It Follows and the Fear of Getting Old

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David Robert Mitchell's film "It Follows" generated a lot of discussion when it came


Most commonly it's been seen as a metaphor for sexually transmitted diseases, or for

sexual assault; a demon that's passed between people through sex makes that an obvious interpretation,

and while I do think those interpretations are valid, utlimately I think its thematic

roots are much more mundane and commonplace.

Mitchell provides a lot of subtext, pieces of information that aren't directly given

to us, but that add a lot of clarity to the film.

The major theme the film explores is the end of adolescence.

The story is set in Detroit, Michigan during an Indian Summer, which is a period of unseasonably

warm weather that occurs in the fall.

Something relatively common in the American Midwest, it's not unusual to flip between

shorts and a T-shirt one day to pants and a jacket the next.

But symbolically I believe it represents that core theme of adolescence.

Summer representing youth, with Fall representing the coming decay that eventually leads to

Winter, or old age and death.

In essence, an Indian summer is youth still clinging on, trying to keep death at bay.

Jay is a student in college, but unlike much of her graduating class, she elected to stay


"Sucks sticking around when everyone is gone, huh?"

"It gets a bit lonely."

Further detailed in the script in some deleted dialogue from the finished film, we find out

that Jay had the opportunity to leave for college with her father covering the expenses,

but that she just doesn't see the point.

Opting instead to stay home, only going to school out of obligation to be able to stay.

She's not quite ready to grow up.

She used to dream of the freedom she would have when she got older, but now that freedom

has become a form of paralysis.

"It's funny, I used to daydream about being old enough to go on dates, drive around with

friends in their cars, holding hands with a really cute guy, listening to the radio,

driving along some pretty road up north maybe?

When the trees start to change colors.

It was never about going anywhere really, just having some sort of freedom I guess.

But now that we're old enough, where the hell do we go?"

This confrontation of adolescence and adulthood can force people into a stasis.

Holding onto our past for as long as we still can; before old age comes to claim us, when

we can no longer dress ourselves or maintain control of our bodily functions, and our body

itself begins to decay.

The slow march of time is coming for all of us, there's no hiding from it, there's no

stopping it, you can only postpone it for a little while longer.

"Just pass it along, if it kills you it'll come after me, do you understand?"

For some, the fear is too strong and they give in.

Others turn to self-harm as a way of coping.

Echoed in this shot of Jay, stacking blades of grass that look like scars, and a small

glimpse at a bandage on Jeff's wrist.

And for Jay maybe it's just returning to a familiar comfort, like getting ice cream,

or going on the swings at the park.

These scenes are set immediately after a close encounter with the demon, and I struggle to

believe that that was a coincidence.

All throughout the film there are clues to this theme, from the game of Old Maid that

the characters play, or the presence of older technology throughout the film that suggests

difficulty letting go of the past; because as is made clear, growing up isn't exactly

what most of us expect.

Those cute boys can break your heart, that small town will feel lonely but the world

outside can seem too big and terrifying, and every day you're just getting one step closer

to death.

The city of Detroit comes to represent this notion of decay, as the further we get away

from the suburban paradise of Jay's hometown, the more decrepit the world becomes.

"When I was a little girl, my parents wouldn't allow me to go south of 8 mile.

And I didn't even know what that meant until I got a little older, and I started realizing

that that's where the city started and the suburbs ended.

And I used to think about how shitty and weird that was, I mean, I had to ask permission

to go to the state fair with my best friend and her parents, only because it was a few

blocks past the border."

"My mom said the same thing."

As much as our parents might try and protect us, the world is going to hurt us.

And these fears, anxieties, and traumas accumulate and become ghosts that haunt us.

They can take the shape of ex-boyfriends and girlfriends, or maybe your anxieties about

the future and who you may become; old and grey and falling apart, or what someone else

may become like the little boy next door who's already showing a sexual fascination with


"Do you remember the time that we found those old porno magazines in the alley behind Barry's



"We were such stupid kids."


I think kids are inherently curious about sexuality, partly because kids tend to flock

to anything that they're not supposed to be seeing, but it's also just a natural part

of growing up.

Of course, that curiosity eventually turns into something more, and after going through

something traumatic involving sex, it's hard to see those innocent kids in the same way.

These ghosts can also take the form of parents or grandparents, as we see when It attacks

Greg, when It appears as an old man standing on the roof, or the final scene at the pool.

"Jay, what do you see?"

"I don't want to tell you."

We see pictures of Jay with her father, but never actually see him in the film.

We don't know exactly what happened to him, we just know that he's not around anymore.

And whether by their own choices or not, a parent's absence in a child's life feels like


Which is further exacerbated for Jay after her night with Jeff, where he uses her for

sex to pass along the curse.

"It was consensual?"


While Jay may have consented to the sex itself, she was emotionally manipulated into that

decision, because he lied about who he was, and was just using her as a means to an end,

and once he got what he wanted, he was gone.

Only reappearing in the film when confronted by Jay, where he deflects blame because "Jay,

I'm sorry, I wasn't trying to hurt you okay?

Someone did this to me too."

Someone pretending to be someone they're not, saying and doing whatever they have to to

get into bed with someone, making excuses for their behavior because they've been hurt

too, these are not unfamiliar concepts to most people.

And sometimes it can hurt you enough that you do the same thing to someone else, and

in your attempt to make the pain go away you, you end up just inflicting it on others.

"You could pass it on?

You did once."

"I shouldn't have."

That's the cost of intimacy.

When you become intimate with someone, you inherit all of their trauma, whether it was

caused by parents or past relationships, it will now follow you too.

You can try and fight it, but deep-seated trauma or anxiety can't be killed, the best

thing you can do is make peace with it, to know that it's out there and that it's not

going away, but not to let it consume your life.

By sharing these demons with those that you can trust, and by leaning on friends in times

of need even when they don't understand exactly what it is that you're going through.

So on the surface it may seem like an obvious allegory for STD's, or for sexual assault,

and I think it absolutely can be interpreted that way, but I think it's also about the

many ways that life and love can hurt us.

Whether that's an absent father, or an alcoholic and distant mother, or someone turning out

differently than we expected.

How these people and these places will inevitably lead to suffering, and all the while we're

heading towards certain death, but ultimately how we can get through the worst of it, by

finding those that we can rely on and sharing in that burden together.

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