Is this Nostalgia Porn?
Is this the kind of show and movie that we get from time to time, so steeped in a love for days gone by that it loses its way and instead of becoming something wholly its own, it instead is just an assemblage of pieces, of body parts, much like Frankenstein’s Monster, but one that does not live and breathe. Does the electricity actually bring it to life, or does it sit and smolder, a dead thing?
The story of Stranger Things can be broken down into one simple sentence: It is the story of a boy lost and a girl found, and everything that results in the world around them is a repercussion of these two events.
To give too much story would be to give too much away. This is best experienced fresh, without much exposition. The trailer for the show sets that tone, and it’s for the better if the viewer doesn’t come to the table knowing any more.
A group of friends, pre-teen boys who are the ultimate nerds, who play Dungeons and Dragons and are interested in science, finish one of their games and split for the night. Three ride off on their bikes, heading back to their suburban homes. Already we have a quaint moment of nostalgia: America in the early 1980’s. Only, one of the boys disappears, and from this event the rest of the story unspools. His friends search for him, of course, out on their own, like any intrepid kid would in a movie set in the 80’s. But instead of finding their friend, they find a girl, all alone, with an almost bald head, looking disheveled and lost. And from there, things get...stranger.
The story involves a creature, psychic powers, a vast government conspiracy, and an alternate dimension. It references and uses these plot devices just like any feature from the 80’s would, and here is where there might be danger of this story turning into Nostalgia Porn, of the electricity that shoots through the Monster not reviving it, but instead setting it on fire, reminding us that dead things stay dead, and they cannot take on a life of their own.
Not so here. No. The electricity shocks the heart to life, and what a beautiful, bleeding, messy heart it is. Sure, there’s lots of sentimentality. This movie is equal parts The Goonies and The Monster Squad, but it’s also got dashes of Freaks and Geeks, with a nice seasoning of Nightmare on Elm Street thrown in, as well. And while all of these body parts are familiar, and we see them and say, “Yes, that arm belongs to Freddy,” and “Those eyes belong to the Goonies,” it’s the heart that’s beating in the chest that separates this show from simple Nostalgia Porn and allows the Monster to stumble to its feet and shamble around, a wholly new creation in and of itself, even if the parts belong from somewhere else.
This show is a great trip down memory lane, yes, and the creators knew exactly what they were doing (The synth score? Brilliant. That scene where the faceless government agents pile out of their cars to hunt down their intended prey, and the synth theme that accompanies their arrival, that echoes a similar moment in Halloween III? Awesome. Another scene, involving the creature, when it gets hurt and utters a cry that sounds strangely just like the anguished howls the creature made in The Thing? Genius. The whole show is riddled with moments like these). But the show does not rely on these fond memories, or those sharp nods to geeks who get it, it relies on something all great stories do. It relies on its heart.
It is this strong, thumping heart, centered on characters you care for, characters that have arcs (even down to the bit players in the background), that gives Stranger Things its own life, that makes it worth viewing and enjoying.
And oh, how much fun it is!
Dig in and relish every frame, every joke, every heartbreaking moment. You’ll be glad you did.