Thursday, July 21, 2016

"Stranger Things" 2016

What does it say that for 2016—the year that saw the return of my favorite TV show of all time—my likely favorite show of the year will not be the X Files? “Stranger Things” is an amazingly entertaining yarn in the style of the classic 1980s movies that inspired The X Files in the first place. And while I have a nostalgic yearning for the more innocent days of The X Files, my longing for the days when I was eleven and Hollywood discovered my generation and created some of the best movies ever is even stronger.

Those were the days before helicopter parenting, world-wide connectivity and millennials thinking that the world existed for their benefit. When my generation were preteens we didn’t have the bubble-gum, plastic trash that passes for preteen entertainment today. We were in the middle of a World War—albeit a cold one—science and science fiction had a blurry boundary, and we could go hours and seemingly days without adult interference. It seemed plausible that eleven-year-olds could save the world and in movies like “The Goonies,” “E.T,” and “Cloak and Dagger” we did.

Stranger Things gives us all of that again, and in convincing fashion because it is a well-done period piece set in 1983. The Cold War scientists are experimenting with ESP and telekinesis and unwittingly open a portal to another dimension, unleashing a monster onto an unsuspecting small town. While the whole world reels at some tragic deaths and disappearances but accepts the “official versions” of what is happening, a small band of twelve-year-olds, family members, and a lone cop begin to uncover the truth.

One of the most compelling aspects of this story is the exploration of faith. Not the Christian faith in this case, but the broader concept. The conviction of something you know and are convinced of based on evidence you have seen, but that you nevertheless can’t prove to anyone else. Wynona Rider plays Joyce, the mother of a boy who has disappeared. She becomes convinced that her son is communicating to her supernaturally, and even later when his body is found, she holds onto her belief that he is not really dead. She knows that she cannot prove what she believes, and that she may indeed be crazy, but she persists. Others too begin to see things that don’t make sense but remain open to unconventional possibilities and begin to uncover the truth. In classic horror-fiction tradition, once they all come together and compare notes—become a community of faith as it were—things start to add up.

This story is delightful, the musical score and songs selected wonderful, the art direction and images striking, and the acting here is great. If you can handle 1980s style kids with potty-mouths, teens making poor decisions and facing consequences for them, and imaginary powers such as telekinesis in your fiction, this may be the show for you.

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