In chapter one of John Steinbeck’s The Grapes Of Wrath, the author spends about three pages describing the arduous journey of a turtle trying to cross a dusty road in the middle of east bumble Oklahoma. It’s a parable meant to foreshadow the trials and tribulations which the book’s family of migrant workers will encounter as they make the trek to California. Unfortunately, there’s just no escaping the fact that' it’s still three pages about a turtle crossing a road. Three… long… freaking… pages.
Contrast that with Herbert J. Leder’s It! in which there is a sequence where the British army fires a single shell from a bazooka at the unmoving titular monster. When it has no affect, they roll up a tank and try again. After these two (and only two) shots, a newspaper headline is flashed across the screen informing the world that the military has declared the still immobile Golem nigh invulnerable. Immediately following this, Roddy McDowell turns on the radio just in time to hear an announcement declaring that Parliament has approved the decision to drop a nuclear warhead on top of the completely sedentary seven foot tall creature. Not throw some rope around it and try to drag it away or anything else like that, mind you, but to just go ahead and nuke it. By my timing, the entire sequence from bazooka to bomb takes about one minute and twenty-six seconds. Now that’s how you advance a story, Steinbeck, you hack!
And that’s exactly how It! proceeds. For a movie that consists almost entirely of people standing around and talking, the actual plot of It! whizzes along at a breakneck speed. Early in the movie, we get a scene in which it is revealed that the museum’s young assistant curator Arthur is keeping the preserved corpse of his mother in his flat ala Psycho. It’s weird, and I suppose it tells us something about McDowell’s character, but the mum-my never even appears again except for one brief scene near the end. How did Arthur manage to get his mother’s body in this state and how come nobody is aware of her death? Who cares, move on. When Jim, the representative from an American museum, arrives to take possession of the Golem, he invites Arthur and his unrequited love Ellen to lunch. A few scenes later, none of which involve Jim and Ellen, the American announces he is taking both the Golem AND the woman back to the states with him. When did this whirlwind romance take place? Who cares, keep moving. And what about when Arthur and the Golem break into Ellen’s apartment, rip the whole place apart, and kidnap her? Oh, you missed that part? Well, that’s because the movie NEVER SHOWED IT TO YOU! You only found out because it came up in a conversation between Jim and the police. Who cares, keep moving!
It’s incredible. Almost all of the action in It!, including every single time the Golem kills someone, takes place off-screen. We only learn about the events when someone walks into a room and mentions them. For a horror film, even one on a tight budget, this kind of thing is ridiculous. But you know, in real life, it can be like that sometimes. We humans can get so involved in our day to day routines that we allow things of momentous import to simply pass us by. That’s why one the fraternal mottos of the Knights of Columbus is Tempus Fugit, Memento Mori, or Time Flies, Remember Death. It’s there to remind the Knights that we all are, much like the Golem itself, creatures of “clay”. The Catechism attests to this when it references this week’s first reading. “The biblical account expresses this reality in symbolic language when it affirms that "then the LORD God formed man of dust from the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being." And as the Knight’s motto implies, what came from the dust will one day return to the dust. Much too quickly. Just ask Father McGivney, the priest who instituted that oath for the Knights. He died of pneumonia at the age of 36.
There’s a lot going on right now for everyone, from personal problems to literally earth shattering events. But the Lenten season and it’s focus on “dust” behooves us not to let the most important thing in our lives pass us by off-screen. Speaking on an Ash Wednesday in 1996, Pope John Paul II declared that “Today we need to hear the "you are dust and to dust you will return"… so that the definitive truth of the Gospel, the truth about the Resurrection, will unfold before us: believe in the Gospel. On the threshold of Lent, it is necessary that this perspective be opened before us, so that we may believe deeply in the Gospel with all the truth of our mortal existence. We are called to take part in the Resurrection of Christ. For this appeal to resound within us with all its force at the beginning of the Lenten season, let us realize what death means… "You are dust"… "Repent!… Believe in the Gospel"!