10

“The performances [in ‘Us’] are uniformly fantastic, but I was most impressed by Wright and Nyong’o, both delivering distinct and completely unique work. Nyong’o gives a masterclass in acting in dual roles and is almost unrecognizable as her doppelgänger persona. Not only does she take on an entirely different voice, but her posture, movements and facial expressions are a different individual entirely. At times, I had to remind myself that this was the same woman; that’s just how good she is.” 

— Yolanda Machado, writer for ‘TheWrap’

Jordan Peele’s US: an exploration and explanation.

I apologize in advance for the length but I wanted to be thorough. It’s a lot less to read than it looks I promise.

So for those of you who wanted it, this is my examination/break down of Jordan Peele’s US. I really don’t think you can grasp the significance of everything in the movie the first time around and so I just want to share everything I’ve come to realize about the film after watching it with full knowledge of the twist at the end. This is NOT spoiler free so if you haven’t seen the movie and you care about spoilers then look away now.

Overall I think the film was shot beautifully and the soundtrack is to die for. Lupita is definitely the star of this film but her supporting cast is also A1. Winston duke ads a great comedic element to the film and of course just looks good. I also really appreciate that this movie consistently showcases dark skinned actors. A lot of times I’ll see shows or films where a dark skinned woman will suddenly be light skinned biracial in her childhood flashback scene so I appreciate the consistency. I do want to say that I feel this film is more of a horror film than get out simply because while it does make social commentary, it’s more aligned with the “running for your life” boogieman out to get you feel than it is a slow psych thriller. I feel it only really becomes a psych thriller when you realize the twist at the end. With all that being said let’s get into it.

So if you’re like me , you probably left seeing US the first time in love with it but frustrated and probably a bit confused. Having seen it a second time I think that frustration and confusion comes from the emotional whiplash of realizing that the person you’ve been rooting for the entire movie is actually one of the people who’ve you’ve been led to believe is evil and vice versa. Personally I think that the characteristics and relationship between Adelaide and “Red” is really the crux of this movie and as such am going to be focusing on that a lot here. I’m also going to talk about what I personally believe Jordan Peele meant for the the larger social implications of this film to be but I’ll save that for the end.

The movie opens with Addie and her family at a fair in 1986, as you know at some point Addie just suddenly wonders off seemingly for no reason and somehow just happens to find herself in house of mirrors where a trap door is located at the same time as her tethered double. It wasn’t until the second time that I watched the movie during Red’s final monologue (which I’ll get more into later) that I realize the reason that Addie had wondered off and found herself standing right in front of the secret doorway to the tethered world, is because she was mirroring her tethered double who decided to leave that night.To me that’s really significant because this is what brings them together. It’s not Addie but her tethered counterpart’s desire for freedom that ultimately seals their fate.

Flashing forward, Knowing that the Adelaide we rooted so hard for the first viewing is actually the tethered girl drastically changes how you see the scenes in the film.To me the most important scenes in the film are Red’s opening and closing monologues. So I’m really going to focus on those. The first time I watched the movie and Red gave her opening monologue, I was too concerned with trying to figure out what the hell was going on that I wasn’t able to understand the significance of it. The second time around I found myself feeling a deep sadness during the scene because you realize at the second viewing that when Red walks into the room and stops to look up at the mantle portrait, she is seeing her childhood home for the first time in 20 years. This is her first look at the life that was taken from her so you realize when Red later tells Pluto not to “burn our house down” the our isn’t meant to suggest that they’re there to take over as you might originally think, but rather that this is her rightfully her home.

One of the things you immediately notice when Red goes to speak is that she sounds like that™️ and that’s probably due to her vocal cords being injured when Adelaide strangled her. It was a really chilling thing to realize later. On that note, in case you missed it, Red is the only tethered that can actually speak English. This is obviously because she was raised on the surface. But anyway when Red is giving her opening monologue, she begins to cry as she describes the horrors of her life. There’s a heavy implication that she was raped by Abraham and forced to give birth to what she considered to be her monstrous children. During her monologue she says that she “hated the girl [Adelaide] so much” that it was all she thought about. This is really what separates Red from the other tethered in that she’s the only one who actually knows what she’s missing. The misery of the underworld is all they ever knew, but Red knew warmth, and love, and softness before it was all ripped away from her by Adelaide and that become the sole fixation of her life; this is why when Adelaide asks her what she wants she gets angry and says “we want to take our time, we’ve been planning this for so long.” And You’ll note that Red tethered Adelaide to the table with the same handcuffs that Adelaide had used to restrain her all those years ago. Ultimately the bitterness and the despair of being left to suffer with the tethered while Adelaide lived out what should have been Red’s life left her deeply scarred and psychologically damaged to the point where she came to view herself as both tethered and human and as a coping mechanism to assign meaning to her despair, her psychosis led her to believe that she was meant to lead the tethered to freedom. It’s for these reasons that I can’t consider Red a real villain. Even though she’s running around orchestrating a murderous revolt, at the end of the day she was just a little girl whose life was viciously taken from her while she was left to endure physical and psychological torture until her mind fractured until all that was left were the tethered and a desire to take revenge.

