The Upside Down is an alternate reality or dimension existing in parallel to the human world. It contains the same locations and infrastructure as the human world, but it is much darker, colder, foggier and devoid of human life. The dimension is overgrown with ropy, root-like tendrils and biological membranes covering practically every surface, while countless spores drift through the air. A humanoid predator was native to this dimension.
In 1983, a gate to the Upside Down opened at Hawkins National Laboratory following experiments on a telekinetic child. As a result, supernatural forces began to bleed into the local town of Hawkins, Indiana.
The history of the Upside Down prior to November 1983 remains a mystery to this day. Exactly how long it had existed for, and how and why it came into existence, is unclear.
In one of Hawkins National Laboratory's experiments, a test subject labeled Eleven was immersed in a deep psychic state via sensory deprivation tank. She could observe people in different physical locations while in this frame of mind. Dr. Brenner sought to use this power to spy on enemy Russians.
While Eleven eavesdropped on a Russian spy, she accidentally encountered the Monster. At Brenner's request, Eleven's psychic avatar made contact with the Monster while it fed off a large, yellow egg. In the moment contact was established, a gate between the two dimensions cracked open in the wall of the tank room, causing panic and confusion among the scientists. Amidst the chaos, Eleven escaped from the lab and the Monster set foot in the human world.
The Monster moved through dimensions by creating temporary wounds in the fabric of time and space. It began harvesting the bodies of humans and animals, storing them in the Upside Down public library. Around the same time, Hawkins Lab began investigating the dimension and discovering exactly what it contained.
At one point, Nancy Wheeler entered the Upside Down through a temporary portal in the base of a tree. She realized it was dangerous to stay in the dimension, quickly leaving before the Monster could find her.
Although Will Byers was taken into the Upside Down by the Monster, he managed to evade capture for several days. During that time, he attempted to communicate with his mother after he realized he could manipulate electricity in his home dimension. On one occasion Will found a temporary portal in the wall, briefly talking to his mother directly through it before it resealed. The Monster eventually found him inside Castle Byers and took him to the library. Hopper and Joyce later entered the Upside Down via the Gate, eventually finding Will hooked up to a tendril extending down his throat, which they immediately removed. After Will was resuscitated, the three returned to their home dimension, presumably back through the Gate.
One month later, everything had seemingly returned to normal in Hawkins. However, Will's time in the Upside Down had severely changed him, in ways which remain mysterious. On (at least) one occasion, Will saw the Upside Down temporarily flicker into existence around him. It is unclear whether this vision was real or imaginary.
There is little proven knowledge concerning the Upside Down, as it remains shrouded in mystery. In spite of this, the dimension possesses a few observable properties and characteristics:
- Visible light is present within the Upside Down - that being said, there is low visibility due to the omnipresent fog and floating spores.
- Gravity in the Upside Down functions exactly the same as in regular Hawkins.
- Audible sound exists within the Upside Down. Furthermore, noise and sound originating from Hawkins is somehow audible in the Upside Down, almost like an echo effect. This allows Will to hear Joyce's voice when he is trapped in the Upside Down; similarly, Joyce hears Jonathan's voice when she visits the dimension's version of her house. However, sound from the Upside Down is not seemingly audible in Hawkins, unless there is a nearby interdimensional portal which it can pass through. At one point, Jonathan and Nancy are able to talk to each other despite being in seperate dimensions, as they are located near one such portal.
- At one point, Eleven, who appears to have instinctual knowledge of the Upside Down, flips their Dungeons & Dragons game board upside-down, before placing Will's player piece on top along with the Demogorgon's. Mike eventually realises that this is a visual metaphor - Eleven is essentially explaining that Will is trapped in an alternate realm, which is hidden from sight but inherently connected with their own, just like the underside of a game board. This analogy inspires the boys to refer to this realm as "the Upside Down".
- Dustin compares the Upside Down to the fictional "Vale of Shadows", of Dungeons & Dragons lore. Mike's notes on the Vale refer to it as "a dimension that is a dark reflection, or echo, of our world. It is a place of decay and death, a plane out of phase, a place of monsters. It is right next to you and you do not even see it".
- Mike refers to the Upside Down as an "alternate dimension".
- Mr. Clarke refers to Hugh Everett's Many-Worlds Interpretation, which posits that "parallel universes" exist - which he explains as being "just like our world, but just.. infinite variations of it". Going by this logic, the Upside Down could be one of these many variations.
- The boys also ask Mr. Clarke to explain interdimensional travel, who dismisses it as an impossibility due to the massive amount of energy required. However, he explained that a theoretical tear in space-time would allow passage. Such a tear would disrupt magnetic fields, which is a possible scientific explanation of the gate at Hawkins Lab. Dustin noted that the local magnetic field was acting abnormally, as compass needles pointed not towards true north, but towards the laboratory.
Hawkins Lab scientists said the atmosphere was toxic to humans, hence why they wore hazmat suits to enter the dimension. However, it seems the atmosphere is only damaging after prolonged exposure, as Nancy entered for a brief moment and showed no signs of damage, whereas Will was exposed to the air for a week and became very sick.
