This year I got to write an essay about two of my most favourite bits of art from the past nine months. One was a play called Speed Death of the Radiant Child by Chris Goode that was directed by my pal Ben and produced by my other pal Emily. Also many pals were performing in the play too. I loved it with all my heart. The other one was Stranger Things, a TV show that I didn’t think I would end up loving as much as I did. The danger with writing an academic essay on things you love is that you get carried away. I wrote an essay on Anatomy of a Suicide and it was damn hard to separate my love for the show with critical analysis.
I think I did okay with this one though. This module was HARD but I really loved it. We looked at environmental texts and ideas of ecology and nature and waste. I learnt a hell of a lot and it’s the reason I could write down these ideas. I am damn proud of this essay. It didn’t get the highest mark in whole word, but I don’t care. It took me a very long time to write, and it’s one of the things I am most proud to have researched and thought about and I know for a FACT that no-one will have written anything like it yet (probably) so that makes me feel like maybe someday I might sort of be an academic?? Maybe. Anyway, I wanted to publish it. SO if you want to read it, here is my 5,500 word essay on Speed Death and Stranger Things as ecological texts that trace our collective nuclear history through internal and external environments.
Bodily Pain as Environmental Trauma in Speed Death of the Radiant Child and Stranger Things
‘Eternal source of light divine
With double warmth thy beams display’
Eternal Source of Light Divine (Birthday Ode for Queen Anne), Handel
Speed Death of the Radiant Child by Chris Goode and Stranger Things by the Duffer Brothers both explore imagery of young bodies in pain. Bodily pain is presented as the cause and consequence of environmental damage, particularly in regards to radiation and nuclear activity. This essay is punctuated by lyrics from songs which appear in Goode’s script and which inspired a student performance of the play in 2017. These two texts can be read with a view towards ecocriticism if they are framed as a diptych. A diptych is a painting or tablet with two panels, connected by a hinge, that conveys a discursive message. Serenella Iovino and Serpil Oppermann use this framing in their essay ‘Theorizing Material Ecocriticism: A Diptych’, and it is helpful to see the two primary texts of this essay in this way. They write that ‘the diptych exceeds its “merely” material dimension, and creates a double bridge of meanings between the “text” it conveys and the world in which it occurs.’ (448), and so Speed Death of the Radiant Child and Stranger Things reflect each other in their interlocking themes, but spread out in their scope and investigation of trauma into the world around them. On the left hand panel of the diptych is Speed Death, a play which focuses on a hospital that houses Charlotte (a troubled young woman with a mysterious blue tube in her inner thigh) and the people who orbit around her. Goode’s script is abstract and impenetrable in its intellectual scope, often spiralling out of control. The hospital becomes a leaking nuclear power plant, and as the toxic leak is subsumed into the characters they become one body, and at one with the building. Then on the right hand panel, Stranger Things is a TV show which fits more into the science fiction genre. Will (a young boy) is taken into the Upside Down; a world parallel to our own but is rife with danger and destruction. In the second season, which I will be focusing on, the monster of the Upside Down enters Will and begins to use him as a host. What ties these two panels together is their discussion of trauma and how it is tied to environmentalism. The bodies in Speed Death and Stranger Things experience traumatic bodily pain because of their environment which has been wounded as a result of a toxicity. Nuclear radiation seeps into the body and disrupts the ecological landscapes of the text, and so both pieces show how a broken environment causes and is caused by the broken body.
‘I imagine what my body would sound like
Slamming up herest those rocks’
As the audience are confronted with bodies in pain and pleasure in Speed Death, both become synonymous with (simultaneously causing and caused by) the leaking hospital. Bodies become buildings and buildings become bodies; bodies act as containers and vessels (also seen in Stranger Things). Charlotte introduces this idea in the first lines of Speed Death – ‘This deep blue light. Filling the whole building…And I keep thinking, blue the colour of… Stupid. / This building full of blue light.’ (7) The colour blue is linked with the glowing light of the hospital, but also with the toxic glow of radiation. Radiation is seen as a toxic contamination of the body which Goode presents as both a contamination on the body and something that lives within it. Later, Charlotte clarifies, ‘This empty building with all the machines and animals sleeping full of blue light, and I, I keep thinking. / Blue the colour of skin’ (8). Charlotte’s skin is blue like the inside light of the building; she is both a vessel, as the building is a vessel, and a contaminated host. A line can be drawn to Will in Stranger Things, in which a child’s body becomes a host for a parasitic monster.