On that note, I want to shift gears to talk about Adelaide because, despite what she did, I don’t actually think she’s a villain either. A lot of people seemed to wonder if she remembered being tethered and the simple answer to that is yes. But anyway You’ll notice that when Red begins to cry as she tells the story of her life, Adelaide begins to cry as well. I don’t think she regrets her decision to steal Red’s life, after all why would she want to continue to live in misery, but I think she genuinely feels sorrow for the reality of Red’s life especially knowing how easily it could have been her life. Adelaide’s humanity is a really psychologically fascinating key to this film because you know that in reality she is tethered but there’s no way you can deny her her humanity as well. The fear that Adelaide feels in the beach when she believes that Jason might have been lost or “taken” ,as she says later, is the kind of human fear that only a mother could feel (shout out to Lupita and her brilliant acting from that point on) but even aside from her own children she has enough humanity to feel sorrow for the tethered children as they lay dying. My first viewing I just thought she was struggling as a mother to watch her children die but the second time around I realized that she felt sympathy for them because she was them and if she could be saved then so could they. One of the things that I definitely missed the first time around is that when Adelaide goes to confront Red she doesn’t need anyone to show her the way, she already knows where the secret door is, she already knows how to navigate the winding corridors, she already knows what she’s looking for because she’s been here before.

I’m not quite done with Adelaide but I want to shift back to red for her final monologue. It’s here that I feel Red really reveals a lot of the larger thematic implications for the film as a whole. Immediately Red tells Adelaide that she spent every single day for last 20 years thinking about her and how different life could have been if she had just taken her with her. I’m going to get to why that’s important thematically in my last paragraph, but she also goes on to explain that the tethered are “human too” this is a really curious thing to say as Red was born human and Adelaide, tethered. It’s here that we see that Red is blurring the lines between them and saying that she is both tethered and human. The only difference between her and Adelaide are their circumstances. There is no tethered, no human, only US; and the Royal us here didn’t need to suffer if only Adelaide had made a different choice. But even in that choice Red finds salvation. One of the most important lines in that monologue is “if it wasn’t for you I would have never danced at all.” Which is important when you realize that the only reason Red was ever able to dance is because Adelaide stole her life and as a result of her therapy was enrolled in dance class, and it was that dance where Red’s human spirit shone through that the tethered realized she was special. A fun little aside here, the song that plays when Red turns to fight Adelaide for the last time is called “a dance for two.” In case you missed it the first time, when they begin their final dance, Red intentionally doesn’t kill Adelaide even though she has several opportunities to, she waits until she leads Adelaide back to the room where she was originally imprisoned by Adelaide 20 years prior. She plans to untether herself in the room where she first became tethered. Unfortunately for Red, this is where she dies.

A lot of people expressed confusion as to why Red wanted to implement this “hand across America” thing and what that was supposed to do, but I think it makes a lot of sense when you look at the psychosis behind it. The only remnants Red had of Her human life was her “hand across America” t shirt and in an effort to cling to her last vestiges if humanity the message behind the shirt became warped as her mind fractured.

Switching back to Adelaide one last time, as a fun little cinematography note, Jordan Peele chose to make the descent into the tether world an escalator instead of just stairs visually this is meant to represent that there is no way up, only down, as the escalator only goes one way. We see Adelaide on this escalator and as she reaches the bottom her breathing becomes ragged and primal; she knows she’s about to fight for her life down here. Adelaide never answers any of Red’s monologue but there is a ton of symbolism in their final dance. Adelaide is being taken down the hallway she once dragged Red down, and you’ll notice as we get nearer and nearer the place where she left Red it gets darker and darker. Eventually we no longer even see their faces, they become visually the same as they dance in the dark. Red is also a better dancer than Adelaide in the same way that Umbrae was a better runner than Zora and yet despite that Adelaide is still able to stab Red. I’ve saved this intentionally for last but it’s here I hope you noticed that Adelaide has been handcuffed with those same handcuffs for the entire film. She becomes handcuffed the very first scene she sees Red and only removes those handcuffs during her last scene with Red. Those handcuffs are a physical symbol of her bond with Red. She becomes tethered to the table by Red in the same way she tethered red to the bed and then when she breaks free from the table she spends the rest of the film tethered to herself which is of course symbolic of the tethering between them. This is why I think it’s so symbolic that she uses those same handcuffs to violently end Red’s life mirroring the way she strangled her before. Realistically, Adelaide could have just let Red die from the stab wound but she chose instead to strangle her. I think that this is largely in part because Adelaide has spent her entire life looking over her shoulder, she’s lived in fear and dread that one day Red was going to find her and take her back. By killing Red, Adelaide is staking her claim once and for all on her life. Whether you agree with what Adelaide did or not, this is the life she carved out for herself even if it meant stepping on Red to get there and she wasn’t about to let it go without a fight. by killing Red she officially untethers herself, symbolized by her handcuffs coming off. Her life is now hers and hers alone.

