Imagination and Portals [Stranger Things] [Free]


My imagination is lit with being with imagination these last weeks. Also, I received my second booster on Friday and have been a little loopy all weekend, which sometimes lets my imagination wander.

Where it has been wandering has been around an image from a recent show I watched. 

Warmly, Sue

The Power of Love in Stranger Things

There are so many great stories about the layers and levels of imagination – what is real and what is not real. What is “just in our heads” and what is in the world. I love that movies and stories pick up on this thread and play with it. Taking the “it’s just in my head” theory and making that what is real. 

[“Just in my head” is such an odd way to look at reality anyway. Honestly, everything is in our minds and bodies – how we encounter the world, our experiences, our reactions.]

When asked about dreams like this – “Are dreams real?” – I always say, “YES!” Yes, they are real because they have us explore different dimensions of our stories, our imaginations, our beliefs, our misconceptions. 

And the things in our thoughts and imaginations – some of which I do not believe are our own – do affect us – are very real in how they affect us, too.


There is a show I just watched that has really sparked my wanderings around all of this. Now, before I plunge – you do not need to watch the show, you do not need to care about the show, you do not need to know the entire plot of the show. I think it is a wonderful show, but not everyone does, and you do not have to either. 

There is a scene from this show, however, that so resonates with the work that we do with dreams. With the challenges we face and the beliefs we carry. So, I am going to talk about this one scene and give you the bare minimum of the story to understand the scene.

The show is Stranger Things and the scene comes from the fourth season. [Again, if you are not a fan of scary shows or of horror, you do not need to watch]. Here my quick synopsis of the scene.

In a little town in Indiana, a portal has been opened to a mysterious and twisted version of our reality the show calls the upside-down. In this place, there is a villain they call “Vecna”, a man who has the ability to do things with his mind and can enter other people’s minds, memories and imaginations. He has been in the upside-down for a long time and now is a scary creature [of course]. In the story, he also has the ability to enter into the “collective unconscious” looking for people who are despairing in order to find his victims. When he finds one, he eventually enters her/their/his mind/imagination, drains their energy and kills them. 

In the scene I want to talk about, he is after one of the main characters of the show, a young teenage girl named Max. She is in despair from trauma [previous shows] and carries guilt about that trauma. Max is aware of Vecna and knows he is coming for her, so she has written letters to her people in case she does not make it and is with her friends in a cemetery [reading a letter to her dead stepbrother] when the attack happens.

Here’s Max reading the letter.

Sadie Sink as Max Mayfield in Stranger Things, Season 4
Cr. Courtesy of Netflix © 2022

Okay, so that is probably enough setup. Oh, except to say that music is something that can help a person when attacked.

So, here is the scene. As she sits in her grief and guilt here in the cemetery, the villain attacks – and it is all in her mind. Something does happen to her body, but most of what happens is in her imagination. The villain enters her imagination and she is taken into the upside-down but the version of the villain’s imagination. It is a scary place, very surreal, red lightning, ominous clouds, heavy. The villain brings her into his “lair” and pins her as he prepares to take her energy and then her life. As he stalks and traps her, he says all the terrible things she has ever thought herself about herself and takes it a step forward – saying that the despair will never end, but that he can make it end for her.

But, in the “waking” world, Max’s friend see she is in the battle. They take her tape player [the show is set in the 80s], put on her favorite song, put the headset on her and hit play. [Fun Fact: The song is Kate Bush’s Running up The Hill (A Deal with God).]

This is what changes everything. She begins to remember other things – other memories about being with her friends, about being in the love, about hope.

Which opens a portal out of the upside-down for Max. She escapes the villain and runs for it – the portal – where her friends are yelling her name, her friends who love her, while the music she loves plays in her mind. She runs and runs and makes her way out. 

The Portal Out – Stranger Things, Season 4
Cr. Courtesy of Netflix © 2022

I love this scene so much. It makes me cry even just thinking about it. Even if you do not like the show. Because it is a scene, I believe, most of us have lived in some way.

Lived when we have been lost in some hopeless place that we do not feel will ever end. Lost in a hopeless place where love cannot exist. Lost in a place with an imagination that is just about despair. 

