Eddie's storyline in the film is especially devastating underscored by the bigotry and homophobia of this small-minded Maine town. We watch Pennywise terrorize Richie for the parts of himself that he is hiding, and Richie is finally forced to confront that in this film.
But behind the quips and jokes, there are not-so-subtle hints that Richie might feel something more than friendship for Eddie (a subplot that Stephen King "has enthusiastically approved," according to Vanity Fair). In the end, it is Eddie who saves Richie’s life, leaving Eddie's own feelings unspoken. (His last words to Richie, "I f*cked your mother," could certainly be interpreted otherwise, however.)
While Eddie’s death is crushing to all the Losers, Richie takes it especially hard. He refuses to believe that Eddie is dead, fighting the rest of his friends all the way as they drag him out of Pennywise's crumbling lair. Later, they hold him in the water as he weeps. And at the end, as Stan's letter is read in voiceover, Richie goes to the kissing bridge to reinforce the "R+E" he carved into the wood as a child. As terrible as their ending is, it seems as though Richie will finally embrace his true self as he moves forward.
A lot of what makes It Chapter Two frightening are the real issues it deals with. Bev struggles with the cycle of abuse she has been in since childhood, Bill (James McAvoy) still carries his grief over the loss of his brother, and Eddie is in a loveless marriage with a partner as domineering and belittling as his own mother. 2017's It showed the Losers not just defeating It but also taking control over the very real-world problems that plagued them at home and at school; and in the sequel, they have to do it again. Pennywise feeds off of and into that everyday violence, homophobia, and abuse. But throughout, Richie and Eddie’s close, complicated friendship urges audiences to hold those we love close and never take their quirks for granted.