This is less a review and more of what I hope will become an open discussion. I had absolutely no idea that going into Stranger Things, I’d come out with so many other narratives on my mind, but it was not only chock full of 80s aesthetic without being the least bit campy, but it also reminded me of many other stores of not just that decade but others prior and since.
While this is not a review, it will still spoil the entirety of the first season, as I’ll be discussing all aspects of the show in regards to other stories, and the discussion will spoil those narratives as well.
***Spoilers for Stranger Things and every single narrative in bold.***
Stand by Me – We’ll get this one and The Goonies out of the way since Stranger Things was heralded as being reminiscent of the adaptation of Stephen King’s novel The Body and that classic 80s treasure hunt/coming of age tale, though ST was quite a bit darker and more horrifying than them both. Also, oddly enough, in looking up the Wikipedia links for both movies, I discovered they both take place in small towns in Oregon.
E.T. – There’s a picture of all of the kids on their bikes with Eleven in a hoodie with the hood up. I can’t find it right now, but I recall the scene from one of the latter episodes. If I knew exactly where it was (and I wasn’t being lazy), I’d screenshot it from my Netflix app, though…maybe it’s better I don’t since I don’t want to get in trouble. Anyway, that was a definite visual reference to E.T., but just the idea of government officials hunting down a special entity set in the 80s, and the children the entity befriended trying to keep them safe has E.T. all over it. Now El’s not an alien…or so it might seem, but the Demogorgon certainly is. We’ll talk more about aliens and special children’s connections to them in a later entry.
Watchers – This is a horror novel by Dean Koontz, the first book of his I read years ago in high school, but it stuck with me. Two genetically altered life forms escape from a top secret government lab. One is a dog enhanced to beyond human brilliance, and the other is a hybrid monster that’s just as intelligent, but brutally violent. The dog was the perfected form whereas with the monster, they were attempting to increase intelligence without worrying about aesthetics. The connection between the two is hatred whereas El and the Demogorgon have a different type and potentially much deep bond. The instant I saw the normal looking but enhanced life form and the horrifying one, I thought of Koontz’s novel.
Harry Potter – “Neither can live while the other survives” is the prophecy of Professor Sybill Trelawney, speaking of Harry and Voldemort. It may also explain Eleven and the Demogorgon. El tells Mike at one point that “she’s the monster,” which can either mean she feels monstrous because of her powers or she and the Demogorgon are one. This is further supported by her final act in giving up her life (or physical form) in order to dissolve the alien creature as well. They are obviously tied together, and I’ve read some theories that suggest she created it in her subconscious in order to exert control over the horrible situation she was literally born into. Unleashing it allowed her to escape but at terrible costs.
Star Wars (I’m not putting a link to Star Wars. We’re all geeks here) – Look at the cover up there. Literally look at it.
The aesthetic is nearly identical, but the similarities aren’t merely surface. Eleven’s telekinetic powers are reminiscent of the Force, and to make it even better she literally moves a scale replica of the Millennium Falcon with her mind. Mike invokes Yoda when he shows her the ship, and then later we see her holding it in the air just as easily as the Jedi master could do.
Final Fantasy VII – Okay buckle up. You know I have a lot to say. I started to get that tingly VII Sense the instant I saw Eleven step out of the woods, and when I saw her 011 tattoo, it was set. In FFVII there are test subjects with numbers tattooed on their hands that were involuntarily exposed to Jenova’s cells in order to attempt to make someone like Sephiroth. Sephiroth has the number 1 tattooed on his hand since he was the first successful experiment (…possibly. There’s some debate that the 1 you’re following isn’t Sephiroth either, but that’s another story). Forced tattoos are also reminiscent of something else horrible in our world’s history…
From Hopper and Joyce’s meeting with Eleven’s mother, she’d been taking part in an experiment at the government site, but didn’t know she was pregnant at the time. Something in the experiment augmented her child in utero, which is exactly how Sephiroth obtained his enhancements. Similar as well is the fact that Eleven’s mother believes her child’s dead and is catatonic in waiting for her return. Sephiroth’s real mother is told that he’s dead, as well (out of a kindness instead of coverup by Vincent during a side quest), and Lucrecia’s state could also be seen as catatonic (she’s certainly in a type of stasis) in waiting for her son to come back ;_;
The relationship between Eleven and Dr. Brenner is eerily similar to the one between Sephiroth and his scientist father Hojo. Eleven calls Brenner “Papa,” though it is uncertain whether or not he’s her actual father. If he is then it’s just as messed up as the video game that he’s experimenting on his own child, and it also presents the question of whether her mother’s impregnation was voluntary. This is brought up symbolically in FFVII by the very nature of Lucrecia’s name.
There’s also the government “energy” company that experiments on people in secret, and to make this darker, in looking up theories, I actually found the “black labs” I’d refused to research for when writing/editing Northern Lights. There are no words to express how happy I was when one of my tumblr friends messaged me that she, too, had seen the VII similarities with ST. The watery, sensory deprivation tube that Eleven is compelled into had an eerie similarity to Jenova’s encasement chamber, but though my fore mentioned friend did bring up a Demogorgon/Eleven and Jenova/Sephiroth parallel, this doesn’t quite mesh for me. I can definitely see the Demogorgon as a hostile alien entity, but from what we can see it’s not a hive minded one. It also more looks like El got her powers from whatever experiment was done on her mother while she (El) was still in the womb, but because we don’t know exactly where the monster came from nor all of its abilities, and because there is a definite connection between them, I’ll hold this theory in the wings. I will say that both the Demogorgon and Jenova were named by humans. Their actual names (if they even have them) are unknown. The kids call the creature the Demogorgon as a reference to D&D and the Vale of Shadows, and Jenova was given that name by the scientists who found it. Hell, even its true form is unknown. It’s in the corpse-like image of the last person it mimicked, mutated, and more than likely killed.
