What I learned from a movie and a TV show this week
I saw “Spider-man: Far From Home” last weekend, and I’ve been slowly making my way through the new season of “Stranger Things” on Netflix. Here are some things I learned about telling stories from them.
London attacked by a water elemental?
For me, “Spider-man: Far From Home” made me think about subversive themes in a story (for more on this, check out my post Subversive Fiction). There were a lot of tropes that were fairly familiar about youth trusting too easily and being uncomfortable with adult responsibilities and boy finally getting the smart, pretty girl. But the themes that kept me thinking were how the screenwriters made very clear and contemporary points about people being motivated to accept falsehoods when afraid and fascists staging crises to grab power and repeating lies often enough to make people think they’re true.
It is nearly impossible not to make the connection to political dramas in the U.S., U.K., and elsewhere. But the movie is insulated from becoming “too politicized” by focusing on the actions and making the proxies different enough in their details.
Oh, my God! What now?
Season 3 of “Stranger Things” made its debut on Netflix this month, and the suspense is turned up even more than in previous seasons. The writers have practically perfected their formula for the series which gives different groups of characters different parts of a puzzle, and then we’re waiting to see when and how they put them together. As in previous seasons, there are two levels of bad guys–the chaotic, evil beings from another dimension and the short-sighted guys who think they can profit by opening a portal from their dimension to ours–and so we wonder whose agenda will prevail.
And every episode ends with a pretty dramatic cliffhanger (yes, even more than before). Almost every one of them leaves you with such a feeling of hopelessness, you have to keep watching the next episode to find out how in the world they are going to get out of this particular mess, because it seems unwinnable: They’re trapped in a bunker half a mile underground crawling with hostile military types. The one person who can save the day is slowly, against her will, getting co-opted by the enemy.
And in the best video game tradition, there is a Boss Battle brewing. An enemy bigger and more powerful than any in the previous seasons.
Among other stories are mysteries that slowly inveigle their way into your psyche. They tease you little by little until you are hooked. Entertainments like “Stranger Things” speed up that process, starting out with the mystery of why the magnets stopped sticking and why rats are eating fertilizer and very quickly to what happened to the lifeguard who got dragged into the abandoned steel mill.
I guess “Stranger Things 3” has made me think about the difference between a point of suspense that leaves you two or three possible resolutions and one that seems so hopeless, the need to find out what’s next is even stronger.