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The Real-Life Secret Experiments That Inspired Stranger Things

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The Real-Life Secret Experiments That Inspired Stranger Things

Matt and Ross Duffer, the twin brothers who created Stranger Things, have spoken about the real life secret experiments that inspired their blockbuster sci-fi show.

The siblings, who are known professionally as the Duffer Brothers, said they were inspired by Project MKUltra, a mind control program launched by the CIA in 1953.

Project MKUltra was a series of experiments that were carried out to try and develop procedures – such as psychological torture and brainwashing – that could be used during interrogations to draw out confessions. 

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Matt and Ross Duffer have spoken about the real life secret experiments that inspired Stranger Things. Credit: Alamy
Matt and Ross Duffer have spoken about the real life secret experiments that inspired Stranger Things. Credit: Alamy

Touching upon Project MKUltra in a new interview, the Duffer Brothers told Rolling Stone that they were inspired to add a sci-fi aspect to Stranger Things by ‘bizarre experiments we had read about taking place in the Cold War’.

The siblings were referring to Project MKUltra, which they said inspired their decision to ‘ground the supernatural element in science in some way’.

Matt explained: “As ridiculous as it is, the monster [in the alternate dimension] doesn’t come from a spiritual domain and it’s not connected to any religion. It made it scarier. I don’t believe in ghosts, but I believe in aliens and alternate dimensions.”

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Speaking to the outlet, the Duffer Brothers said that Stranger Things’ biggest inspiration was the 2013 film Prisoners, in which Hugh Jackman stars as a man whose young daughter has been kidnapped, sending him on a desperate mission to find her abductor and bring her home safely.

Matt shared: “We thought, ‘Wouldn’t that movie have been even better in eight hours on HBO or Netflix?' So we started talking about a missing-person story.”

However, the duo wanted to inject the script with ‘childlike sensibilities’, as Ross explained when he said: “You know, can we put a monster in there that eats people? Because we are nerds and children-at-heart, we thought it was the best thing ever.”

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The concept of the Stranger Things monsters were then shaped around Project MKUltra, which the Duffer Brothers referred to as ‘bizarre experiments we had read about taking place in the Cold War’.

The siblings said they were inspired by Project MKUltra. Credit: Alamy
The siblings said they were inspired by Project MKUltra. Credit: Alamy

The Duffer Brothers confirmed as far back as 2016 that Project MKUltra had inspired their show, with Matt telling The Guardian at the time that when formulating the show, he and his brother ‘started talking about some of the mysterious government experiments that were happening at the tail end of the cold war, right when rumoured [projects] like MKUltra were ramping down’.

MKUltra was designed and carried out by the CIA; it operated from the 1950s to 60s, and experimented with drugs and mind control techniques in response to the threat of communism during the Cold War.

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Featured Image Credit: Netflix/Getty

Topics: Film & TV, Stranger Things

Aisha Nozari
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