[Disclaimer: the following post is spoiler free.]
This is the age of nostalgia.
I don’t just say it because I’m no longer in my tweens and, like so many other thirty-somethings decades before me, think that the times and culture of my youth were a thousand times better than what they are now – that is to be expected.
There is something different about this decade and its fascination with vintage and retro. From our beloved hipsters and Instagram filters, to the absurd amount of remakes and prequels and sequels and spin-offs of movies, TV shows and comics from the 80s and 90s (seriously, make it stop already).
Stranger Things isn’t a surprise in how its creators, The Duffer Brothers, went back to the 80s to tell their tale, but on how incredibly well they did it.
Firstly, the cast. You get an iconic star from the late 80s/90s as your leading actress and add Matthew Modine to a supreme team of actors, particularly the kids. (Even Charlie Heaton looks like a cross between River Phoenix and a young Stephen Dorff.)
You then proceed in telling a Stephen King-esque story with a Spielberg atmosphere and a I-can’t-believe-it’s-not-Tron theme music.
We can see Elliot and E. T. in Mike and Eleven (with a wee twist), the Goonies and even the boys from Stand By Me on the rail tracks or the junkyard.
And yet, it never feels like a cheap mash up.
Every honest writer will tell you they steal all the time from other works. Not in the sense of plagiarism, but in soaking in everything they read and see and hear – it will naturally come out in one way or another.
You can refer to it as “influence” or “inspiration” but the truth is that all the great works stay with us and become embedded in our psyche. The real craft is being able to create something, by all accounts, original, with so many references flying around.
And this is the true beauty of Stranger Things: it is its own creature.
You can list all the culture classics of your childhood and it is still able to stand on its own as the brilliant work of fiction that it is.
P.S. To me, the only exception to 1980s film references is the isolation tank: despite El having the most obvious parallels with good old ET and all his telekinetic abilities, the isolation tank was screaming “Olivia Dunham!” in her classic tank-dipping in Fringe. But I think I’m alone on this one.