Stranger Things: Season One
Have you ever told a story that was true but sounded crazy? Episode 4 of Stranger Things, The Body, addresses this idea from many perspectives and the title serves to remind us of what is actually true (the body is simply a body - it really isn’t Will).
The episode begins with Hop trying to deliver the most horrifying news any parent can receive - Will’s body has been discovered at the quarry and the theory is that after crashing his bike, Will slipped and fell in. Joyce’s response sounds crazy:
Hop: Do you understand what I'm saying?
Joyce proceeds to tell Hop that she was just talking to Will through blinking lights (“one blink for yes, two for no”), that Will is hiding from ‘that thing’ in the wall, and that they need to find him. She describes the ‘almost human’ creature with ‘long arms’ and no face. At this point, Hop tries to share his own grief journey with the death of his daughter, Sarah, to help Joyce “see the light,” but Joyce isn’t having it:
Joyce: No. Whoever you found is not my boy. It's not Will.
Hop: Joyce, listen to me. Listen to me. After Sarah, I saw her, too. And I heard her. I didn't know what was real. And then I figured out that it was in my mind. And I had to pack all that away. Otherwise, I was gonna fall down a hole that I couldn't get out of.
In a similar conflict of doubt and belief, Mike is angry at El for lying about Will. Mike assumes Will is actually dead, and is annoyed that El is messing around with a staticy radio. In the midst of his confrontation of El about real friends telling the truth, Will’s singing suddenly breaks through the static with the lyrics to the Clash’s “Should I Stay or Should I Go?” A trickle of blood drips from El’s nose and Mike realizes that she was telling the truth all along. Presented with evidence, Mike believes that Will is alive.
Joyce: No, you're you're talking about grief. This is different.
Hop: I'm just saying that you…
Joyce: No, I know what you're saying, Hop. I swear to you, I know what I saw. And I'm not crazy.
Hop: I’m not saying that you're crazy.
Joyce: No, You are. And I understand, but God, I, I need you to believe me. Please.
Sometimes knowing the truth is only half the battle - convincing others of the truth can be really difficult. In an homage to E.T., Mike fakes sickness and then jumps out of bed, walkie in hand to summon the rescue party. Dustin is more easily won over, but Lucas requires a little more convincing. When Mike tells the group that Will is alive, Lucas responds:
Lucas: So how do you know that?
The issue of truth is at the core of this episode (again). Friends tell the truth. And friends are willing to take big risks for each other when they know that what they are fighting for is true. A brief but noteworthy discussion about honesty happens between Nancy and Jonathan while they are developing one of his negatives later on:
Mike: I just do!
Lucas: Then what was in that water?
Mike: I don't know! All I know is Will is alive. Will is alive! He's out there somewhere. All we have to do is find him.
Nancy: Have you been doing this a while?
To Jonathan, the quiet photographer, truth is more easily captured on film than through the words people say. The issue of truth comes up again in a later scene between him and his mom. Joyce has just stormed out of the morgue refusing to sign a death certificate for Will with the words, “I don't know what you think that thing is in there, but that is not my son!” Jonathan is distraught over the death of his brother (he thinks), the possibility of his mom being certifiably crazy (he thinks), and a desire to honor his brother with a proper funeral:
Jonathan: What? Photography? Yeah. I guess I'd rather observe people than, you know, talk to them. I know. It's weird.
Jonathan: No, it is. It's just, sometimes people don't really say what they're really thinking. But you capture the right moment, it says more.
Joyce: Just go home, Jonathan.
Given the evidence presented to the masses (a body and a police report), the simplest explanation is that Will is dead. There is an actual body. Law enforcement is verifying it. But to those who have alternate evidence, the truth is actually completely different - Will is alive. As the audience, we enjoy watching Hop’s character slowly tune in to the quirks surrounding the investigation - Gary being replaced by Staties to do the autopsy, Joyce refusing to believe the body is Will’s, and, oh yeah, stuffing coming out of “the body” when Hop sneaks in to do a little post mortem work himself.With so many plots running simultaneously, some points of interest deserves a quick recognition: Mr. Clarke’s Heathkit ham shack (used by El to channel into a frightening conversation between Joyce and Will), an interesting classroom reference to Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness when Nancy is called from class to give a report to the police about Barb, a communication breakdown between Nancy and her mom over priorities (Nancy is distressed by having had sex, but her concern about Barb takes precedence in the moment), Shepard’s disappearance into some grotesque ciliated stomach-like blob (and ensuing death), a little revenge (by El) on the mouth-breather Troy… leaving him in a puddle of pee, Nancy’s taped-together discovery of a faceless mystery creature, and yes, stuffing!
