Stranger Things, which returns to Netflix for Season 2 on October 27th, masterfully incorporates familiar visuals from iconic films, novels, characters and tropes. By doing so, the Duffer brothers speak to our nostalgia for a past time while creating a modern story that feels fresh for any generation.
Transcript provided by Youtube:
Matt Duffer places the kids in a Stephen King novel. The children are the
ones most directly aware of the supernatural threat, and dealing with
defeating the monster. The show’s logo resembles the typeface used for the
paperback books of Stephen King. The Duffer brothers based the design of
their Stranger Things lookbook on the style of a vintage Stephen King novel to
help sell their show. In the police station we see an officer reading a book
with a picture of Stephen King on the back cover.
[I love that book.That’s a nasty mut.]
Although we don’t see the
title, we can assume that it’s Cujo. Later Terry Ives’s sister asks
[You read any Stephen King?]
when they see a mobil of clowns that recall the movie and King novel, It. Lucas tries to kill
the monster with a slingshot, the same way the kids in It try to kill Pennywise.
[The wrist rocket.]
[You’re gonna take out the Demogorgon with a slingshot?]
[First of all, it’s a wrist rocket.]
Even though this doesn’t actually work, a
slingshot — going back to the biblical story of David defeating Goliath — is a
symbol of the small and pure-hearted underdog defeating the powerful
oppressor. Nancy’s hand coming out of the tree looks like Carrie’s bloody hands
coming out of the grave in Brian De Palma’s Carrie, based on the novel by
King. 11 also reminds us of Carrie in that she’s a mistreated outcast with
dangerous telekinetic powers. When Steve and his friends slut-shamed Nancy this
also reminds us of how Carrie is bullied for getting her period. During auditions
the Duffer brothers had the boys reenact scenes from Stand By Me, which is based
on Stephen King’s The Body. The series also makes homages to when the Stand By
Me kids walk on train tracks and the bullies attack with a switchblade. Stranger
Things includes an homage to one of The Shining’s most iconic scenes of Jack and
the axe, when Joyce axes one of her living room walls only to discover that
there’s nothing on the other side. Likewise, The Shining’s Overlook Hotel is
full of impossible characteristics like windows that shouldn’t be there. For Mike,
Dustin, Lucas and Will in Stranger Things
the iconic role-playing game isn’t just a hobby, it’s how they see the world and
how they interpret everything that happens after Will gets taken by the
monster, which the kids refer to as the Demogorgon even though it doesn’t strictly
speaking look like the traditional D&D Demogorgon. Dungeons & Dragons is a
metaphorical system for developig the characters and themes of Stranger
Things, as well as explaining the complicated upside-down world.
[The veil of shadows is a dimension that is a dark reflection or echo of our world.]
Will’s character — the wizard Will The Wise — next to the demogorgon to illustrate that
he’s in another dimension with the monster. The black underside of the board
also resembles the parallel universe El enters through the sensory deprivation
tank. When we open the D&D game it’s Will’s term, and he’s in danger.
The monster surprises Will, just as it does in the following scene. Will chooses
a fire bomb instead of protection, but he rolls a 7, too low to defeat the demogorgon.
So he’s vulnerable to the monster.
[The demogorgon, it got me.]
Later Jonathan casts a
fireball to injure the monster. The kids also correspond to D&D archetypes: Mike
is the Paladin; Dustin is the bard; Lucas the ranger; and El is the sorcerer; while
Will is a sorcerer in-game. In the show he also aligns with the rogue or thief
as he is able to stealthily hide from the Demogorgon. They also mentioned
the Lost Knight, Hopper.
[Something is coming. Something angry, hungry for your blood. It is almost here.]
The final D&D game of the season introduces a new
monster — the thessalhydra. This could foreshadow the monster of season 2.
The Goonies is another classic 80s film full of kids acting like kids, riding bikes
everywhere and living lives totally unknown to their parents
Stranger Things recalls this vision of childhood, and fan
favorite Dustin is similar to the Goonies’ Chunk especially when Dustin
looks for chocolate pudding in the school cafeteria.
Just like how Chunk looks for ice cream.
But he’s also got the smart mouth of Mouth, who always says the funny thing,
[Accident or not, admit it, it was a little awesome.]
and tries to hit on older girls.
Another fan favorite, Barb, looks
just like Steph from the Goonies. And Jonathan’s protective instinct for Will
also comes from the older brother in the Goonies. Stranger Things also embodies
the spirit of Explorers, another 80s movie that shows a bunch of kids,
including a young Ethan Hawke going on fun adventures while seeking out
supernatural forces. Will and his friends are fans of comic book characters like
Mr. Fantastic and Professor X. Will says he wants X-Men comic No. 134. This
comic introduces Dark Phoenix, who takes over Jean Grey who like El is a
telekinetic woman. In 134 Jean Grey uses her powers to slam the monster against
the wall like El does in the season finale. In X-Men Jean Grey comes back
giving us a hint that El in season 2 will also return. And of course the boys are
obsessed with Star Wars, making references to Jedi powers to describe
Mike talks about Yoda’s ability to move things with his mind. We
see several Star Wars toys including a Yoda figurine and a Millennium Falcon
model that 11 levitates. There are tons more references to
80s pop culture, that recall the time period generally and are just good fun.
