Twenty minutes into the 2017 horror movie “It: Chapter One,” we see Stanley “Stan” Uris (Wyatt Oleff) practicing for his bar mitzvah moments before a jump scare. Watching this curly-haired Jewish kid pains me because I know what ultimately happens to him by the film’s end: He dies. In the years since I first read Stephen King’s “IT,” Stan’s character continues to haunt me, both as a writer and as a Jewish person.
Like many people, I grew up watching the ‘90s television mini-series starring Tim Curry as the iconic nightmare-inducing clown Pennywise. Due to the limits of early ‘90s television, the series left out much of the original source material, including the gore. So when a new movie adaptation was announced, I was determined to read the book before watching it. I devoured the massive novel within days, fully absorbed in the story of this ensemble cast of “Losers” (characters who were all victims of bullying and survived encounters with It as children) who face both supernatural and human antagonists. Inevitably, I found myself identifying with the lone Jewish character.
Stanley Uris is a smart, no-frills Jewish kid who enjoys hobbies like birdwatching and often serves as the exasperated, logical voice of reason among his friends. Efforts to make Stan stand out from the other Losers include making him a Boy Scout (1990 series) or making him the rabbi’s son (2017/2019 films) — I remain ambivalent about these changes, since neither deepens his character or his religious identity.
Nonetheless, Stan’s experience as one of the few Jewish kids in Derry, Maine is all too familiar to me: I grew up and still live in a city that’s home to one of the largest evangelical Christian universities. Lynchburg has plenty of churches, but just one synagogue for the small Jewish community. So I know how it feels to be an outsider — a Loser, if you will.
Like Stan, I was at the receiving end of antisemitic “jokes” from both strangers and friends. I was almost always the token Jew in the friend group. I didn’t have a particular Henry Bowers (the book’s major human antagonist) in my life, but I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve been told I’m going to hell. The religious pamphlets left on car windows, the “hope you find Jesus” comments, and the all-around ignorance, hatred or exclusion remain an inescapable part of my Jewish experience.
While the other Losers first see It in the form of childish fears like a mummy, werewolf or leper, It appears to Stan in the form of the decomposed bodies of two drowned children. I want to believe it’s because Stan, arguably the most mature of his friends, sees It as what the monster truly is: death. However, his logic conflicts with the supernatural presence, igniting Stan’s lifelong struggle of trying to explain away the supernatural events they collectively experience.
In his post-Derry adulthood, Stan’s a partner at an accounting firm, married to a nice Jewish woman named Patty and living in Atlanta, Georgia. One night, he gets a phone call from childhood friend and fellow Loser Mike Hanlon asking him to fulfill the blood oath they made as kids. It has killed again and needs to be defeated once and for all. Stan can’t give an answer and draws a bath, his unusual behavior immediately alerting his wife. Spoiler alert: Stan dies by slitting his wrists in the bathtub. It’s a horrible outcome; the chapter is subtitled “Stanley Uris Takes a Bath.” Yikes.
I wish I could say Stan was a well-written character, but he’s not. We never get his perspective. Everything we know about adult Stan is through his wife Patty, and we only learn of Stan’s encounter with It through the flashbacks of the other Losers. In an effort to show the external and internalized antisemitism Stan and Patty faced, Stephen King litters their introductory chapter with multiple slurs and Jewish stereotypes about big noses and money. I don’t doubt that King was trying to show that violence also exists in words and ignorance, but as a Jewish reader, I found it poorly executed and overkill.
The novel never offers an outright reason why Stan chose to die by suicide. The most likely theory is that he had compartmentalized his fear of It as an act of self-preservation, and when met with the reality that he’d have to go back to Derry to confront his childhood monster, he killed himself. Another theory is that It influenced Stan’s death through supernatural means. This theory holds some weight because Stan writes “IT” on the bathtub’s wall shortly before dying.
Theories aside, it’s not lost on me that the Jewish character dies by suicide while Eddie Kaspbrak is greatly mourned by his friends after losing his life in the final confrontation against It. Even in death, Stan gets unfair treatment.
Though Stan promised to return to Derry should It come back, he just wanted to move on. I can’t say I blame him. Stan may be fictional, but the trauma is all too real. Our ancestors have faced horrors upon horrors, making a supernatural clown entity laughably unrealistic compared to pogroms, expulsions, the Holocaust, and the resurgence of antisemitic hate crimes in the world. In the thirty-five years since “IT” was published, little has changed regarding the terrors American Jews face.
To borrow Stephen King’s own words, “Monsters are real…[t]hey live inside us, and sometimes, they win.” However, Stephen King failed Stanley Uris as a storyteller — and by extension, the television mini-series and movie adaptations also fail Stan’s character. Making him a Boy Scout or a rabbi’s son doesn’t inherently make him more Jewish. No matter how many times I read the book or watch the onscreen versions, I come to the same sad conclusion: Stan deserved so much better.
Late Take is a series on Alma where we revisit Jewish pop culture of the past for no reason, other than the fact that we can’t stop thinking about it?? If you have a pitch for this column, please e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org with “Late Take” in the subject line.