The Stranger Things of Friendship


I recently sat down and watched Stranger Things, a new show on Netflix.  I had heard a lot of clamor about the series and it came recommended by a good friend.  The series takes place in 1983 and is a thriller with science-fiction elements scattered throughout the plot.  All of these things intrigued me, and I ended up watching the eight-episode series in four days, only stopping because I had class.

The main thing that struck me as I watched the series was the centrality of relationships.  Early in the first episode, Will Byers, a middle-school boy, vanishes.  His group of friends is stunned by his disappearance, so they band together to try and find him, even though the audience knows their quest will be fruitless.  

One of the central lessons of this show is that nobody can successfully face life’s struggles alone. This principle is most evident in the case of Eleven, a mysterious girl with psychic powers the group of friends discover during their search for Will.  As the series progresses, Eleven encounters friendship and is able to trust more fully, first in Will’s three friends, and then in the others who are also searching for Will.  When the audience learns more of her past, her growth in trust becomes even more amazing.  She experiences the care that comes from real friendships and is able to begin the process of overcoming her traumatic past.

Stranger Things has its fair share of suspense and drama.  I watched it in a dark room late in the evening.  In these kinds of scenarios, it is easy to feel isolated and scared, as if the horror or suspense can come for you if you’re not careful.  I am especially glad that other Jesuits watched it with me.

The series made me reflect on the ways people have been there for me.  I have always had a core group of friends to support me.  But sometimes I can push them away, either by isolating myself or by associating with people who weren’t really my friends.  At the end of the day, somebody was there for me, somebody loved me and accepted me as I was.  No matter my failings or shortcomings, someone could always see the good present in me, and stood by me.

Perhaps even more importantly, it reminds me of the need to ask for help.  The attempts of every character to try and solve their problems alone always ends up backfiring.  It is not until the boys ask Eleven for help that they start to make any real progress in finding Will.

The cry for help also changes other characters.  Eleven’s friendship with the boys allows her to let down her barriers and start to feel safe, perhaps for the first time.  Because of this friendship, she is able to respond to the needs of the boys and help them to grow, just as they help her to grow.  

Though I would maintain that I would have been fine watching the series on my own, there was a level of comfort in watching it with others.  Yes, it allowed me to enter more fully into the story and allowed me the opportunity to understand it more through discussion.  But more fully, we all helped each other feel safe in the tension and suspense the series creates.

Our lives are nowhere near as paranormal as Stranger Things, but we face our challenges.  Isolation and mistrust are part of our lives.  What is important is to recognize that we are not alone and that, even though it is difficult to ask for help, there is always someone there who can help us through whatever we face.


Cover image courtesy FlickrCC user valeribb, found here.

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