‘Stranger Things 4’: Rutgers med students to study Netflix series as metaphor for mental illness

Time is running out for the Season 4 finale of Netflix’s sci-fi mega-series “Stranger Things,” with the final two episodes set to hit the streaming platform on Friday. With a running time of over two hours, the final episode was billed as a carnage-filled game changer that will leave fans stunned by the conclusion.

As much as “Stranger Things” was a blast of mystery, action, and sickening 1980s nostalgia, so much the series has also earned praise for delving into deeper issues around identity, friendship, alienation. , community and mental health. This is especially true in Season 4, whose menacing Upside Down villain Vecna ​​preys on the trauma of his victims to lure them into his sinister service.

At Rutgers University, psychiatry professor Anthony Tobia will draw on the Duffer Brothers series to teach a course on psychiatric disorders. Some of the characters in the series show distinctive signs of post-traumatic stress disorder and other mental illnesses which can be used to illustrate how they affect people in everyday life.

“When you watch a show as empowering as Stranger Things, people tend to not only watch, but also relate to characters with similar feelings,” Tobia said. Today. “To identify these feelings within oneself, ushered in by a relationship forged with a fictional character, there is a window of opportunity for individuals to identify with and therefore take action in their own lives.”

The elective, called “Twittervision,” will allow students at Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School to share their psychiatric opinions on characters and plots, using the Twitter hashtag #RWJstrangerthings.

Critics of the first seven episodes of the season have widely written that the series attempts to symbolize mental illness and emphasize the importance of mental health. The discussion of “Stranger Things” as an allegory led Tobia’s students to choose the series as the focus of the lesson.

“For most people, it comes from left field when you bring movies and TV shows into the curriculum, especially the medical school curriculum,” Tobia said. “But the bottom line is that great shows make great lectures. If you really want buy-in from students, 95% of whom aren’t going to go to psychiatry, I found that if you let the students tell you what is this great spectacle, the purchase is all the easier.”

The complexity of “Stranger Things” lies in the story behind Vecna’s dark and murderous rampage in Hawkins.

During the first seven episodes, released last month on Netflix, viewers learned that Vecna ​​was originally Henry Creel, a young boy from Hawkins who possessed psychokinetic powers. Henry’s father, Victor, was a World War II veteran who had settled his family into a beautiful home, where Henry used his powers to mysteriously kill his mother and sister.

Victor Creel was falsely accused of the murders and thrown into a mental institution. Henry was taken to the secret Hawkins Laboratory by Dr. Martin Brenner to have his unusual powers studied.

Henry soon became One, the first of many children who underwent rigorous experiments at Hawkins Lab to harness their abilities as tools of national defense. One fell out of favor with Dr. Brenner for disobedience and was made lab nurse for the other children, including Eleven.

Buried in Eleven’s repressed memories was a massacre at Hawkins Lab that preceded her escape at the start of Season 1. In Season 4, she discovers that One was responsible for killing the other children. The cliffhanger before the last two episodes is that Eleven used her own powers to defeat One and send him upside down, where he transformed into Vecna. He is responsible for killing people in Hawkins and leading them backwards to gain power over the town.

As supernatural as the story is, the root of Vecna’s evil is her tormented past. It draws the residents of Hawkins to their gruesome and shattering death by immersing themselves in their traumatic experiences. More specifically, it targets people who feel overwhelmed with guilt or who have had significant life experiences.

Vecna’s most significant potential victim in the series is Hawkins High School student Max Mayfield. Her older half-brother, Billy Hargrove, was killed before her eyes by a giant spider monster in the Season 3 finale. school difficulty. After Vecna ​​has already killed a few other Hawkins residents, he turns his attention to Max.

Vecna’s depiction of power over his victims shows them in dark states of trance which are signaled by the ticking of a distorted clock. They retreat into their minds, frozen in the real world, as Vecna’s voice blames them for the traumas and regrets they feel.

With a little detective work, Max’s friends discover that music has the power to break Vecna’s mind control and stop him from killing her. They give her a tape of her favorite song, Kate Bush’s 1985 hit “Running Up That Hill,” and successfully bring her back to reality.

Tobia told Rutgers Today that the scenes showing Vecna’s powers are reminiscent of the symptoms people experience when dealing with PTSD, depression and anxiety.

“There are warning signs for those struggling with these mental illnesses. Be aware of your surroundings and situations, and when you see things ‘going dark’, don’t ignore this warning sign,” said Tobia. “This idea of, ‘Well, if I’m not careful, it’ll just go away.’ It doesn’t work. When things get dark, metaphorically or literally as they enter the Upside Down, it’s not the time to ignore your surroundings, it’s the time to act.”

The show can be used as an instructional point to help people recognize signs of mental illness and seek professional help, Tobia added. This may include developing methods to counter troubling thoughts and seeking protective activities that uplift those in mental distress.

More importantly, Tobia thinks the popularity of “Stranger Things” can be used to bring conversations about mental health to the fore.

“When you watch a series as empowering as ‘Stranger Things,’ people tend to not just watch, but relate to characters with similar feelings,” Tobia said. “To identify these feelings within oneself, ushered in by a relationship forged with a fictional character, there is a window of opportunity for individuals to identify with and therefore take action in their own lives.”

Tobia plans to hold off on watching Season 4 until his ‘Twitterverse’ course begins in January, which means he’ll have to drown out reactions to one of the most popular TV series of the streaming era. .

For the rest of us, the answers to the Season 4 open-ended questions will arrive on Friday. And it might not hurt to see “Stranger Things” through a lens that goes beyond pure sci-fi entertainment.


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