Which, again, is the imagination of the villain in this scene. His imagination only is about despair and power and pain. He cannot imagine anything else – partially because of his own experiences. The place he creates from his imagination is barren and splintered and terrifying. But when Max’s friends bring her music she loves, music that sparks her imagination, another possibility opens. Love comes back and offers a way out. Once she remembers the love, the villain cannot control her anymore.

Love. First, Max’s love of music. Then, the love of her friends. Even her honesty and tenderness about her stepbrother [which was complicated because he was abusive] which is based in love. 

Love is what calls her back. Or better. Out of the hellscape of despair.

We all have our places of despair – whether from the past or the present, whether from trauma or loss – that has its own energy. It would pull us in and have us get lost in that despair. It has its own kind of imagination and is full of voices that feed that imagination. Some of those voices come from us, yes, and many of those voices come from the world around us.

Voices from culture, voices from family or friends, voices from people who have hurt/abused us, voices from loss that pair with other voices. This kind of imagination has such a powerful pull that it can seem impossible to leave when we are in it. The scene with Max lost in that landscape is heartbreaking. We do not want anyone to be left alone in a place like that – we do not want to be left in a place like that, ever.


Which brings me back to dreams because, of course.

Max can leave the hellscape of the imagination of despair [that is someone else’s remember] because her friends remind her of what she loves – music and then memories with them. There they are, fighting for her, calling her. Even though she had been isolating herself from them, even though she had been cold and dismissive of them in her isolation. There they were, yelling her name.

Here’s Max running for the portal and her friends:

Sadie Sink as Max Mayfield in Stranger Things, Season 4
Cr. Courtesy of Netflix © 2022

It is what our community can do for us. It is what turning toward the love can do. 

And. There are moments when we do not have access – or cannot find it – to our community. Or feel like it is too late, etc.

In these moments, our dreams make portals for us. Portals for us to leave a hellish landscape created from trauma and history. Portals away from the bleak landscape we are taught to believe into a new place where there is love and an imagination that may be new to us. Of love and possibility and fierceness. 

We all have had dreams that felt magical, that felt full of hope and energy. I recently had a dream with a wildly joyful horse, stamping her feet and prancing around. Wanting me to leap into her saddle so we run and fly like the wind together. I also remember an older dream where a sweet person just stood with me in my grief, held my hand, which opened my heart in new ways.

These are portals, these dreams. Portals that want to open our imagination to the love we know or have known – and more. To expand our imagination. To grow it so that the possibilities we can imagine are not inhibited by our experiences or our past or by the culture we were born into. 

Here’s Max with her friends, after.

Gaten Matarazzo as Dustin Henderson, Sadie Sink as Max Mayfield, Caleb McLaughlin as Lucas Sinclair, and Joe Keery as Steve Harrington in Stranger Things, Season 4
Cr. Courtesy of Netflix © 2022

Our terrifying dreams, our scary dreams, our hopeless dreams come because sometimes we do not know we are already living in that kind of landscape. We do not know where we are living and are trying to pretend we are “fine”. Or we are lost but we do not know exactly where we are lost. Or believe stories about ourselves from the world and then become part of the creation of the twisted imaginative landscape. Those moments when we become like Vecna.

These dreams come to help us, too. Help show us where the imagination of despair has left us. So we can be shown the way out.


I keep returning to this scene because I have been Max, lost. I have believed I was Vecna. I have been part of creating a landscape of despair inside of me. I have been Max, too, running for the portal and not wanting to be lost anymore. Wanting to find my way to someplace new. The part of the scene where she is running for the portal is stunning.

For me, sometimes the thing that opens the portal is the love I have found with others in my life – my beloved partner, Bill; my kiddo, Sammie; my friends who have stayed with me through hellscapes. Sometimes, though, the thing that opens the portal is the love I have found in my dreams – the wild horse reminding me of my passion, the gentle archetype holding my hand in my grief. Especially when I cannot believe that there can be love for me in the world.

I return to this scene because of the hope of it. How it shows, to me, that imagination can be shaped and changed. That despair is never, ever, a destination, but a place to work with and a place I can leave. We can leave. You can leave. That there are portals that offer us a way to find what we love again. To find ourselves again. And to expand and change what we can imagine about ourselves and the world.

[If you want to just watch the scene – here’s a link. And remember, it is a scary/horror show, so be warned. It is scary at the beginning, so you can choose to watch or not. Link: Max escaping Vecna.]