Lupita Nyong'o from Jordan Peele's Us

Why Jordan Peele's 'Us' Cuts so Deep

While the film is wildly popular, it's clear that not everyone is leaving with the same takeaways

Courtesy: Universal

I tried to watch Us with no expectations. Crafting a follow-up to Get Out had to be distressing for director Jordan Peele. He doesn’t know me, but I felt guilty putting such pressure on him. He couldn’t help it that his directorial debut perfectly balanced horror and satire while addressing multiple layers of racism, garnered critical acclaim and grossed over $250 million on a $5 million budget. Personally, I would have never made another film again!

Yet, as the credits rolled after Us, I was once again mesmerized, in awe, lost in my own thoughts, wondering what the hell I just watched. From The Strangers and You’re Next to Funny Games and Them, we’re all familiar with the home-invasion subgenre of horror where masked or restless psychopaths terrorize an unsuspecting party. The promotional campaign of Us teased this format with a twist: doppelgangers. I was fully prepared to watch Lupita Nyong'o, Winston Duke—a.k.a. Black Panther's thick daddy M’Baku—and their kids get chased all over their vacation home by evil Lupita, evil thick-daddy M’Baku and their evil kids for one hour and 45 minutes, before the police finally showed up or everybody was dead. (Spoilers ahead!)

So imagine my surprise when the entire family is speeding away from the house on a raggedy-ass boat about 40 minutes into the film, and evil thick-daddy M’Baku’s corpse is floating in the water with the remnants of his intestines hanging off the propeller! I have never in my life been so gooped.
Us follows Adelaide (Nyong’o), Gabriel (Duke), Zora (Shahidi Wright Joseph) and Jason (Evan Alex) as they navigate a beach town infested by bitter, murderous clones (their own being Red, Abraham, Umbrae and Pluto) known as the Tethered, an abandoned set of duplicates created by the U.S. government and living in tunnels under civilization. And Adelaide is actually one of the Tethered but kidnapped the original Adelaide (Red) when she was a little girl, so the original Adelaide is now one of the Tethered trying to kill Adelaide.


Look: I had to see the movie again. There was no other option. There was too much going on, and I didn’t know who the hell I was supposed to be rooting for—Red seeking vengeance for a life stolen from her, or Adelaide desperately trying to keep her life intact as the past comes back to disturb the peace.
Watching the movie knowing that Red was original Adelaide is borderline heartbreaking: Can you blame her for anything she’s doing? How would it feel to be ripped from your family at a young age and forced to watch someone else live your life? Do I secretly want Adelaide to lose? Does she deserve happiness if it was stolen from someone else?

Do any of us deserve happiness knowing that others are suffering?

The movie became too real. The Tethered are oppressed. They’re hidden underground, with no access to education. While the humans ride roller coasters, the Tethered charade the activity in a disturbing, constrained line. When the humans eat steak, the Tethered consume live, bloody rabbits. It’s impossible to ignore the parallel between the juxtaposing worlds on screen and the society we all reside in, where the wealthy elite bribe their way into higher education, and the privileged stock up on organic groceries while leaving the pesticide-sprinkled scraps to everyone else.

Adelaide saw an opportunity to escape her hell, and she did. After slipping into Red’s life, she was still her empty Tethered self. However, at the recommendation of the family’s therapist, Adelaide began to thrive as a result of being nurtured. She was pushed into various extracurricular activities, eventually finding a passion in dance. She learned to speak, married a great husband and birthed two children. Her life was infinitely better than anything possible underground.
It's like when you bring a new partner home to visit, and run into that college roommate who can’t resist talking about the time you chugged three Four Lokos and had a threesome in the back of a Chevron.
As an adult, Adelaide is so far removed from her origins that the mere thought of returning to the beach (her original neighborhood) brings her not only fear, but disgust. When Gabriel announces their trip to the sand, Adelaide calls the pier-goers “weird” and wants nothing to do with it. The family has a beautiful waterfront outside their vacation home. Why go anywhere else, especially somewhere with “those” people? At the beach, Adelaide is visibly uncomfortable and anxious. On initial viewing, I thought it was the panic of encountering an evil girl. On second viewing, I recognized the external discomfort of someone who has acclimated to a new lifestyle and no longer wishes to be reminded of where they started—like when you bring a new partner home to visit, and run into that college roommate who can’t resist talking about the time you chugged three Four Lokos and had a threesome in the back of a Chevron.

Adelaide took flight for a reason, and she possessed no intention of ever going back. Even when she finally opens up to Gabe about her past, she doesn’t tell the full story. While I rooted for Adelaide in my first viewing, I found her desperate, deceptive and, dare I say, selfish after my second. Adelaide flourishes above ground, and never once thinks to return to the tunnels, teach her people how to communicate or lead anyone else up the escalator onto the beach.

Red, stunted and traumatized at a young age, still rallies the Tethered almost as their God. She doesn’t merely plot a come-up for herself but for the entire group; and while she doesn’t survive the takeover, her legacy remains, chained across the country. As Adelaide drives through this reminder of horror, she is perfectly content as she glances over at Jason. Most of humanity is brutally murdered, but she and her family survived, and their clones are dead, so who really cares?
Us is guaranteed to be a polarizing film. Some will insist it went downhill when the family left the house, while others will say they just don’t understand it, which will lead to the classic “lol it’s just a horror movie,” which will lead to “nah you’re just dumb”—and before you know it, somebody is in the emergency room with a pair of scissors in their kneecap.

I watched a disturbing representation of privilege and oppression. I saw a little girl with all the potential in the world pushed into the shadows, hindered by her surroundings. I saw another little girl step into the light, supported by opportunity and access and never glancing behind her until she has no choice. A friend in my group chat mentioned something about a depiction of capitalism that I’ll be looking out for on my third viewing. Another friend tried to tell me something about the toy ambulance in the door of the closet, and the ambulance the family drove in the end; and yet another yelled impatiently in another thread about Jeremiah 11:11 and how everything else in the movie is irrelevant.

Some people will simply watch a bunch of government clones climb out of the sewers with gold scissors and fuck up vacationers in Santa Cruz. And that’s why Jordan Peele’s Us is a masterpiece.

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