For all of the things that Adelaide did to Red, I cannot consider her a hero, but her humanity keeps me from considering her a villain either. She was born in the misery of the tethered, carved a life for herself, and fought like hell to keep it. Adelaide’s humanity and Red’s violence blur the line between what we know to be good and evil. Which ultimately I feel is part of what Jordan peele is getting at.

The larger implication of this film seems to be an allegory on American imperialism, wastefulness, and the futility of othering. Jordan said that this film was about America culturally and I think I can see what he was going for. At the end of the film when it’s finally revealed that Adelaide and Red have switched places it challenges our notion of what we assume about people based on how we “other” them. We are Americans and every one else is other and lesser, until we realize that actually there really isn’t much difference between us and them, only our circumstances. Additionally We are in a lot of ways like Adelaide, the luxury we experience often comes at the expense of other people’s lives. We know that so much of our wealth and luxury come while others suffer and yet like Adelaide we leave them there because it makes our own lives better. I mentioned this earlier but I think thematically when Red says “I never stopped thinking about how different things could have been if you had just taken me with you.” It’s meant to address the fact that there’s no reason for people to suffer, we have enough wealth and warmth for everyone if we would collectively make a different decision. Overall I think that the film serves to blur the lines between us and them so as to say there is only US.

Personally I wish Jordon hadn’t chosen to single out America in that commentary as I feel that can be extends to all of the white western world but it is what it is.

Personally, what I took from the film was a deep appreciation for the character exploration of both Red and Adelaide. I don’t have the time to sit and break down the film scene by Scene or go through all the cool clues that Adelaide was tethered the whole time but I hope that by contextualizing and explaining my favorite parts that, if you’ve managed to read all this, you have a better appreciation or understanding of the film. There are just so many cool things you notice the second time around like kitty’s tether has facial scars because kitty got plastic surgery or how Jason says he’s building a “tunnel” when they ask him or the poster holding hands in Jason’s room. I just don’t have time to get into it but please tell me your thoughts! Did you enjoy this? Do you agree with me? Do you disagree? What do you think?

One thing I love about Us is how fucking hardcore the kids were… a lot of the time, kids in horror movies are the innocents who need to be protected, and are shown always running away/only fighting in defense. Not Zora. Zora was ready to fucking KILL those bitches to save her family and THAT’S WHAT WE WANT IN OUR YOUNG WOMEN.

Something that keeps bothering me about reviews of Us is people saying “it wasn’t scary.” or “it wasn’t horror”

(spoilers near the end)

The modern horror genre is lacking at best. All jump scares, remakes, sequels, and overused tropes. It’s super easy to confuse being startled with being scared. But psychological horror exists. Horror that’s not initially scary exists. Sci-fi horror. Think of The Twilight Zone and Black Mirror. It’s supposed to make you think, the implications and reality are supposed to get under your skin and scare you.

In Us specifically the idea of fighting for your life against someone that looks like you but is dead set on killing you is scary in the moment. But the idea of their lives down there and no way to get out of it, of what the government did or HOW they did it, of normal little girl Adelaide already being scared of things and then stuck in that literal hell, of how there is also a supernatural side to it given that an entity can the cloned but not just dolly the sheep same DNA type cloned, your entire being is cloned and the universe only gives one of you free will. Those things are horrifying.

*Us Spoilers*


That scene where Kitty tried to get Ophelia to call the police, but instead got her to play “Fuck tha Police” has us all in stitches in the theaters, but I realized that that scene actually has more meaning behind it-

At the beginning of the movie, we see a man holding a sign that says “Jeremiah 11:11” while staring at Adelaide as she walks toward her doom. Later in the movie, bad things start happening when the clock strikes 11:11. Here’s actual bible verse-

Therefore, this is what the LORD says: “I’m about to bring disaster on them from which they won’t be able to escape. They’ll cry out to me, but I won’t listen to them.

The book of Jeremiah is a message to the exiled Jews in Babylon to warn them of the worship of false gods/idols and it’s consequences.

The characters on the surface world in Us are shown to seen to be materialistic- the Wilsons arrive at their summer home, enjoy fast food, Gabe shows off his new boat to his unimpressed family, Zora listens to her iPod while there’s music in the car, Kitty demands a refil on an expensive alcoholic drink, Josh eggs Gabe on by bragging about his nicer things, etc.

At some point in the movie, Adelaide’s Tether, Red, call’s the surface dwellers out for taking these luxuries for granted. The luxuriesobviously represent the false idols in 11:11.

Naturally, the better-off Tylers are the first to go.

So when Kitty is on the floor dying, and trying to use her last words to get Ophelia to call the police, it’s like a retelling if someone begging a false idol for help against god’s wrath, but instead receiving,

FUCK THA POLICE!!