I’ve finally gotten to Stranger Things on my Netflix queue, a series my teen has been talking about (non-stop) for months. I enjoyed both seasons. It felt like a cross between The Goonies and Aliens, both among my favorite movies. I liked the show’s adoration for all things 80s. The characters are interesting and well-developed, and I liked that some of the obvious pairings (Nancy Wheeler and Steve Harrington, Joyce Byers and Jim Hopper) didn’t go the obvious way. I also loved seeing 80s movies icons (Winona Ryder, Matthew Modine, Paul Reiser and Sean Astin) in older incarnations, even though it made me feel my years.
In talking through the last few episodes with the Child, she criticized the psychic character’s discovery of her power. “It’s too much X-Men,” she complained. “That scene where Eleven moves the freight car and then when she closes the gate is exactly Charles [Xavier] and Magneto in X-Men [First Class].”
I thought about it for a while, and with all due respect to my teen, I think she’s wrong. If anything, the scenes with Eleven finding her emotional core are the inverse of the point between rage and serenity that Charles Xavier teaches Magneto. Her fellow experiment-ee, Eight, teaches Eleven to draw on anger and pain to reach her potential. During the climax, Eleven has a flash-back to her father-figure, Doctor Brenner, telling her that she has a wound inside her that is killing her. Eleven “cures” the externalization of that wound to save herself (and the world), but what fuels her explosive power are the darkest of her memories: loss, horror, fear and grief. There’s no serenity in that moment: Eleven draws purely on the dark.
Since Eleven is battling is a very negative force, indeed, I think what the show is saying is that sometimes we need to draw on that darkness inside us to defeat the external darkness. It’s a subversive idea, since traditional models of heroism pit light against darkness. It’s a brave choice for the show to make. They could easily have gone the other way. The show has set up positive relationships that Eleven could have drawn on. Instead, the show acknowledges that rage and pain are potent sources of power.
That’s an idea that resonates. It’s probably always resonated with the angriest segment of the population (teens), who know that anger can be just as powerful as love. (Despite the most successful of teen franchises, Harry Potter, preaching the opposite.) But it also resonates now, when so many of us, across all segments of the population, are dealing with so much rage and frustration. That brave, resonant idea is particularly poignant for me as I deal with my own feelings from this tremendously difficult year, and write it out through anti-heroes like the Hauser boys and my sometimes-dark urban witch, Tsara Faa.
Have I got it wrong? Am I mis-construing Stranger Things? Let me know in the comments!