A comedic thriller… with gore.
We explore the plot, the themes, and the hidden gems you noticed and missed.
The film Us felt more like a comedic thriller, than an all out horror film. Yes, there was plenty of gore. However, the startle and jump scares did not override the humor that this movie is openly sewn together with. We went into this movie expecting to be scared out of our minds. Do not go in expecting anything like Get Out, and please stop comparing the two.
Jordan Peele referred to his first two major films as two different genres on Twitter: “Get Out is a documentary… Us is a horror film.” Get Out was a commentary on the microaggressions that we face as people of color on a daily basis. Peele puts a magnifying glass to this problematic culture in the movie Get Out, in an entertaining and terrifying way, with symbols, clues, and breadcrumbs all throughout.
In the film Us, we encounter tethered clones from underground tunnels. These tunnels, we are told at the start of the movie, exist for thousands of miles and for various reasons beneath this country. It didn’t occur to memory while watching – and it likely would have made the experience all the more creepy had it indeed occurred to memory then – but a relative I know who works for the MTA, has seen villages of people living in abandoned subway stations. Who knows how many countless, unnoticed people are surviving in the shadows like that. And what if one of them were you’re own clone?
This is the basis for the creepiness of this movie. Lupita Nyong’o does an excellent job of portraying her tethered counterpart from the underground in a monologue that explains the tether that attaches them to each other, the soul. The soul, she says, is divided in two when we are cloned. The Shadow below is controlled by the actions of the person living in the sun. Although the intent in creating the clones was the reverse. It is implied that in a failed experiment by an unknown organization, clones were created in attempts to control the population, but the sun dwellers were the ones who had control instead.
I was not as scared of this film as I hoped I would be, which disappoints me because I love getting scared – not in the moment, but after the fact, it is thrilling. However, my disappointment came because I was comparing it to how scared I was with Peele’s first film. Don’t do this to yourself. In fact, the entire audience present when I saw it had more folks cheering and laughing, than screeching out of fear. We also heard “Ohhhh” a lot, when we knew something was about to go down. It was a fun audience. I enjoyed the film, but it is not what I expected.
This film is also the start of a conversation about those that we “other”; those that are different from us, how we treat them, and where we hold them in the eyes of society. The tethered Adelaide (which we later find out is the real Adelaide who grew up underground), explains that she is American, just like them. We’re told they had to feed on raw rabbits like animals, while those who live in the sun enjoy hot meals.
Who have we “othered” in society? The poor, the differently-abled, people of color, those who migrate to the U.S. from different countries, those who identify within a queer community? Bravo to Peele for highlighting the climate of the U.S. in this film, and forcing us to check our privileges.
Underlying her drive of escaping from the underground, the Adelaide that grew up underground also wanted to send a message, and used Hands Across America to do this. Yay! We finally overcame mountains, deserts, and bodies of water, and created a human chain to send a message about poverty, hunger, and homelessness in America. Yes, it was only in a film, but this film is making waves, so we’re forced to notice it. It has already broken the record for highest grossing sales of any horror film ever in the country. (Although I’m not sure how that works with the prices for a movie ticket consistently going up, but we’re not here for math, I’m sure someone else already did that.)
In any regard, Google searches for Hands Across America have since spiked, so we are at least looking at a problem and being made aware that over 30 years later, we still face the same issues. The organizers of Hands Across America are thrilled because Hands Across America sort of flopped back in 1986, and raised about as much as it costed to promote and execute. However, I recall this gem, Hands Across America 1986. It’s a video and song I remember singing for no reason as a child from time to time. You’re welcome for the 80s nostalgia; we’ll take the good with the bad.
The tethered Adelaide was seen as different, as someone who could free the tethered clones. This is because she was the real Adelaide. She did free them, but they were not her original people. The Adelaide that grew up in the sun, overcame the underground, and freed herself as a child. If we think of this as symbolic of differently-abled people, we can begin to talk about the layers of understanding that those outside of this community can become part of it, and that some of those within it can overcome their challenges that leave them labeled as “other” by society. An interesting start to an overdue conversation.
Now, let’s go over some of the symbolism, Easter eggs, and little gems we noticed.
Things we noticed:
- At the beach, Kitty Tyler, played by Elisabeth Moss – who is Adelaide Wilson’s neighbor, played by Lupita Nyong’o – shows Adelaide a photo in her magazine, and says “isn’t this so cute?” Jordan Peele takes a jab a white people who partake in appropriation of cultures when we see in the magazine that it’s a white woman in a Native American headdress.
