I have seen a couple of interesting posts on Stranger Things and I like each of them for the way they use the film as a jumping off point, as an opportunity to shine a light on other things. I don’t know if I have a terribly thoughtful response, but I do have a series of (mostly) coherent thoughts and observations that I’ll share here.
(1) How delightful that we are seeing a period piece of an era’s scifi subconsciousness. It is fascinating to see elements lifted lovingly from science fiction film and then inserted into a thoughtful costume drama rooted in the period. It reminds me a little of Warren Ellis’s ‘archaeology’ of the twentieth century pulp and comics in Planetary.
We’ve been rewatching it and that interplay between period-piece and a period’s subconscious gives it a Vanilla Sky vibe as it makes clear the interplay between our experience of our life and the fantasies that we often interpose between ourselves and that experience.
(2) The way in which this plays against the kind of cosmologies played with in Prometheus is pretty darn cool, with the dark mothers (the vaginal entrances to the Upside Down as well as the concern with permeable boundaries), sadistic science-magicians, light and dark, the boundary where dark plays at being human-ish…which is especially nice when you see how clearly they are riffing with the Alien mythos (most explicitly in the broken egg we see during the rescue of Will in the Upside Down).
Eleven and the monster repeat the encounter between Ripley and the Alien, with Eleven’s shaved head making the comparison especially sharp. Here the interplay between the period piece and archaeology of its science fiction subconscious pays off again, suggesting that beneath the figure of Ripley is Eleven and our military industrial complex.
(3) Which gets to what I really like about the series as a whole, which is the staging of the mobile boundary line between faerie, demons, forteana, and popular culture (D&D, Stephen King, X-Men 134). The way in which the D&D game resonates with the ‘real’ world adventures of the children who play it, the way in which we are constantly teased with the idea that what we are seeing has been experienced in the past by folks as angels and demons, faeries and werewolves.
(4) X-Men 134, huh, right, where the Dark Phoenix is born out of the Hellfire Club. Hmm. Eleven, Qlippoth, shadows, hell…good stuff. We have the young daughter who bears the name of God (El) who descends into the world, is subject to it, suffers within it, becomes embroiled with an other alien world removed from El, and comes to serve as a mediator and protector for others. Gnostic Sophia, Kabbalism’s daughter who sits on the shells.
(5) Heh, the man they send through the gate to the Upside Down is named Shepherd. Damuzi is a shepherd.
(6) Speaking of X-Men, dark mothers, and the underworld, notice the subtle interplay of queerness and gender variance in the exchange of Eleven for Will? Will and Eleven are tightly identified throughout. Will disappears as Eleven escapes and Eleven disappears as Will is rescued, Will plays a wizard in D&D while the boys describe Eleven as being a wizard to Will, Eleven is mistaken for Will by the sheriff in his search.
Will sings “should I stay or should I go now” throughout his time in the Upside Down, but the lyrics have much more to do with Eleven’s place in the plot. It is Eleven who will go and cause trouble, but whose staying doubles it, bringing danger upon danger to her friends.
Notice, too, the homage to E.T. in which Eleven dresses up in a wig. While not strictly drag when performed by a girl, the E.T. palimpsest, the sense that Eleven must be dressed up in order to pass, and her concern that she be pretty and girlish, all flirt with