In order to understand the overarching metaphor of bodies in pain, it is useful to note that Speed Death and Stranger Things both grapple with the idea of the body as an ecosystem. In their essay, ‘Material Ecocriticism: Dirt, Waste, Bodies, Food, and Other Matter’, Dana Phillips and Heather I. Sullivan unpick how material ecocriticism is ‘radically local’ in its efforts to examine ‘the ecosystems on your skin, under your shoes, in your digestive tract, and in your very cells, too.’ (447) Similarly, it seems the bodies in Speed Death are dissected in almost minute detail, both in the psychological framing of Nick’s research and in the biblical readings of Justine’s artworks. Justine notes that to truly understand the body’s pain and pleasure ‘there has to be this encounter with the body and that means getting inside the body’ (38). Will’s body contorts and so often becomes the centre of scenes of trauma in Stranger Things. His body becomes emblematic of the ecosystem of Hawkins that connects to the Upside Down. As Justine describes in Speed Death, we understand everything through the body. It is our indicator for the moments when meaning is distorted and environments are corrupted:
(We share) a sense of the individual body as a container and carrier of information. We absorb and we radiate. We record and we play back. We are read and we ourselves write…The fundamental unit of our social relations and our civic meaning is the individual body (60-61)
The body is the beginning and end point for all human life, and anything that holds that life up. It is how we experience the environment around us. Significantly, the body is altered in Speed Death. It is often consumed by pleasure – Nick shouts ‘You know I can feel it. Can you?…All down the spine….It’s like being…Fucked’ (90-91) as the radiation leaks out of the hospital and into the bodies of the characters. Justine calls it the ‘erotic collapse of the distance between us’ (38) – the barriers of the body break down and mutate because of the toxic environment that it is contained in. Pleasure as an altered physical state is linked with pain in Speed Death through Keith Haring’s painting, ‘The Radiant Child’, which somewhat acts as the iconography of the show. Haring was a gay American artist who died of AIDS in 1990. AIDS is an illness where pain and pleasure meet. The homoerotic connotations of AIDS is tied to the severe pain that the patients experience. In this way, Goode allows a line to be drawn between pain and pleasure as significant ways of altering the body.
In examining pain as a thing which alters the body, it is useful to look to Elaine Scarry’s book, The Body in Pain. She states that pain is a wholly inexpressible bodily experience. She writes,
The events happening within the interior of that person’s body may seem to have the remote character of some deep subterranean fact, belonging to an invisible geography that, however portenuous, has no reality because it has not yet manifested itself on the visible surface of the earth (3)
Here, Scarry is explaining that whatever is happening inside a body is unknowable to the person standing next to them – it has no reality because it cannot be seen or felt in any true way by the other person. Therefore, pain becomes an ephemeral beast to try and qualify. Scarry pinpoints the difficulty of a thesis such as mine, in that although ‘there is virtually no piece of literature that is not about suffering’ (11), pain seems to actively destroy language in its very existence (4). Although pain drastically alters the body, there is no way to accurately describe this altering. The pain in Speed Death is often deferred or emotional – there is only one moment of physical pain, when Ash burns himself on a tealight:
In the distance, what sounds like a car alarm going off. / He holds his right hand over one of the candles, palm down. / After a while his hand starts to shake with the pain. He holds his right wrist with his left hand to steady himself. / The alarm continues to sound. (60)
It is in the character of Charlotte that pain is most abstracted by Goode. Proof of Charlotte’s self-harm comes late in the play, in the forms of scars on her body. It is referenced throughout, and visualised through Nick’s psychological analysis; ‘repeated self-administered lacerations, apparently carried out over a period of six to nine months, most probably using a Stanley knife or similar blade. Over thirty separate scars were counted.’ (78) This is explained in parallel with the blue rectangle in Charlotte’s thigh – Goode leads the audience to the conclusion that the two are one and the same. Charlotte’s self-inflicted wounds are inseparable from the toxic radiation which has lodged itself inside her. In Stranger Things the pain is often more visceral; both Will and Eleven experience intense physical pain. Significantly, their pain is because of a supernatural attachment to an outside force. The parasite in Will’s veins is paralleled with the veins that track underneath the surface of the ground in Hawkins through cinematic visual metaphors. This connects the disintegration of the pumpkins in Episode One and Will’s deteriorating health. Therefore, when Will screams in horror as Hopper sets fire to the roots that connect to the Upside Down, it is clear that the trauma inflicted on the environment directly affects Will’s body. In both Speed Death and Stranger Things, a body in pain is never an isolated occurrence. In these texts inexpressible bodily pain is communicated through a wounded environment, and further in Will and Charlotte, pain cannot be separated from the toxic environment the characters live in. Bodily pain is shown to be the twin of environmental trauma – one cannot be experienced without the other.
