Reflecting on Stranger Things…

Review by Mary Gent
The Movie Guys

Soon after the release of Stranger Things, I read a few articles that refer to or criticize some sort of imaginary nostalgic zeitgeist when it comes to the show. The year is 1983 and hearkens back to a time of innocence and the cultivating bonds of friendship made in youth. A time that existed in purity alongside the excess of the ’80s and the harbinger known as The Cold War. I would disagree with those naysayers and that kind of flippant insinuation or deduction. I would even go as far as to say I smell envy. For those of us who straddled not just the ’70s but then came of age in the ’80s, I would simply call that lucky.

I was 12 in 1983. I remember.

Stranger Things
Stranger Things
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Stranger Things suffocated me with it’s thick blanket of memories. The Duffer Brothers, the 30-year old twins responsible for the show, shocked me with their understanding of that time. How could they know? They weren’t even born! Yet their admitted obsession with the music and the culture and movies of the blessed ’80s turned them into experts. It’s as if they took all those cultural touchstones and threw them into a cauldron. The result was magical. As someone who morphed from a young girl into a teenager during that decade, I was blown away, humbled and so grateful.

Let me explain what it felt like watching Stranger Things: like I had crawled into a time machine and I could smell it, I could feel it, I could see it and my heart broke into a multitude of pieces. I just wanted to stay there. In the basement playing Dungeon & Dragons with Mike, Lucas and Dustin. Hanging out in Nancy’s room because I HAD THAT WALLPAPER. I also had her sweater and the little gold posts in my ears from just getting them pierced. I wanted to walk through the halls of the high school clutching my Trapper Keeper to my chest, and hearing that familiar velcro rip every time you opened it. I wanted the freedom of being a child who was allowed to PLAY and imagine and experience the moment of an idea or a feeling. I wanted to be asked to stay for dinner by my friend’s parents. I needed to go grab my cherry red ten-speed and ride it for hours, untethered by modern technology and an overbearing society that hovers over youth like the same monster that terrorized the small town of Hawkins, Indiana.

Stranger ThingsIf you grew up then, you will be privy to all of the influences. I was incessant with my finger pointing throughout the series. Sheer glee or a knowing nod when I saw John Hughes, Stephen King, John Carpenter, Wes Craven,The Goonies, Poltergeist, Alien, E.T.…. everything relevant spilled all over the screen. It was like that youthful time when you fall in love so fast it takes your breath away.

And then there is the music. THE MUSIC. The original score is perfection. Fitting the time period, it reminded me of Carpenter’s electronic menacing drone which added to the anxiety and terror in Halloween.

The music for Stranger Things is as much a character as the town, the setting and the actors. What was astounding was the beautiful selection of songs used that made me bow my head with even deeper respect than I already had. The more popular tracks of the time were perfect and well placed. The Clash’s “Should I Stay or Should I Go” wasn’t used as the upbeat pop edge we’re familiar with but as a dark juxtaposition. Will’s anthem, if you will.

It was the more obscure choices that made me gasp and then cry. New Order’s “Elegia”, a moving and depressing instrumental which was used so effectively in Pretty in Pink, wove it’s dark spell over the heartbreaking funeral scene in Episode Five. Joy Division’s “Atmosphere”, with its major chords but lonely message sets the opening scene of the same episode. Peter Gabriel’s devastating cover of “Heroes” placed gently at the end of Episode Three, a particular montage moment of deep sadness that is staked into your heart. I would bet my life that there wasn’t a dry eye left after that. Even now, tears are spilling down my cheeks as I write this. Then there is the use of Echo and the Bunnymen’s “Nocturnal Me”, Vangelis’ “Fields of Coral” and then giving us bittersweet relief and heartache at the end of it all with Moby’s powerful “When It’s Cold I’d Like To Die”. This is what it sounded like during that time.

There was so much good music it was often hard to navigate through it all. And if you were like me, you were so hungry for it. I would sit cross legged on my floor in front of my little Sony radio, antennae pulled up, with a stack of heart-shaped Post-its. I would write down every song and I would do this for hours. Those Post-it’s littered my desk and room like so many valentines. That’s how you learned and developed your musical taste. What would become the soundtrack of my young life would only haunt me later as an adult.

Stranger ThingsAnd then there is Winona Ryder. The Gen­-X crush who battled Molly Ringwald for the sacred crown. She was dark and messy in the ’80s and ’90s. She played nerd, nihilist, eccentric cheerleader, eager-but-complicated college grad and never ONCE, just like Ringwald, was she sexualized. We were to take her tiny pixie face and defiant pout (also Ringwald’s trademark) in whatever character it embodied. The mystery of her was a spacey but intelligent cool girl. Much like Molly, you knew she read the right books and listened to the right bands and was able to formulate interesting ideas about life. She chain smoked, had a quirky and enviable wardrobe and pulled this off with authenticity, not affectation. There was no “curating” an idea of a person back then.

To see her on screen NOW was akin to relief. That person that you have known for decades. Her face and her presence made me feel safe. And was she incredible? She was magnificent. Her feisty, anxious and flustered mother figure could only have been played by her. She brought herself and her years and her eccentricities to that role. She made it sing. Ironically, she has garnered the most “hate” in many of the conversations about the show. I found that disturbing but she took it in stride, explaining away her dismissers with maturity and grace.

At the uncanny speed that determines culture and our lives, I’m late to the game with this article. I mean there is already a Tumblr page dedicated to this show! But perhaps it was meant to be that way, a true reflection of the themes surrounding Stranger Things, when life moved at a slower pace and wasn’t cannibalized by instant gratification. Let me say this: You are reading the poignant musings of a Gen-Xer. There is no need for a synopsis. No need for a character dissection. For me, it’s just delving into the memories of being that age at that time. A reflection on nostalgia. Stranger Things for me was a diary entry into the past as well as a love letter to my youth.

Stranger Things
“You always say we should never stop being curious, to always open any curiosity door we find. Why are you keeping this curiosity door locked?”

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