What people love to omit when discussing the brilliance of Netflix’s Stranger Things is that it’s a tear-jerker of a story. Every other bit of praise heaped on top of this riveting throwback piece has been absolutely correct. It’s a blast and it’s creepy, and there’s a wealth of amazing performers attached. And, if you’re wondering, yes, it does indeed channel the greatest Amblin flicks in existence.
But we don’t see all that much love cast in the direction of the deeply disconcerting sorrow the series offers up. And there’s an enormous deal of it. Nearly every episode will have you on the verge of tears, and while the children themselves are responsible for a great deal of sadness, ultimately it’s all about the performances of Winona Ryder and David Harbour. These two embody the very notion of pain, especially the pain that losing a child would unquestionably produce. I love every last one of the child performers here, but you simply cannot take a thing away from Ryder and Habrour. Super, superb performances!
And it’s all anchored in sadness and personal demons that refuse to relent. That makes for a genuinely unsettling experience, because the viewer’s emotions are absolutely shredded. We’re often frustrated, angry, sympathetic and sad. That’s what Stranger Things does. I love the endless tributes to classic 80s features, but the human side of this story, the side that exhibits broken hearts and total helplessness, is where the stunning beauty rests.
Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely adored the endless nods to absolutely amazing classic films. As a member of Generation X seeing some of these moments of homage left me truly captivated. But at the end of the day, it isn’t about the overwhelming abundance of classic hat tips. It’s not even the gruesome monster that loves to feast on a quiet rural region. What it is, is characters. Characters keep this show engrossing, and a lot of the performances on hand are not just highly refined, they’re completely relatable. As kids, we read comics, worship age-inappropriate films and amazing science fiction franchises. As children, life is a fairytale, and the cast of Stranger Things gets it. Just as Ryder and Harbour completely understand and respect the damage that comes with losing a child. That is true infinite sadness, and it just so happens to be expressed in flawless fashion, which is easy to recognize as the deepest beauty of Netflix’s standout series.