‘His wound is bleeding day and night’
Corpus Christi Carol, Jeff Buckley
Marianne Hirsch notes that ‘trauma, in its literal meaning, is a wound inflicted on the body’ (72), and so if we consider trauma as defined by its Greek etymology ‘wound’, we might gain a better understanding of how it manifests in art. The wounded body is easier to comprehend than the traumatized body. A cut knee or scarred body are visible wounds, whereas childhood trauma or a tumour is far less visible. Furthermore, the earth is also a kind of body which can be wounded and experience trauma. Images of a beach devastated by a tsunami (“Then And Now: The Aftermath Of The 2004 Indonesian Tsunami – In Pictures”) are more powerful than statistics about beetles deteriorating in the Amazon (Thompson). In a review of a student production of Speed Death of a Radiant Child, it is noted that ‘there’s a lot of pain. Pain quite literally with the nurse convulsing on the floor and the doctor being knocked unconscious’ (Harrison). Bodily pain and trauma are in conversation with each other in a play like Speed Death – the wounded body is equated with the traumatised body, and so one begins to see how the literal wounds inflicted on the body and the earth also manifest in psychological wounding. Charlotte’s scarred body is also a deeply troubled body, and so the two begin to become synonymous. Scarry’s assertion that pain is an inexpressible human condition can also be applied to the trauma of the play. Similarly, a blog about Stranger Things notes that the show ‘is about grief and loss. It’s about trauma.’ (Stephens), particularly the trauma of young bodies. The blog is not an academic journal, but it gives important insight into the audience reception of the show, and how the themes of trauma are interpreted. The trauma in Stranger Things is explored through metaphor and monsters, both the monster and the trauma are presented as undeniably real occurrences. Will is not only suffering from PTSD, but he is also being infected by a monster in a parallel universe. Both the trauma and the monster are somewhat inexplicable in their manifestation and reality, and so the Duffer Brothers allow an exploration of trauma through science fiction. Stranger Things is set in an America consumed by fear of the Cold War, and the threat of nuclear destruction, while Speed Death is set in the Windscale Nuclear Plant in post war Britain. Both Speed Death and Stranger Things examine corrupted bodies as a result of human interference. Therefore, the texts are located in different genres and geographies, but interconnect in their analysis of trauma as an inexpressible experience.
