Stranger Things and the art of Pastiche

10 August 2016, Category: television

There be spoilers ahead

Last week, I binge-watched Stranger Things on Netflix. It’s been awhile since I mainlined a tv show like that, but Stranger Things is worth it.

The plot involves a boy going missing in a small Indiana town, a mysterious government facility and a girl with telekinetic powers. There’s teenage parties and a monster that stalks the town. Basically, it’s a combination of many different eighties movies and books, most notably Poltergeist, ET and Stephen King books. Look at the main logo for example, a pitch perfect recreation of eighties horror titles. It’s also brilliant. A gripping mystery that builds to a fantastic climax, with unique, interesting characters.

Pastiche is difficult to pull off. Often dismissed as lazy or cheap, it can feel forced if the references are just regurgitated wholesale, or not transformed at all. By drawing attention to style of others it can make your new art feel derivative. On the other hand, if done correctly, pastiche can transform the work of art into something new. Star Wars and Indiana Jones are good examples of fantastic films that were created as works of pastiche. Both of them are playing homage to black and white serials of the thirties, whilst transforming their touchstones.Just look at all the influences Star Wars drew on to create it’s sci-fi pastiche. In no way is Star Wars diminished by the use of pastiche, but instead feels unique.

This is a long way to say that Stranger Things does pastiche very well indeed. The story is compelling in it’s own right, even without the eighties references. The characters are interesting and feel human in a way that’s hard to pull off. The pastiche elements means the story pays homage to it’s influences whilst combining them into something new.

There’s a number of things the scripts do really well that elevate it above simple copying. Although it uses elements from other films, such as the bikes from ET, it is these elements that make it something really special. I just want to highlight a few:

All of these elements are hard to pull on their own. But to combine them with the pastiche of eighties films and create something new from the ashes is very impressive indeed. The series works on multiple levels and the pastiche helps to elevate it to something truly special.

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