Connection to human dimensionThe connection between the Upside Down and its opposite dimension was seemingly established when Eleven made contact with the Monster using her telepathic abilities, causing a gate to rip open in Hawkins National Laboratory. Similarly, the Monster created several smaller portals when moving between dimensions, but whereas these healed and closed up, the Gate in Hawkins Lab remained open and kept spreading into the other dimension.
The movements of people and the Monster in the Upside Down affect the electronics in the opposite world. When someone in the Upside Down was close to lights in the corresponding location in the other dimension, the lights would either intensify or flicker. Will could manipulate the lights precisely in order to communicate with Joyce, despite the lights not being visible in the Upside Down. He also made the telephone ring and was slightly heard through noise and static, but it broke as the monster approached. It could be surmised that the presence of the Monster caused electronics to malfunction. On a larger scale, the Gate's opening caused power surges all over East Hawkins.
The Upside Down contains no life recognisable to humans beyond plants and trees, instead harboring its own unique biology and ecosystem. Biological growth of various kinds, such as tendrils and flesh-like membranes, are prevalent across the dimension's version of Hawkins, permeating and covering most surfaces.
Although these life forms appear to grow and spread in a similar fashion to fungi or plant life, many of them display animalistic characteristics. The tendrils, for instance, grow and wrap around surfaces like vines, while also hissing and writhing like snakes. It remains uncertain whether this biological growth extends beyond the Upside Down's version of Hawkins, but it seems a likely possibility.
The biological growth appears to be an integral part of the Upside Down's very nature. Portals to the dimension, including the main Gate, consist of the same fleshy membranes and tendrils as found within the dimension. In the week following the opening of the Gate, the biological growth originating from the portal continued to grow and spread into the lower levels of the lab.
A humanoid predator, known alternately as the Monster or the Demogorgon, resided in this dimension and appeared to be the only specimen of its kind. The creature would take captured victims to the alternate version of the public library, which housed something resembling a nest. The Monster was not the only creature inhabiting this supposed nest - slug-like creatures could be seen emerging from the corpses of the Monster's victims, while Will was found hooked up to a tendril extending down his throat. Will would later cough up a slug-like creature at least once, suggesting that this particular tendril was responsible for infecting or altering his body in some shape or form. Although it is unclear if these creatures are related to the Monster, their presence in this supposed nest is suggestive of some kind of wider, symbiotic ecosystem within the Upside Down.
The Monster could be seen hunkered over large, yellow eggs, feeding off them. It’s not clear whether or not these were the creature’s offspring, or if they were even the same species.
Behind the scenes
- Joyce's way of communicating with Will through the lights and hearing him in the walls of the house is an allusion to the 1982 horror film Poltergeist, in which young Carol Anne goes missing in another dimension and can be heard through the TV and walls. Also similar to Joyce, Carol Anne's mother ended up entering the other dimension to save her child.
- Ross and Matt Duffer, the creators of Stranger Things. gave this description of the unexplored mythology they are holding in reserve for the next season:
With the Upside Down, we have a 30-page document that is pretty intricate in terms of what it all means, and where this monster actually came from, and why aren’t there more monsters — we have all this stuff that we just didn’t have time for, or we didn’t feel like we needed to get into in season one, because of the main tension of Will. We have that whole other world that we haven’t fully explored in this season, and that was very purposeful.
- Matt said:
We wanted a simple drive and a somewhat simple mystery with bizarre pops of supernatural horror and then add a larger mythology behind this rift that we only know and refer to as the Upside Down because that’s what the boys decide to call it. They’re theorizing based on their knowledge from fantasy gaming and their science teacher, Mr. Clarke. That’s as much as we get to understand it.
- Ross said:
If there was going to be a season two, we would reveal more of that 30 page document, but we’d still want to keep it from the point of view of our original characters.
- Ross explained some of the consequences that might spin out of Will’s time in the Upside Down:
Will’s been there for an entire week, and it’s had some kind of effect on him, both emotionally and perhaps physically. The idea is he’s escaped this nightmare place, but has he really? That’s a place we wanted to go and potentially explore in season two. What effect does living in there for a week have on him? And what has been done to him? It’s not good, obviously.
Like the Monster, the Upside Down was designed by Aaron Sims Creative. In early development, there was consideration of time changes between the Upside Down and the regular world. Meaning, if it was daytime in Hawkins, it would've been nighttime in the other dimension and vice versa. In the end, they chose an all around dark, nightmarish design.
The Duffers named Alien and Silent Hill as inspirations for the Upside Down. Sims was also influenced by the works of the Polish painter Zdzislaw Beksinski, whose works often depicted "...an otherworldly, hellish world, surrounded by a thin layer of something we can’t quite make out." Sims didn't base designs on any scientific theory of alternate dimensions, but around “the exploration of terrifying images and art.” Taking the idea of mold and the film that covers things that have decayed, they sought to create an image of a world that was basically "dead." The falling ash-like spores were designed with the intent to help viewers visually distinguish between the two worlds. The spores were also hinted as possibly being connected to the Monster.
- ↑ 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 "‘Stranger Things’ Finale: Duffer Brothers Talk Cliffhangers, Death and Season 2" Variety. July 18, 2016.
- ↑ 2.0 2.1 "Exclusive ‘Stranger Things’ Art Reveals ‘Upside Down’ Secrets and Barb’s Alternate End"Screen Crush.August 22, 2016.
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