The young bodies in these two texts are interwoven with their environments, and their environments become toxic, which in turn makes the bodies toxic; an inherited trauma from the land to the body. In ‘Bodies That Remember’ Derek J. Thiess explores how bodily histories are inscribed by the environments that they live in and are therefore in opposition with one another while also informing each other; ‘there is a clear juxtaposition of planetary ecosystem and human body such that they continually call one another into question—their living and dying mirror one another.’ (141) In Chapter One of Stranger Things, Will is brought into Hawkins National Laboratory to help him recover from the trauma of being taken to an alternative dimension. The scientists connect receptors to his brain (again the body is the site of trauma and remembering) and ask him what happens in his “episodes”, where he feels as if he is in the Upside Down. He says ‘there was this storm…I felt. Frozen…Just frozen…I felt this evil like it was looking at me…To kill…Not me, everyone else’ (24:00-26:10). Significantly, Will mentions the storm before he describes the creature that is looking at him, suggesting that the environment of the Upside Down is as important as what inhabits it. The environment of the Upside Down is written onto Will and into his bodily history as he becomes infected by the monster in the storm. Will is weakened by the environment inhabiting in his body, but he is also connected to the alternative dimension and when it is harmed, he is harmed; they mirror each other, as Thiess suggests.
Sandra Steingraber writes in Living Downstream: An Ecologist Looks at Cancer and the Environment that ‘our bodies, too, are living scrolls of sorts. What is written there – inside the fibers of our cells and chromosomes – is a record of our exposure to environmental contaminants’ (236). Steingraber compares the human body to the trunk of a tree; the rings of the tree narrate its history just our body narrates our history. This can be applied to a literal wounding, or to a traumatic wounding; it is all kept in the body. This is seen in Speed Death as the environment of the hospital and the nuclear plant sits within the bodies of the characters, most obviously in the blue tube in Charlotte’s leg. The Windscale fire at the nuclear reactor plant in 1957 is the heart of Speed Death and is the setting of the play. This is the toxic environment which bleeds into the bodies that inhabit it, just as in Stranger Things. Justine quotes Rene Richard’s essay ‘The Radiant Child’ in Speed Death, saying that in Haring’s painting, one sees ‘the child’s body being bombarded with what he calls communications, “radioactive communications”’ (9). Here, Goode introduces an intellectual reading of the painting as a microcosm of the image at the heart of the play – a body being ‘bombarded’ with radiation, and ultimately becoming synonymous with that radioactive environment. As Justine elaborates on Three Mile Island as the worst civilian nuclear accident at the time, she explains that ‘those lines, that’s not a metaphor, that’s not information as radiation, that’s radiation as radiation.’ (10). The radiation can therefore be read as the wound on the body – it is the reason for the collapsing body and collapsing landscape. As the radiation finds its way into Nick’s body, he becomes increasingly broken, and at the end his body fully collapses. Furthermore, an inexpressible traumatic pain is represented through the wounds inflicted by leaking radiation. It is a wound in a metaphorical sense but also in a corporeal way.
‘Muscle connects to the bone
And bone to the ire and the marrow
I wish I had a gentle mind’
Marrow, St. Vincent
After examining the nature of the trauma that afflicts the characters in Stranger Things and Speed Death, it is interesting to examine how these two texts intersect in their discussion of vulnerable bodies. In both pieces, children are at the centre of the ecological trauma. Charlotte in Speed Death is just 19 years old, acting as the only visible child’s body, and Jordan Beaker is a dead child star that Laura, Charlotte’s nurse, is infatuated with. Further, Will is merely 14 years old alongside Dustin, Mike, and Lucas. The child stars that act in Stranger Things have an almost uncanny resemblance to Jordan Beaker’s fame that Laura discusses in Speed Death; ‘Suddenly he’s in Hollywood. And everyone who’s a vegan says he’s a vegan and everyone who wants to marry a rabble-rouser says he’s a rabble-rouser and everybody, everybody, is convinced he’s bisexual’ (42) A child actor is caught between childhood and adulthood; living within a vulnerable body in a world they are not yet built for. It is in this vulnerable place that Jordan Beaker dies; ‘By the time they get him to hospital, his skin is blue, his lips are dark blue, his fingernails are dark blue.’ (42) Again Goode reiterates blue as a colour of death and radiation, but also of pleasure and the body. Each time it is mentioned, the body is redefined. Whether it is Charlotte’s body becoming a building, Ash’s body in a dream, or Jordan Beaker’s body in death, the audience are confronted with blue as a signifier of the body changing. Laura echoes this by saying, ‘you trust someone beautiful, and then they die, and then you have to trust that.’ (43) In the final moments of the play, Charlotte walks across the stage, naked, and she is bathed in ‘deep blue light.’ (93) It is in this moment that she becomes a vulnerable body in the most visible sense. Both as an actress and a character, Charlotte is exposed and reborn. In this way, the vulnerable body of a child is emblematic of a body in flux, dictated by environmental disruption. Theiss writes that ‘biological body and written history are one and the same…reshaped the boundaries among history, place, and body’ (145). It might therefore be useful to think of a child’s body as vulnerable because of its yet unformed history. If biology and written history are the same, a young body is physically and emotionally susceptible to the environment surrounding it. Furthermore, the body mirrors the environment but in so doing sheds light back onto the characters. In Stranger Things the environment acts as a metaphor for adolescence – for Will’s emotional and physical growth which mirrors the entropy in the landscape. In Monstrous Nature, Murray and Huemann discuss Germany Year Zero, a film which explores ‘effects an eco-horror caused by total war and occupation has on innocence, especially the innocence of children whose external and internal landscapes have become broken’ (xx). Huemann and Murray’s description of the children’s broken ‘external and internal landscapes’ could be applied to the children of Speed Death and Stranger Things. All the young bodies in these texts experience trauma and loss; their bodies are attacked physically by a toxic environment. Furthermore, in Chris Goode’s abstract world, it is the death of Jordan Beaker that causes the fire in the nuclear power plant where Charlotte is housed. The timelines falter in the world of Speed Death, meaning that the vulnerability of a child’s body causes such a rift, that a hospital turns into a power plant, and the radiation inside it leaks out.
‘I am blue inside, I am the blue light’
Braid of Voices, DM Smith
Building on the idea of radiation as a contamination in the environment that inflicts wounds on bodies, it is potent to consider the wider ecological implications of this analysis. Radiation spills are an example of human interference with nature becoming destructive, or even fatal. Nick shouts to Justine that there are ‘Fifty thousand leaflets in boxes in our bedroom, our bedroom, about how nuclear waste is transported by train every week about a mile and a half from our house and I’m making you scared?’ (83). Matt Chester notes on a blog about energy technology and policy that the Hawkins Lab in Stranger Things could be considered a close allegory to the Manhattan Project. He reasons that the ‘mistakes’ made in creating the Upside Down are comparable to the mistakes of the scientists who created the atomic bomb. In this way, Stranger Things widens its lens out to historical moments of destructive nature; moments where man has used nature in ways which cause harm. This can be usefully paralleled with the leaking nuclear power plant in Speed Death, set in a post war Britain which needed a bomb to establish itself as a world power. Environmental damage in these texts is tied closely with the Conservative politics of the times (1957 and 1982). Political decisions about the development of nuclear activity and schemes that will cause environmental damage have shaped disasters such as the Windscale Fire, Three Mile Island, Chernobyl, and even oil spills such as Deepwater Horizon. In his introduction to Eco-Trauma Cinema Anil Narine states that ‘nature, whether it threatens us, we threaten it or we see ourselves as part of it, remains sublime in this way: something too vast in its beauty and power to comprehend.’ (1) Whether the environment is damaging us or we are damaging the environment, the destruction and pain that occurs from it is as incomprehensible as it is fascinating.
