As a huge fan of the film, there is only one thing that truly baffles me.
Small changes were made to all the characters, physical and in regards to their backstory, but Mike’s changes were significant enough to have left a lot of fans with a sour taste in their mouth.
If you’ve read the book, you’ll know that Mike is an outsider; he’s the last to join the Losers’ Club, lives on the outskirts, endures racism from the townsfolk, doesn’t go to school with the other kids (primarily due to the colour of his skin) and spends a lot of time alone (because he is African-American).
Consequently, the reader spends a lot of time with him when he is out finding relics or visiting areas with a dark history. But being able to accompany him on his ventures allows the reader to become acquainted with this character in a different way to the others – there is an affinity between us and Mike.
Hanlon acts as the town’s quiet overseer who carries Derry’s bloody past wherever he goes. As well as finding and piecing together the many clues concerning Derry’s haunted past, he later becomes Derry’s head librarian – being the only loser to remain in the town – and Bill notices that adult Mike has aged more dramatically than the others due to the emotional burden of living in such a place.
Mike’s passion for history stems from his love for his father, Will Hanlon, who is fixated on his surroundings and the stories that breath life into every square inch of Derry, from a blade of grass on a disused baseball field to an abandoned car on the highway. Will shares this fixation with his son in the same way that a locket is inherited by a granddaughter after her grandmother’s passing, and it’s essential to Mike’s understanding of his African-American heritage and Derry.
While Derry is the opposite of kind to the young teen, his knowledge of it gives him the means to overcome its unrelenting barriers – and not just those put in place by ‘It’. But Mike’s hatred for Derry is balanced out by his devotion; he is chained to the Maine town with a key to the lock resting in his right-hand.
In the novel, Mike and his father’s relationship epitomizes the ideal parent-child bond – something Bill lost with the death of his brother and the others never really had. Whenever Will Hanlon thinks his son needs a break from farm chores, he leaves him a handwritten message containing the name of a particular spot in Derry. The notes encourage Mike to explore the town like his father once did.
By leaving Mike these notes, Will is able to be away from his son when busy on the farm, yet share commonalities with him at the end of the day through their mutual experiences in a hidden or less frequented place in Derry. Past and present collide when Mike treads on the same ground as his father, and in this way, he is accompanied wherever he goes. And so, the boy’s perpetual loneliness is highlighted by his father’s note-game which is an obvious attempt at getting his son out of the house. Not wanting Mike to become isolated in a world that wants to isolate him, Will’s notes allow his son to connect with his home territory, and give him a sense of belonging.
Evidently, Mike’s demons are different from those of his fellow losers. They aren’t rooted in family but are triggered by the disdainful white faces that push him into a corner, the same faces he feels compelled to save from the grasp of the terrifying ‘It’ as an adult. But by assigning the role of historian to Ben Hanscom and removing Mike’s father from the narrative, the film erases a huge part of Mike’s identity.
His parents’ death in the 2017 adaptation could have helped construct this character in a different way to the book, but unfortunately, this is nothing more than a wasted sub-plot. Even when Mike does reveal his tragic past to the group, the impact of his words does not sink in before they are on to the next thing.
The intricate aspects of Mike’s character were rather harshly brushed aside to give Richie’s humour and Beverly’s love triangle more prominence, dumbing down a solid screenplay to comply with Hollywood’s checklist, and in doing so, demoting Mike to little more than an extra…