Casting two adult leads who were young 80s stars, is itself an 80s
reference. When Lucas goes off by himself he raps a bandana around his forehead
like Rambo. The talk of drawing first blood is also a Rambo reference.
[I drew first blood so.]
[They drew first blood not me.]
Wynona Rider wanted her hairstyle modeled after Meryl Streep’s hair in
Silkwood. Jonathan and Steve’s sprawl resembles the fight sequence in this
1989 action movie, in the way the boys go on punching for almost a humorously
ridiculous length of time. The way 11 quietly identifies Will in a photo is
closely based on the scene from Witness, when a young boy Samuel identifies the
murderer with a newspaper clipping. The scene when Lucas packs before
investigating by himself resembles the scene in Commando, when Colonel John Matrix
prepares his weapons before a fight. The Stranger Things poster was designed by
artist Kyle Lambert, but it mimics the style of Drew Struzan, who designed posters
for Star Wars, Indiana Jones, and over a hundred other films. The very first scene
echoes 1986’s Aliens. The visuals of the lab technicians and cocoons take
after the original 1979s, Alien. The way the monsters face opens up in four
directions also looks like the alien eggs opening. In Chapter 8
Hopper finds Will in the upside down with a reptilian tube attached to his
mouth. It looks like the face hugger version of the xenomorph in Alien, which
pushes a tube-like nose down the mouth to implant an alien embryo. This could be
what is happening to Will. We later see him cough up a bug like critters
suggesting that he’s been taken over by some monster implantation. Will’s cough
also recalls King’s cough before the alien creature bursts out of his chest.
The trooper who finds Will’s body is named O’Bannon, an allusion to Dan O’Bannon who
wrote the movie Alien. The demogorgon bears a resemblance to the child-eating pale
man from Pan’s Labyrinth. Nancy enters the upside down through a tree similar
to how Ophelia enters the tree to find the toes grotto. Both have portals that
can access a different world through a wall, and use a tether as someone enters
another dimension. Stranger Things’ young girl moment, reminiscent of Close
Encounters, also resembles the behind the child shot in Poltergeist. Again this is
a symbol of the child’s awe in encountering dangerous supernatural
forces of much greater power than the child can imagine. The Stranger Things
monsters human-like torso and claws and its mouth all look like the monster in
Predator. 11’s scenes in the sensory deprivation tank take after scenes in
Altered States, Minority Report, Under The Skin, and Firestarter. Both 11 and
Firestarter’s Charlie are young girls with telekinetic powers involved with a
secret government agency. That film also stars a young drew Barrymore, like in
E.T. 11 doesn’t quite explode heads in the Scanners fashion, but she uses telekinesis
to squeeze the heads of government agents until blood starts coming out of
their eyes. El’s nosebleed, suggesting her powers cost her harm, is also similar to
Scanners, Firestarter, Chronicle, The Fifth Element, and Heroes. The world of Stranger
Things takes after David Lynch’s Twin Peaks, with its wholesome small-town
Americana surface and dark supernatural undercurrents. The uncertain ending with
Will looking in the mirror parallels the final scene in Twin Peaks
season 2. Stranger Things has a lot in common with beloved sci-fi series
Twilight Zone, which had been running since 1959. But it also is particularly
like the third segment of Twilight Zone, the movie, in which a young kid with
magical powers is welcomed into a regular family. A flashback shows Hopper
reading Anne of Green Gables to his sick daughter
[“Well I don’t know,” said Matthew.
“It just makes me feel glad to be alive. It’s such an interesting world.”]
The book is about an orphan girl joyfully experiencing, belonging to an adopted
family — a story that sounds like 11’s. 11 is also partially inspired by the
anime character Elfen Lied, whose story is like a violent version of ET. Both
Elfen and El are given numbers instead of names at a government
Institute led by an evil father type, who carries out tests on the girls’ mental
abilities. Both girls escape and befriend a boy. When Jonathan takes a picture of
Nancy and Barb, he accidentally takes a picture of the demogorgon. This may be
an homage to Blow-Up, in which a fashion photographer discovers that he’s
photographed a murder in a park. Jonathan’s pictures of Nancy through the
window also recall the voyeuristic movie Body Double, which features using a
telescope to peer at a woman and seeing a murder. Stranger Things even contains a
few similarities to more recent pop culture. Through mixing up these iconic
films, novels, characters, and tropes, the Duffer brothers speak to our nostalgia —
for a past time, while creating a modern story that feels fresh for any
generation. The technique of mashing up familiar visuals and stories allow
Stranger Things to capture deeper truths of being a kid or a parent in any era.
This post was previously published on Youtube.
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Photo credit: Screenshot from video