The two ideas of ‘nature’ and ‘pain’ parallel each other, particularly when considering the trauma of ecological disasters. Not only do these ideas encircle each other, but they interlock in the case study of the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill. Ghosh notes that ‘the history of oil is a matter of embarrassment verging on the unspeakable, the pornographic’ (75) In 2015 an article was published in the Journal of Behavioural Health Services & Research which detailed how the Deepwater Horizon spill left Gulf Coast residents traumatized. It is defined in the paper as a ‘non intentional anthropogenic (human-generated) technological disaster involving a hazardous materials spill (petroleum and dispersant chemicals) that generated severe ecological impact’ (59), however the paper then goes on to detail the trauma side effects it had on residents and workers. In the paper they reference the Exxon Valdez spill, where ‘exposed clean-up workers had signiﬁcantly higher rates of generalized anxiety disorder, PTSD, and major depression compared with non-exposed controls’ (60). In this way, ecological disaster begins to have tangible effects on bodies and minds, even if it is not directly destroying human life. In Speed Death, then, the impact of the radiation spill begins to root itself more firmly in reality, particularly when seen in conjunction with cases such as Deepwater Horizon. Environmental trauma is proven to have psychological effects on people, and so the bodily pain in Speed Death and Stranger Things can be read as a literal pain, as well as in a metaphorical way. The wounding that comes from a radiation spill is not only the long term effects on the planet, it is also the effect it has on the bodies that inhabit that planet. These two texts discuss this trauma through metaphor and genre, but they touch on an important analysis of environmental impact, which might change how we see our relationship with nature. Global heating is often an ethereal issue which does not suggest immediate threat; perhaps in understanding that the effect that nature has on our bodies is parallel to the effect we have on nature, we might come to understand the importance of tending to our wounds. Murray and Heumann map the horror genre as an ecocritical examination of a nature which fights back at its human inhabitants: ‘Godzilla springs to life from the radiation left by nuclear testing’ (xi) These critics are arguing that through the literal monsters of the horror genre (particularly in film), there is a repeated theme of human destruction of the environment. This monster imagery is apparent in Stranger Things, significantly in the final episodes of both series, in which the characters must fight off the mutated creatures that emerged from the alternate reality. Murray and Heumann write that films ‘provide a space in which to explore the complexities of a monstrous nature that humanity both creates and embodies.’ (xii) Therefore, the creation of a monstrous nature that fights back against humanity can be paralleled to the way that the Deepwater Horizon Spill was traumatic for both humans and the environment surrounding them. The oil spill was a human created disaster that affected the land just as it affected the human body, and therefore reading this with an ecocritical view shows that the line between human and nature may grow thinner, but perhaps in ways that are toxic (as in Speed Death). With this view, it is significant that the destruction goes two ways in Speed Death and Stranger Things; trauma is passed through bodies and land in a cycle of damage.
‘Drone bomb me
Blow me from the mountains, and into the sea’
Drone Bomb Me, ANOHNI
Expanding the discussion of these two texts reaches to a discussion of a collapsing world expressed through collapsing bodies. Both the hospital and nuclear power station in Speed Death are places that allude to broken bodies, particularly if we see the power station as connected to atomic bombs. In Stranger Things, the Upside Down is a destroyed world that houses destructive monsters and Hawkins Laboratory is a site of collapsing bodies (the experiments conducted on Eleven). Throughout both pieces, but more significantly in Speed Death, there is a continued theme of emergency and collapse. A collapsing environment becomes emblematic of a collapsing body; ‘I’m guessing my heart will explode for a start. So the fire alarm might go off. The whole city could very well be plunged into a state of emergency’ (16) In the Guardian review of the first production of Speed Death, it is stated that the play ‘captures the edgy anxiety of a world in meltdown and of people surviving against the odds with their tarnished halos intact.’ (Gardner) The worlds of these texts are fragile; Hawkins balances on a knife edge between our world and a dangerous alternative reality. Inevitably, this draws parallels to the climate change disaster that faces the earth. The world is on a collision course to disaster, and the anxiety about this is felt across most of the world. (Wayne Smith et al). The impending collapse of the planet and all its ecosystems is felt in both of these texts. One way this is shown is through a collapsing language. In both pieces there is a motif of language as a barrier but also as a tool. In Stranger Things, Eleven is never taught to speak, and so it is only in the second season that she begins to use language to describe herself and her abnormality. Furthermore, those around her continually do not have the words to describe her or her powers. In this way, language begins to be insufficient. Similarly, in Speed Death the language begins to break down half way through the play. All the actors start talking at the same time, speaking directly to the audience. While this happens, Ash is talking about Laura, and she falls to the floor and begins to convulse:
Unable to speak because she doesn’t trust the language she stands up in…She realizes she’s stopped breathing. She can’t remember how it goes. And a kind of alarm begins to suffuse her body…Why does this hurt? she thinks, as her heart starts to go tick tick tick… Boom. / All the streetlights outside and the lights inside begin to flash (61-62)
It is in this moment that the thesis of this essay is most clear in the text of the play. The toxicity of the hospital is subsumed into Laura’s body and she becomes part of the hospital (a vessel and a host), all because Jordan Beaker died far too young. Language collapses and speech stops working, so the body takes over. As Laura convulses and the radiation enters her veins, the environment outside starts to glitch and the world verges on collapse.
