Holy shit, y’all. Jordan Peele's Us premiered overseas this weekend, but here in Australia we have to wait until the 28th to see it. However some of us aren't patient enough to wait, so here is the answer to the questions you will undoubtably have.
This probably goes without saying but if you haven’t seen Us, maybe stop reading now...
To set the table, let’s get the bigger spoilers out of the way. Us is about the Wilson family (Adelaide, Gabe, Zora, and Jason), who go on vacation and are terrorised by doppelgängers—called the Tethered.
The Tethered are a whole alternate human race created by someone to live underground as a way to keep the people on the surface accountable. One day, the Tethered come to the surface, hungry for revenge and recognition through violence. They announce themselves post-murders by recreating Hands Across America to let everyone know they exist.
Oh, and Lupita Nyong’o’s character Adelaide isn’t actually Adelaide. She’s Adelaide’s doppelgänger, “Red,” who switched places with her when she was a small child. So the doppelgänger “Adelaide” trying to kill everyone is actually the real Adelaide and vice versa.
Let’s start with that last part. In the most basic sense, the “bad girl (Red)” switches with the “good girl (Adelaide)” and, over the years, actually becomes the good girl and the good girl becomes bad. This happens, we think, because of their environments and upbringing. “Red” (who is posing as Adelaide) is raised on the surface, being loved and encouraged. “Adelaide” (who has become Red) is raised underground with none of those things.
The fact this switch happens at all though says a lot about Peele’s messages with the film. The evil, Tethered version of the character says at the end of the film she thinks maybe the Tethered share a soul with their counterpart, but that surface counterpart got all of it.
Her actions disprove that, though. She was that surface version with the soul, and now has none. It illustrates that the Tethered can be just as “good” as humans and humans can be just as “bad” as the Tethered.
So are the Tethered actually bad? They are humans with the potential for good if given the right opportunities. It just so happened they were raised in underground lairs and forced to eat raw rabbit their whole lives. (Also, why rabbits? A metaphor for rapid procreation? I digress.) Conversely, humans aren’t good by default.
We could be equally as terrifying if the situations were reversed. Peele is simultaneously condemning humanity and buoying it, saying there’s potential for anything in all of us.
Stepping back from that, my overall feeling on the Tethered is they represent numerous things, depending on how you choose to look at it. One is that they’re the worst in all of us. Our subconscious. Our id when nothing else is allowed to develop. They’ve been around as long as we have, they do what we do, know what we know, but for one reason for another, now is when they’ve decided to come out and take over.
This in itself could have many interpretations. The one that seems most obvious, thanks to the recreation of Hands Across America at the end of the film, is that this worst-case version of humanity is in danger of taking over our country. Peele is making a statement on the socio-political state of America.
You can also see the Tethered as the people America forgets. Any group that is underrepresented and regularly targeted or hated. Don’t forget, the Tethered hypothetically equal us in numbers and, by the end, probably outnumber the surface people.
Unlike the surface people though, they are united. Sure, Peele’s point of view is mostly that the Tethered are the villains in this scenario — but you could easily watch the movie from another point of view and be like, “Fuck these families in their beach houses, what about us?”
It’s also worth mentioning that while these metaphors are interesting and poignant, the film is very light on practical details about the Tethered. Who created the Tethered and how? Why were they created? Why did the experiment end? Do they really just live a mirrored version of our lives? Is there any free will? How is that even possible? Did this happen all over the world or just in America?
Peele addresses only a few of these questions. The text at the beginning of the film gives the viewer some background on miles of abandoned, underground tunnels across America. That information is there both as an ominous tease of what’s to come as well as an explanation of how millions upon millions of killers could literally be living under our noses.
Beyond that, though, our understanding of the logistics of all these people lurking under a funhouse is only addressed briefly during Red’s monologue later in the movie. Which is disappointing, because it’s such a mind-blowing scenario. But then again, Us is not as much about the “how” and more “what does it all mean?”
The film sort of floats a more simple solution of answering these plot holes with religion, which gives the movie a whole new level of subtext. No human or group of humans has the power to duplicate the human race and force them underground, right? “Red” suggests it was people but she’s not exactly reliable, right?
A god could certainly do something so apocalyptic and scary though. But saying “God did it” is kind of the cheat code answer to all plot holes. (Red does say she believes God brought her and Adelaide together that night in 1986.)
But, again, even if you believe that, the question then becomes “Why?” And honestly, I’m not sure I’m equipped to even speculate on why a higher power may have created a second set of humans. It’s almost too much to wrap your head around.
This is also bolstered by the prominence of the Bible verse Jeremiah 11:11 throughout the film:
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.
Seriously, we could go on and on trying to unravel the mysteries and messages Peele has created with Us, trying to figure out his intentions. We could talk about the VHS tapes at the beginning, or how Us, like Get Out, is about violence committed in the name of envy. Or all the foreshadowing throughout the film.
But that’s why it’s so great. Because it’s so wildly dense and can mean different things to different people depending on your experiences. Maybe we’re Adelaide, maybe we’re Red, we just don’t know.