Stranger Things by the Duffer Brothers and Netflix is simply fantastic storytelling. Sure, the 80s nostalgia and ode to 80s cinema are prevalent and entertaining, but the heart and soul of this show is rooted in the familiar human experience, just as poignant today as it was back then. The kids in Stranger Things explore what it truly means to be friends, and then the show challenges those assumptions again and again as the threat level rises.
Spoiler Warning from here on out…
The mad science of this show is the backdrop. The mysterious girl, Eleven, played brilliantly by Millie Bobby Brown, escapes from the governmental science facility the same time that the monster invades the town. We find out through the episodes that the experiments have been going on since before 11 was born. The scientist raised her to be a weapon and pushed her to extremes, even encouraging her to attempt to communicate with the monster.
In 11’s world, she has no friends. Among the scientist and assistants she lives around, only one man is someone she calls family. The father figure she calls papa is perhaps worse than the monster itself. His ruthless drive to uncover the scientific mysteries mirrors the monster’s purely instinctive need to feed.
Even eleven realizes that the monster is just being true to itself when she confesses to Mike that she is the monster because her power and lack of control caused the incident in the first place. Mike rejects her proposition, insisting that she isn’t the monster, but is trying to protect them from the bad guys.
Mathew Modine play the mad scientist with a very blank personality, despite his mad scientist hair. His drive and carelessness for 11’s life and the lives of the townsfolk and underlings is clear megalomania inspired by Frankenstein and Moreau. His creation is 11, a force he cannot control. The monster was unleashed because he cared more about the experiment than the girl that called him papa. When he loses control of 11 and the monster, his become reckless. He even loses his life to his work. That’s some classic consequences of mad scienting. Textbook, but effective.
Perhaps his most cruel act, though, was using 11’s need for family and friends, and his role as her surrogate father, to control her and push her into violent and disturbing acts.
We see through all the other characters that defeating the monster is only accomplished by relying on friends. Mike, Lucas, Dustin and 11 all need each other to survive. Jonathan and Nancy try to fight alone, but are only able to succeed together, with Steve growing up at the end in time to help. Even the stubborn soloist, Hopper, finally teams up with Joyce at the end. Friendship is the driving force in Stranger Things, and it is fabulous.
This show transcends the 80’s nostalgia and movie references that it is built upon by telling a great story. I can’t wait for season 2.