Both of these texts suggest that bodies and environments collapse together. The characters in Goode’s play refer to themselves as buildings, cities, and whole landscapes. As is noted in a review of the student production, if the body goes down, the whole city goes with it (James). Towards the end of the play, Nick and Laura discuss the state of the hospital:
NICK: This is a collapse scenario.
LAURA: I know. It’s a nightmare. (89)
The collapse scenario is happening to the hospital and power plant, but it is also happening to Nick, as he falls unconscious in the final moments of the play. As Justine notes, ‘The biggest lie, the biggest betrayal you can ever experience in art is the sham prestige of transcendence. Art that takes you, quote unquote, out of yourself.’ (75). Everything in these texts is centred on the body – there is no transcendence because it all comes back to the body. The body collapses with the earth because ‘inflamed lungs and sinuses prove once again that there is no difference between the without and the within’ (Ghosh 5), meaning that as the earth becomes increasingly toxic, so do our bodies. Theiss writes that ‘to destroy the human body is to destroy one’s planet is to destroy written history’ (139), connecting the body with the earth and reinventing them as collective rather than separate histories. As the children of Stranger Things and Speed Death become connected to their respective environments through toxic bodily invasion, their ecosystems become intertwined. As a result of this intertwining, they collapse together. Goode and the Duffer Brothers might be saying something about nature in this imagery, significantly our relationship to the land we inhabit. Reading these texts with an ecocritical lens encourages these stories to be read as allegories for the increasingly destructive world we inhabit. Our bodies are both the cause of this destruction (oil spills, global heating etc) and become destroyed as a consequence (radiation poisoning, PTSD etc). In order to decipher this allegory, it is necessary to find a new, shared language. As Nick says to Charlotte in Speed Death, ‘I need you to teach me the words. So we can have a shared language. A common ground…We have to create the language. We have to invent the ground to stand up on’ (33). This new language might be thought of as a rebirth, in the same way that Charlotte is reborn in the final moments of Speed Death.
Chris Goode’s sprawling and difficult play, Speed Death of the Radiant Child, informs how we might see the Duffer Brothers’ Stranger Things as an ecological piece of cinema. Both pieces investigate how the body becomes a vessel for the ecological workings of the world that contains it. Bodies become entry points for the trauma of their surrounding environments. They embody this environmental trauma through physical and mental unrest; the pieces suggest a new language is needed for describing this trauma, and for curing it. The radiation from the hospital seeps into Charlotte in Speed Death, just as the ‘upside down’ nestles into Will in Stranger Things. It is no accident that these two vessels are not just bodies, but children’s bodies. Their bodies are vulnerable, and therefore susceptible to the world around them. To read these pieces with an environmental lens is to understand that contamination in nature (radiation leaks, oil spills etc) leads to contamination in the body, in both a corporeal and ethereal way. Most significantly, these pieces and the critics that accompany them in this essay, are interested in collapse; both bodily and environmental collapse, as the place where rebirth might occur. These pieces allow us to see our environments differently, and further, allow abstraction to inform a newly developing language of trauma (both of the body and of the land). Reading Speed Death and Stranger Things as ecological texts that are speaking to each other about new ways of thinking about the relationship between the body and its environment invites a rethinking of the body in pain as necessarily caused by and the cause of a toxic environment.
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Speed Death of the Radiant Child. By Chris Goode, directed by Ben Kulvichit, 9 November 2017, Warwick Arts Centre, Coventry
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