There are many parallels to be drawn between Stranger Things and E.T the Extra-Terrestrial, and given that Stranger Things is so clearly a homage to E.T and many other films from the 80s, this makes perfect sense. Creepy forest, boys on bikes, tabletop games, a single mom — the appearance of all these elements in Stranger Things is an allusion to the phenomenal 1982 film by Steven Spielberg. But there is one parallel between the two works that has some odd and potentially unfortunate implications. For some strange reason, the narrative of Stranger Things treats young female character Eleven as if she is an alien. Yet nothing in the narrative (so far) gives us a real reason to believe that she actually is one.
I’m late to the party, I know. I only just finished the show last week and only watched the Season 2 teaser yesterday. Being so behind the times meant I went into Stranger Things with a lot of people’s thoughts about it on my mind. And yeah, I agree, Stranger Things is a fantastic show and its popularity is well-deserved. But it also has some serious flaws. Meg has written previously about the disappointing mistreatment of Eleven, so I won’t spend time going over the way most of the characters exploit her telekinetic powers for their own gain and take little time to learn about or acknowledge her potential needs. She’s just kind of there, to be used as a plot device. It’s frustrating, to say the least. Check out Meg’s work for more on that.
So, we already know that the kids in Stranger Things treat Eleven less like a friend and more like a superhero, and the adults treat her less like a victim of child abuse in serious need of help and more like a beacon of hope in the search for other child victim Will Byers. But just because she has supernatural powers like the iconic little brown alien, doesn’t make them the same. So why does the narrative give Eleven so many other tropes to match?
Really, there’s … a lot.
They Have Similar Names
This may or may not be coincidental, but Mike’s shortening of Eleven to “El” strikes a similar chord as the eponymous “E.T.”, short for Extra-Terrestrial. Sure, it’s a surface thing, and I’d let this one slide if only the comparisons stopped there. They don’t.
They Both Make Friends With Food
Who knows what Eleven and E.T.’s diets looked like before, but Mike and Elliott each introduce their new friend to a sugary food that makes a significant impression on their tastebuds. For E.T. it’s Reese’s Pieces, for Eleven it’s Eggo Waffles, and the love the two characters have for their respective foods boosted the sales of both sweet treats.
They’re Both Characters of Very Few Words
There’s not really much explanation for this in either story. There isn’t much need for elaboration from Spielberg when it’s easy to assume, for obvious reasons, that E.T. doesn’t speak English and can get by learning a few important words from Elliott and Gertie. On the other hand, a lot of Eleven’s non-supernatural yet odd behavior is quite obviously a result of her abuse. She appears to be able to speak perfectly fine but is selectively mute. Unfortunately, the narrative is inconsistently and at times unbelievably selective when it comes to Eleven’s verbal communication, making her either speak or stay silent depending on which more conveniently suits the unraveling of the plot. It’s clunky writing, much like the grammatical structure of E.T.’s first sentence, “E.T. home phone”.
Their New Friends Fake Sick to Stay Home and Show Them Star Wars Toys
Again, weirdly specific, right? Elliott has seriously more impressive tactics for convincingly appearing sick, though. Mike just manages to scrape by on his mom’s empathy. Both boys spend the time showing E.T. and Eleven all the stuff in their houses, in particular their Star Wars figurines. While it makes sense for the young Elliott to enthusiastically explain Pez dispensers to a creature from outer-space, Mike’s explanations of things appear out-of-the-blue. Sure, Eleven doesn’t talk much, but where is the evidence for Mike to just assume she has no clue who Yoda is? And why doesn’t he ask?
They Both Have to Hide in Closets
E.T enjoys closets a lot more than Eleven. Poor Eleven, the narrative really is hard on you.
Scary Men in Suits Are Following Them
Different suits, sure, but suits nonetheless.
They Can Both Make People Fly
Eleven and E.T both get their first epic moments by flinging Mike and Elliott respectively high into the air. While the iconography of Eleven rescuing Mike after he jumps off a cliff to the lake below doesn’t quite match E.T’s famous bike ride past the moon, it’s still highly impressive and has the same effect in revealing the character’s powerful potential.
Are you with me? If not, read this final point and weep:
The Creators Told Millie Bobby Brown to Act Like E.T
I can’t fathom why, but it’s true. According to Indiewire, creators the Duffer brothers gave Eleven actor Millie Bobby Brown those exact instructions.
“They told me that the performance that they wanted me to resemble was ‘E.T.’ and sort of that relationship between E.T. and the kids. I thought that was very interesting, and Matt and Ross were like, ‘Basically you’re going to be an alien.’” — Millie Bobby Brown
There are probably quite a few more comparisons to be found, but I’ll leave it there. So what is this, exactly? Is the narrative trying to subtly imply that Eleven actually is an alien and we’re going to get a reveal in Season 2? Given the plot development in the first season and the evidence that Eleven has A) human blood and B) a human mom, I’m not entirely convinced, but if not that, then what? Why was this such a specific creative decision?
Whatever the case, it seems that we’re looking at a new trope here, much like Bizarre Alien Biology but for behaviour instead of anatomical makeup.
As it stands, the big issue with these similarities is that a lot of them contribute to Eleven’s lack of agency in the narrative, as her bizarre behaviour leaves her either overly dependant on other characters or leaves them heavily reliant on her plot device capabilities instead of her personhood.
Duffer brothers, what’s going on? It’s one thing to pay homage to your favourite movie; another to let your best character sink for the sake of some Star Wars and Eggo easter eggs.
Alien or not, I’m rooting for Eleven to rise up as a fully-fleshed-out character in Season 2.
What do you think this is? Share your theories in the comments and then head on over to the forum if you want more detailed conversation.