Also, while this is more about a transformative work and not FFVII itself, the upside down is reminiscent of the in between I “created” for my fanfiction Northern Lights. They’re both alien worlds inhabited by an terrifying monster and connected to a special/enhanced individual. In looking up information for this piece I just found a theory that suggests Will Byers could be what’s called a “planeswalker,” as in his time in the upside down may grant him the ability to step there at will. The final scene in the bathroom heavily implies this, since Will momentarily sees the decrepit and creepy shadow world after he coughs up something foul. In NL Sephiroth has the ability to “sidestep” to that other world by nature of his alien cells. They allow him to pass through three veils to what I literally refer to as “a world of shadow” and use it to travel to other places in the one so known. I’m not sure what Stranger Things is going to do with Will and his potentially newfound “powers,” but it’s pretty eerie to not only see a show that parallels motifs in the original game, but also a transformative work.
Finally, and this is not actually FFVII but rather a shared paradigm and indeed part of the symbolism/theology of the game, but in the Qabalah the central esoteric symbol is the Tree of Life, which is made up of the ten Holy Sephiroth. There is a location on the Tree where all the holy stations unite into one called Daath. So in a way there’s an eleventh place (please don’t murder me if you’re a theologian/actual Qabalist and I’m interpreting this wrong) and lies over what’s called the abyss, which is arguably what the upside down is. Daath is more of a state where they all come together. So it’s like a reunion…
The Golden Compass – I debated whether or not to talk about the Northern Lights thing here since the alternative and British title for the book is just that, but the similarity between Stranger Things and Compass lies in the huge amount of energy it takes to break through to the other side. Like ST, children are again the catalyst for the energy is created by literally separating them from their souls. This brings up the question of whether or not the Demogorgon is the dark side of Eleven’s soul or what her soul became due to her circumstances. She can neither divest herself of it nor ignore it, which is why she faded away upon its destruction. To return Eleven is to return the monster possibly in more ways than one.
The Golden Compass saw many more worlds than just the one we’re first introduced to, which incidentally is not ours. Our world doesn’t come into play until the second book The Subtle Knife, but traveling between dimensions, as in Stranger Things, comes at the cost of releasing a monster.
A Wrinkle in Time – In the episode “The Flea and the Acrobat,” the boys’ science teacher Mr. Clarke answers their question about how to travel to an alternate universe using the episode’s title as a theory. If there’s an acrobat standing on a tightrope, they can only more backwards and forwards. That tightrope is our dimension and those are our dimensional rules. However, if there’s a flea next to the acrobat, it can not only travel backwards and forward, but also along the side of the rope and underneath or…upside down. In order for the acrobat (us) to get to the opposite side, we’d have to create a massive amount of energy in order to punch through and make a gate. What does this have to do with Madeleine L’Engle’s Wrinkle? In that story, there’s a similar metaphor used for a “tesseract,” or a literal “wrinkle in time.” There’s an ant instead of a flea, but still a rope, but in this scenario we’re the insect forced to traverse the entire length of the cord unless energy is used to fold the rope or “wrinkle” time, making the distance much shorter. In this way travel to other, farther dimensions is possible. Now while in Stranger Things the upside down appears to literally be a shadow dimension of our own (or Vale of Shadows as they say), it could be right beside us or it could be a far gone echo of another, darker world.
Constantine – Similar to LOTR, when John crosses over to Hell, it’s a decrepit and horrifying mirror to our world like the upside down.
Alien – When Joyce and Hopper finally find Will, he is stuck to a wall with a tube down his throat. This is similar to what the xenomorphs do to humans once they impregnate them. The final scene of Stranger Things does nothing to dissuade me from this terrifying possibility for poor Will Byers.
There are quite a few questions I’d love to see answered in Season 2 or beyond (there may be 5 or 6 seasons!). These are by no means all that can be asked.
- Where are 001-010? – If there’s an Eleven, it heavily implies that there’s a one through ten, but the style of the tattoo (011) also suggests that they expected to go into the hundreds. Was Eleven the only one that was “augmented” in utero? Were the other children kidnapped for experimentation? Was Hopper’s supposedly dead daughter one of them? I actually thought Eleven was Hopper’s daughter for a bit, but this is now up in the air. Is there a 000?
- Is Eleven’s mother ever going to find about about her daughter (if Eleven is truly Jane)? And will this wake her out of her catatonic state if they’re reunited?
- What does Hopper now know? I’d have given anything to be a fly on the window of that car. Is he leaving Eggos in the forest to entice Eleven back out or does he know she’s there? Also was Joyce questioned in a similar manner? They both know/saw the same thing, and Will will never forget his experience. How are they going to guarantee silence and anonymity?
- Are there more monsters? Is there a monster for every subject? Do 001-010 have monsters? Are they even still alive? Did their monsters die if they did?
- Is the portal still open? I’m pretty sure this is a resounding YES, and with Will seeing the upside down in his bathroom and coughing up horrors, there will be definitely be more and stranger things.
What stories did you see reflected in Stranger Things? What questions continue to haunt you? I’d love to hear your opinions about both questions and other narratives in the comments!