Jonathan: No, this is not an okay time for you to shut down.
Joyce: Shut down? What…
Jonathan: We have to deal with this, Mom. We have to deal with the funeral!
Joyce: The funeral? - For for who? - For that thing back there?
Jonathan: Okay, let me get this straight. Will, that's not his body, because he's in the lights, right? And there's a monster in the wall? Do you even hear yourself?
Joyce: I know it sounds crazy. I sound crazy!
Joyce: You think I don't know that? It is crazy! But I heard him, Jonathan.
It’s easy to side with Joyce when we know she’s right. But, if we didn’t know ‘the facts,’ it’s easy to see how there would be doubters ready to lock her away for being crazy (she sledge-hammered her wall, painted an alphabet on it and has Christmas lights strung all over the living room). Bit by bit, characters are being exposed to evidence that Will is alive and that something darker is being carried out. But, my heart goes out to Joyce as she cries out against accusations of craziness:
Joyce: He talked to me! Will is calling to me! And he's out there, and he's alone, and he's scared, and I, I don't care if anyone believes me! I am not gonna stop looking for him until I find him and bring him home.As viewers, knowing that Will is truly alive, wouldn’t we be inclined to respond like Joyce? She can’t stop searching for Will because she knows he is alive and he’s in danger. Slowly, as evidence is revealed, Mike, Dustin, Lucas, Hop, Jonathan and Nancy begin to believe too. And their belief turns into action.
Being a Christian, I have often felt a certain degree of awkwardness in presenting my case for faith in Christ. Don’t misunderstand - I’m not putting down evangelism - I’m just saying that it takes time, patience and persistence (motivated by love). In a culture that largely doesn’t experience literal physical resurrection as a norm, believing that a man who lived two thousand years ago was crucified and literally rose from the grave three days later, seems preposterous. And frankly, in our everyday experience, it is. Only God could do that - it is truly a miracle. So, like Joyce and El, we are faced with a truth that is hard for others to believe. But it doesn’t make the truth any less real.
Imagine what the disciples must have thought at first when Jesus was crucified. Peter literally denied Jesus (three times) and other disciples fled for their lives. But evidence was on its way. When Jesus rose from the dead, even those who first witnessed him were not quick to recognize him. But Jesus’ love compelled him to reach out with patience and persistence.
36 While they were still talking about this, Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” 37 They were startled and frightened, thinking they saw a ghost. 38 He said to them, “Why are you troubled, and why do doubts rise in your minds? 39 Look at my hands and my feet. It is I myself! Touch me and see; a ghost does not have flesh and bones, as you see I have.” 40 When he had said this, he showed them his hands and feet. 41 And while they still did not believe it because of joy and amazement, he asked them, “Do you have anything here to eat?” 42 They gave him a piece of broiled fish, 43 and he took it and ate it in their presence. 44 He said to them, “This is what I told you while I was still with you: Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms.”45 Then he opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures.46 He told them, “This is what is written: The Messiah will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, 47 and repentance for the forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem.48 You are witnesses of these things. 49 I am going to send you what my Father has promised; but stay in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.” (John 24: 36-49, NIV)Jesus sets the tone for evangelism. He reaches out to people, proclaims peace, dispels doubt and encourages trust, lets his disciples touch his hands and feet, eats a meal, and He promises something from the Father - the gift of the Holy Spirit (as Christians, we are ‘clothed with power from on high’).
Thousands of years later, we cannot physically reach in and touch Jesus’ physical hands (as Thomas did), but we gain faith and trust by recognizing our need for something greater than ourselves. Whether we admit it or not to others, we know our own weaknesses and vulnerabilities. The Bible contains the inspired words of our loving God - the truth. The world may take a while to understand it, but our job is to press on, reaching out to the world with love, with a message of peace, restoration and hope in Christ. We may seem crazy to some, but if we pursue the world in love, we will bring glory to God.
- How do you feel about Joyce’s behavior?
- If you were in Joyce’s shoes, how would you react to hearing your son’s voice?
- What evidence would it take to convince you that Will was actually alive?
- Do you have trouble believing in things you cannot see?
- Is it hard for you to share your faith with others? What makes it hard?
- What is more important, telling the truth, or not coming across crazy?
- Do you ever hold back the truth out of fear of sounding crazy?
- How do you think Jesus wants you to share your faith with others?
Written by Amy McKee
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