Stranger Things: Four MAX-imum Lessons While ‘Running Up That Hill’

Just one episode, I told myself. Then off to bed at a decent time. Just one.

It was a mistake. You would think after three seasons and 25 episodes, I would know better. One does not simply watch just one episode of Stranger Things!

It’s been six months since the Battle of Starcourt and our favorite Scooby gang of the 80s are scattered. To catch up: A now powerless El (Millie Bobby Brown) is struggling to adjust to her new life in California. Back in Hawkins, Indiana, she was a badass who saved the world!  But the rest of the world doesn’t know that.

Unfortunately, all the demogorgons in the world couldn’t prepare her for the queen bees of the high school hierarchy! Mike (Finn Wolfhard) is flying out to visit her, but she’s desperate to keep up the appearance that everything is just fine. 

Meanwhile her friends back in Indiana are dealing with yet another mystery. A monster is preying on teens. Those in pain, with past trauma. Could it relate to the “upside down”? ANSWER: Is this Stranger Things?

Oh, and former Sheriff Jim Hopper is believed dead… or is he merely serving time in a Russian prison while Joyce (Winona Ryder) and the awkward, yet surprisingly intrepid Murray attempt against all odds to bust him out? Stranger Things have happened.

The magic touch hasn’t left the Duffy Brothers. As noted at the beginning of this piece, they have the cliffhanger down to an art form. It’s amazing how the show continues to reinvent itself every season and this time around we get the long awaited origin story for Eleven, only hinted at till now.

Fun new characters are added to the mix, especially the delightful Joseph Quinn as metalhead outcast and gifted D&D GM, Eddie. One could argue, though, that the cast has become too bloated, perhaps at the expense of others.

Dear Max

In this edition of Silver Screen Self Care, we are narrowing our focus to an episode that is rife with great lessons – the Max-centric Chapter 4, titled Dear Billy. 

WARNING, beyond this point you will find SPOILER THINGS.

Outside of the obvious – being don’t move to Hawkins! – here are the four Max-imum take-aways from the hour:

Max Lesson 1. Not Everything Just ‘Works Out’

Is it no surprise that this monster that feeds on trauma sets it sights on Max (Sadie Sink)? The events of last season which led to the death of her step-brother, Billy, has left her increasingly withdrawn at school and from her friends. Not to mention the intense feelings of survivor’s guilt.

It’s been a rough go for Max.

Umm…. what’s up, Max?

“All my life everyone has been telling me, it will ‘work out,’ but it never does,” said Max, while processing her grief. 

When our friends are struggling, it’s not uncommon to be willing to say just about anything to make them feel better. Oh, we mean well, but the phrase “it will all work out,” can be unintentionally damaging. Another common offense while others are grieving? “Everything happens for a reason.”

Instead try these:

.

  • “I’m sorry for your loss.”
  • “My favorite memory of your loved one is…”
  • “We all need help in times like these, I am here for you.”
  • Nothing. Many times just being present with that person means more than words.

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John Lennon said, “Everything will be okay in the end and if it’s not okay, it’s not the end.” This may seem to contradict the subheading for this season, but my interpretation is this: We would do well to remember that there is more to the journey and that it’s okay not to not be okay.

Max Lesson 2. Write Isn’t Wrong

The past trauma. The living nightmares. Max sees the writing on the wall. And so she writes… on paper. First to her friends, saying her goodbyes in case her nightmares come to fruition. Then ultimately reading a letter she wrote to her brother at his graveside. Finally, after months of acting aloof and avoiding her feelings, it all comes tumbling out.

There is just something about the act of putting something down on paper, getting something out of our head. It becomes real. It becomes tangible. Sometimes it forces us to confront thoughts and feelings that may otherwise go ignored. 

It’s a powerful act. 

First, learn your triggers, the contexts that might be playing into emotional anxiety. This can be people, specific situations, words, television shows, anything. 

Then name your emotions. What is it you are feeling? Scared, angry, nervous, lonely? This will provide a roadmap to help explore with a counselor, if needed.

Journaling can be done in so many ways. The mental health blog, Unwanted Life, effectively lays out eight different ways this can be done.

Max Lesson 3. Music Motivation

Robin: Hatch said that music can reach parts of the brain that words can't. So maybe that's the key. A lifeline. A lifeline back to reality. It's worth a shot. 

