Image Source: Everett Collection
Just like Pennywise, spoilers for It Chapter Two are lurking ahead.
It should come as no surprise to anyone who saw 2017's It that Pennywise the Dancing Clown (Bill Skarsgard) has an uncanny ability to reach down into his victims' psyches and pluck out what they're most insecure about, using it to lure them into his very large, very sharp jaw. In the horror film's new sequel It Chapter Two, we see the evil sewer dweller do this to all the now-adult members of the Losers Club. But it's the very specific, borderline ambiguous way that he taunts Richie Tozier (Bill Hader) about a certain "secret" that might have surprised both readers of the book and Stephen King newbies alike.
Set 27 years after the events featured in the first film, the sequel picks up with the preteens now that they're well into adulthood. Richie is an up-and-coming stand-up comedian, fitting perfectly with his loudmouth personality (in the book he was a radio DJ). He's skeptical of returning to Derry when childhood pal Mike Hanlon calls him back to finish what they started over two decades earlier, but once there, it doesn't take him long to snap back into old habits with his friends, particularly Eddie Kaspbrak (played as an adult by James Ransone). The pair have always had an easy rapport of insults and sarcasm - always overtly sexual, hypermasculine, and full of digs about sleeping with Eddie's mom, in Richie's case - and the years haven't dulled it in the least.
Richie and Eddie are close in King's novel, with a homoerotic subtext bubbling just below the surface. For instance, as Jaime Burbatt notes in their essay "Stephen King & the Ambiguously Gay Trope," Richie repeatedly calls Eddie "cute" throughout the book. ("That's cause they know how cute you are Eds - just like me. I saw what a cutie you were the first time I met you.") There's also a scene when Eddie asks Richie for a lick of his popsicle that seems to make King's intentions plain. ("'How about a lick on your rocket?' 'Your mom wouldn't approve, Eddie.' Reluctantly, Richie held his Rocket up to Eddie's mouth and snatched it away quickly.") When Eddie dies in the novel, Richie is the most obviously torn up over his death and kisses his late friend's cheek before the group leaves the sewer.
Richie's perceived sexuality and potential attraction to his friend is made more prominent in the onscreen version of the story. It's first hinted at when Richie has a flashback to a Summer as a kid, when he's playing games in an arcade with another young boy, and it's fairly obvious that Richie likes him, even if he doesn't exactly know why. He's then bullied out of the arcade by a vicious Henry Bowers, who hurls homophobic insults at him and ends up at the covered bridge in town where he begins to carve his initial with someone else's into the wood, though we don't see the second letter until later (R + . . .).
Immediately following this memory, adult Richie is terrorized in the park by Pennywise, who yells about knowing his "secret." Since the scene comes directly after the arcade moment, it's not exactly hard to draw some conclusions about Richie's sexuality here.
Image Source: Warner Bros.
At the end of the film, after Eddie sacrifices his life for Richie while fighting Pennywise one last time, Richie goes back to the bridge as an adult and finishes the carving he started years ago: R + E. Richie and Eddie. Although he never got the chance to vocalize his feelings or even just the chance to have a friendship with Eddie as adults, it's a heartfelt way to wrap up their bond onscreen.
It Chapter Two writer Gary Dauberman recently opened up about the decision to expand Richie's sexuality in the film to The Hollywood Reporter, noting that it was a collaborative decision between him and the director, as well as producer Barbara Muschietti:
"There is a subtext in the novel and Andy [Muschietti, director] and Barbara [Muschietti, producer] and I talked about it, but it didn't feel like a choice, it just felt like a natural part of his character. But, I love that love story. I think that is a special part of the movie and a special part of the character. Because it felt like it was part of his character. I think we pulled it out more, and it is more prominent in the movie. It is a part of the many things that define him. The carving of the initials: I give credit to Andy on that. It was a great way to button that up."
Hader, during an interview with ScreenCrush, also "loved" the way the relationship is fleshed out onscreen. "Andy came to me and pitched it to me and I thought it was fantastic - a great thing to play, you know? [In the novel] Richie doesn't really have anything to play. So I loved the idea," he said.
Another question fans might be wondering is if Eddie had any suspicions that his friend might be harboring romantic feelings for him, or if Richie even had a full handle on what he was feeling, either. "I don't think they consummated anything," Hader said. "I don't even know if Eddie knew it. I only really thought about it from the standpoint of what Richie was thinking. There's a part of me that thinks maybe Eddie didn't even know."
Sure, the feelings between Richie and Eddie are still subtle in the film, and as Hader notes, very likely unconsummated. But the fact Muschietti and Dauberman make Richie's feelings for Eddie more explicit at all - especially when It Chapter Two opens with the horrific gay bashing and subsequent murder of Adrian Mellon - is a bittersweet way to conclude their narrative, despite tragedy.