In a recent interview, Bill Skarsgard, who played Pennywise in the recent surprise hit It, hinted that there were scenes shot showing the clown before he became the mysterious embodiment of evil in a small town.

Now I haven’t seen the most recent incarnation of It, nor have I read the source novel, but I did watch the 1990 TV version and am familiar enough with the story to be relatively sure that Pennywise’s origins and backstory are never explored. The impetus by the filmmakers is part of the growing tendency by storytellers of all sorts to offer explanations for the villains and show how they were once people before they became evil. It’s also part of the desire to leave no mystery unresolved.

While this isn’t a new trend, it’s one that betrays a relatively lazy mindset. Not only are the filmmakers not content to leave certain stones unturned but they don’t trust the audience to not freak out and throw their arms up whenever they don’t get all the answers. That’s manifested itself most recently in a series of articles where director Darren Aronofsky and the stars of mother! have been asked what the movie means, each offering various answers. Also see the fact that David Simon is still asked about what happened after the ending of “The Sopranos” and countless other examples.

All this came to mind as we were recently watching Big for the first time with the boys. As the movie neared its end, it was clear the focus would remain on Josh (Tom Hanks) and his struggle over abandoning his grown-up life in order to return home to his family and friends. His efforts were to find the Zoltar machine, not the mysterious old man who had predicted his magical transformation into a 30-year old man. He finally found it not through the guidance of some sort of mystical mentor who had guided him along but through the patience necessary to wait while local government bureaucracy worked itself out. The origins of the Zoltar machine were never hinted at, much less addressed. It was simply there, dispensing wishes.

That shows a belief in the audience by writers Gary Ross and Anne Spielberg as well as director Penny Marshall. They apparently had faith that this unresolved mystery would be acceptable and not cause undue controversy among the press and public that would hurt the movie.

Personally, I prefer the kinds of movies that don’t explore every rabbit hole and explain every plot contrivance. Leave something out there for the audience to scratch their heads over. Don’t explain away the evil, don’t remove from mysteries the very thing that makes them intriguing. Tell the most compelling story you can, but resist the urge to lay out every single bullet point worked up during the development of the story bible. Not doing so is making the public more demanding, less patient and less capable of critical thought, all traits we need desperately right now.

Chris Thilk is a freelance writer and content strategist who lives in the Chicago suburbs.

One Comment on “When You Don’t Care About the Backstory

  1. Pingback: Last Week on Cinematic Slant – Chris Thilk

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