Research shows that when we hear a favorite song, it releases some dopamine, a mood enhancing chemical, which it turn serves to fight depression. Music also has the power to take us back to the past and recall some of our fondest memories due to thoughts and feelings that were happening at the time.

Remember these?

And so Max’s friends take that shot, pumping Kate Bush’s Running Up That Hill through her earholes.

The lyrics read:

If I only could,
I'd make a deal with God,
And I'd get him to swap our places,
Be running up that road,
Be running up that hill,
With no problems.
If I only could,
Be running up that hill
If I only could,
Be running up that hill

The music, it inspires, it reaches down deep. It would seem Max is running FROM something, but rather she is running TO something.

Run up that hill!

Max Lesson 4. Remember Your Why

As Max raced towards the portal back to “our” dimension, rocking out to her favorite song, her memories were intercut with all those she cared about, and those who cared about her. Not only that, but she was being counted on to save Hawkins, and possibly the world!  She was remembering her WHY. 

Remembering our WHY is crucial to our well being and can sometimes save lives, including our own.

Shortly after my separation and subsequent divorce in 2020, I was at my lowest point. I didn’t want to get out of bed. But I had to. WHY?  Because my dog, Finn, demanded it!  He depended on me for food, shelter. He needed regular exercise, which forced me out of the house. 

In time, I came to the realization that I had come to depend on him as much as he depended on me (despite the sporadic to consistent moments of naughtiness!).  He was my WHY. And just as importantly, I was doing these things for care of myself.

Don’t be intimidated. A WHY doesn’t have to be life’s grand purpose, a big, big thing. As Pixar’s SOUL reminds us, most of life’s greatest WHYs are found in the small moments, yes, as simple as enjoying a good piece of pizza.

Just hanging out in the cemetery as we do.

What is your WHY?  Something to journal about while listening to some inspiring music, perhaps?

Where to Watch

Stranger Things is currently streaming on Netflix. Part 2 of season four launches on July 2. What kinds of lessons have you taken from the show? Have you found journaling to be helpful? What is your WHY? Share in the comments below!

Stranger Things: Dear Billy

Director: Shawn Levy

Screenwriter: Paul Dichter

Cast: Winona Ryder, David Harbour, Millie Bobby Brown, Finn Wolfhard, Gaten Matarazzo, Caleb McLaughlin, Noah Schnapp, Sadie Sink

Rated: TV-14

Runtime: 78 minutes

Comments

  1. April

    Great takeaways! The part that spoke to me most is when you said that our why doesn’t have to be done huge grandiose purpose; it can be something small found in small moments even. That’s a reminder I needed. Thanks for the great post!

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  2. Unwanted Life

    I really love the way you can find self-care content from the things you watch, and thank you for including me in this one.

    I too really hate comments like it’ll all be alright in the end or everything happens for a reason. Or in my mum’s case, its all part of god’s plan for you. You’d think an all knowing and all loving god could teach you what it thinks you need to know without causing significant amounts of trauma and pain.

    However, it has to be said that when I honestly stopped believing that things would work out in the end, I noticed a downturn in my mental health. Even the most nihilistic person will likely, deep down, will still think it’ll work out in the end. When you don’t, you’re likely very depressed.

    But that’s all inner thoughts rather than something saying it to someone else, which seems like it’s down to end the conversation rather than to support the person

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      Scott Harrison Rees

      Thank you for your transparency! Your thoughts are completely valid here. Good point about the difference between telling the “it will all work out” line to yourself vs hearing it from someone else.

  3. Evergreen

    I was so surprised to see how you extracted such important life lessons for a Netflix series! I honestly do not have the time to see it (trying to juggle work with a newborn) but loved your narrative and summarisation of the same. Amazing job and very well written.

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  4. Jeanine

    I love to read your reviews, even for things I have not watched…ha ha yes just one episode gets me EVERY Time…the way you relate back to caring for our mental health is fantastic it’s such an important factor of our lives…I love that quote, but I think Lennon got it from Fernando Sabino…it’s still a brilliant quote as life is always about the journey and sometimes there are more crappy bits than not…

  5. Tammi Kaeberlein

    This has got to be the best movie review ever! To be honest I’ve never watched that movie, though I’ve heard plenty about it. Your review is fascinating and has me thinking I might just check it out now. Love your perspective as well. I have filled my life with whys of all sizes and depths, but my dog is my favorite one. Thanks!

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