- The black person didn’t die first. We’ll probably never see that in a Jordan Peele movie because as he said about casting white people as leads “I’ve seen that movie.”
- Through tragedy, black people retain their sense of humor. The daughter, Zora Wilson, played by Shahadi Wright Joseph, kept a count of her kills, and made fun of which weapon her brother chose; all the while immersed in gore and surrounded by dead bodies and encroaching danger. And can we just appreciate this child’s acting for a moment? Bravo, young star.
- A Hamlet reference, perchance. The neighbors’ bot was not a product placement for Alexa, Google, or Siri. Instead “Hey Ophelia,” was used to control it. A quiet nod to Jordan Peele’s love for Shakespeare. In the days of Key and Peele, their Shakespeare bits were some of their most flawless victories.
- Gabe Wilson, played by Winston Duke, ices his knee with green peas. We see green frozen peas used in movies often. But it reminded me of my mother’s split pea soup. No real symbolism there, just nostalgia.
- The reason Adelaide did not want to go back to the beach where she had a horrible childhood experience is because she is really the tethered counterpart, who swapped places with the real Adelaide when she was little. Who would want to go back after escaping?
- The Red Suits. In an article by Tanisha C. Ford via The Atlantic, she talks about Kym Barrett. “Best known for her work on The Matrix, Barrett thought carefully about the decision to have Adelaide wear white. ‘I wanted her to be the lantern that led her family,’ Barrett told me recently, after she had seen the completed film for the first time. ‘Along the way, that light is continually flickering … She’s getting more and more and more covered in blood. The idea was that [by the film’s end], she’s almost as red as Red.'” This further confirms the fact that the original Adelaide was swapped as a kid with her tethered.
- Goonies VHS tape on a shelf in the beginning of the film. We’re reminded that the Goonies were “the other”; outcasts of their day, who befriended each other, and went underground for something they believed in. Hint taken.
- The ominous Jeremiah 11:11 and the moment Adelaide sees 11:11 on the clock and is afraid. Why is her son Jason Wilson, played by Evan Alex, excited to see 11:11 yet she is afraid? This is because most of us make a wish at 11:11 as that is known as a magical time of the day for manifestation. However, Adelaide saw a man on the night of her horrible childhood experience holding a sign that read “Jeremiah 11:11” which reads “Therefore thus saith the LORD, Behold, I will bring evil upon them, which they shall not be able to escape; and though they shall cry unto me, I will not hearken unto them.” Whoa, God, that’s kind of mean! But don’t worry folks, that was the Old Testament God who was very angry. He grew out of that when he had a kid named Jesus in the New Testament. He doesn’t make us slaughter lambs anymore, just his son. Don’t worry! He brought him back to life of course.
- White rabbits. We see this symbol in everything from The Matrix, to Alice in Wonderland. The white rabbit always leads us down an other worldly path. We can also assume animal testing was part of the cloning experiment.
- Black people CAN swim. Peele debunks the stereotypical notion that black people don’t swim. Yes, many of us did not grow up around bodies of water, or backyard pools, but we’re swimmers too. Gabe kills his tethered in a lake on a boat, then jokes about that and his kill count later. He swims away to safety.
- Jason effectively controls his tethered clone. How he learns this, we aren’t told. We can argue that since children are more intuitive than adults, he probably instinctively knew because he was more closely connected, being of a younger age. But perhaps he realized it in the closet when they were playing together and they mirror each other’s actions. He seems to be intuitive throughout the movie, expressing that his fire trick was bulls**** in the beginning, as well as eyeing his mother knowingly at the end of the movie. He knows about her secret, we are led to believe, but says nothing.
- Why was their master bed so small? That’s it, that’s all I got for that one, just why? If you know, tell us in the comments. It was hilarious slapstick humor to watch a large muscular Winston Duke pretty much take up the entire bed with his size. We don’t know why it was small, but we laughed, so it was effective.
- Lastly, who else was internally screaming “Thank you!!!” when Lupita says “Put your shoes on.”? We consistently see horror movies where the characters sense danger and don’t think to put on their shoes. This has always bugged me, and I’m certain I’m not the only one.
What gems did we miss that you noticed? Leave them in the comments section.
Article by Lorisse Bentiné