The last image in Jordan Peele’s Us fades to black and the credits begin to roll up the screen. The packed theater moves and comes alive, its occupants slowly begin to drain out. I sit in total silence for a second. My brain literally blanks and I struggle to understand what I just witnessed. Did I like it? Did I hate it? Does it really matter?
My initial feelings toward this movie were not the overwhelming rejoicing I had expected. I didn’t scream “Hell yeah, it was so good!”. I was confused by the narrative leaps taken in the final minutes of the film. I know Jordan Peele is an incredibly talented writer and filmmaker, he wouldn’t make conventional writing mistakes, right? He wouldn’t violate ‘Show Don’t Tell’, the ~*golden rule*~ of filmmaking? I had to stew on the monologue delivered by Lupita Nyong’o as her characters’ doppelgänger. I realized that she wasn’t actually explaining to the audience how she and her fellow tethered became trapped in an underground tunnel system and forgotten. She was illustrating the larger, almost larger than one can believe, theme of the whole movie. These tethered individuals represent the marginalized, the forgotten, and all the systemically opressed people in our country. To me, the tethered have a dual meaning.
On one hand, they have gone unnoticed by generation after generation of this baby nation by another ‘they’. ‘They’ meaning the generations before who have willfully looked the other way from atrocities committed in the name of the United States. I. e the Native Americans, women, slavery, people of many other colors and denominations, the list goes on. They literally live beneath us, on the underside of life and on the underside of the society that no one cares to look at. Oh, the forgetful ole’ United States. U.S. Us.
On the other, the tethered are doppelgängers. They fill the underside of the aboveground we ‘normal’ people occupy. They are our shadows, they are us. JM Mutro of Birth Movies Death finds yet another illuminating meaning to just what the F is going on. “Peele’s use of the word “shadow” can lead to many interpretations, like in Jungian psychology, where the shadow represents our id—the things we suppress or can’t acknowledge about ourselves” Get it yet? There is no monster in this movie. There is no discernible villain. The dark sides of ourselves will ultimately be our undoing in this day and age, and Peele hammers this home through pure filmmaking poetry.
What Peele is trying to say is so multifaceted that it has more meanings and easter eggs than I can even think of right now. The overall theory runs deep into Lynchian, Aronofsky, and Serling levels. The ‘what the F is going on right now’ feeling I get is similar to my reaction to watching season 3 of Twin Peaks. You can tell it’s saying A LOT through its characters, but does no hand holding with the audience on this front. Peele gives us the information and lets the meaning steep in our brains like delicious tea. Like Twin Peaks and The Twilight Zone (the latter Peele will be reviving hell yes?!) Us echoes this same kind of ‘nothing is as it seems’ style of writing in order to illustrate it’s larger point. Like I mentioned before, there are so many lines of dialogue and images and symbols that only broaden the deepness of the movie and the deepness of the message. It definitely warrants a second and maybe even a third watch to fully catch every little nugget that Peele dishes to his audience.
It takes a true auteur to pull off these kinds of narratives, and Peele does an incredible job. He is a completely unique and deeply needed voice in the current filmmaking landscape. He is not only transforming the horror genre, but the face of original storytelling as a whole. Basically, if you haven’t seen Us yet, make sure you bring a clean diaper, a clear head, and a hunger for incredible filmmaking.