After the unprecedented success of Get Out where Peele went on to win his first ever Oscar for Best Original Screenplay, a palpable dent had been made in the horror universe. Get Out was no ordinary film. With its ingenious premise (spoiler alert) of a white family stealing bodies of black people in order to transfer their consciousness and live on after their frail white bodies had died, Peele had created a crafty way to portray the sub-conscious racial disparity that was still prevalent in America while weaving together a fantastic horror thriller by itself. Through his brand of horror, he also seeks to fix the representation that black people have had in the genre, where black actors have typically been type-casted into roles where they are either one of the first to die, or are used as a dumbed down comic relief who is supposed to do all the stupid things that none of his co-characters would do. In an interview with The Hollywood Reporter, Peele mentions, “I don’t see myself casting a white dude as the lead. I have seen that story.” This had been long overdue and Get Out sets a fantastic precedent.
Written and directed by him, Us is Peele’s second foray into horror, and revolves around the Wilson family – Gabe (father), Adelaide (mother), Zora (daughter) and Jason (son) – who find themselves being terrorized by another family during their weekend getaway to a beach-town. What’s strange is that each member of the Wilson family has a maniacal doppelganger in the “other” family, wearing red overalls and carrying a pair of scissors. The red family breaks into their summer home and attacks them viciously with a clear intent to kill and no motive whatsoever. In a strange scene, the red family makes them sit on the couch while they sit on the other side – each member facing his/her twin. Then, in a raspy, choked out voice the red mother speaks about a girl and her shadow, and how their lives turned out to be completely different even though they were the same. This prelude references the opening scene where a little black girl gets separated from her parents in a beach fair and encounters another little girl who looks exactly like her inside a house of mirrors. As we learn later in the story, this little girl is Adelaide who has somewhat overcome her trauma. Although she doesn’t want to go to the beach where her encounter had happened several years ago, she is convinced by Gabe who doesn’t know her truth. A few days before the attack, inexplicable coincidences start happening around her. When she finally tells her husband about the hall of mirrors, he doesn’t believe her, until the red family shows up at their door.
Starting with the premise itself, Peele uses some powerful imagery to elevate the story to its delicious creepiness. The scene where the Wilsons peep out their window to see the four strangers standing motionless in their driveway, silhouetted by the street lights, is enough to make your skin crawl. With the killing of their neighbours, the Tylers, by the doppelgangers of the Tyler family, it is established that the phenomenon if you may call it was not confined to the Wilson family. It was happening to everyone. It is not until the final act, when Jason is abducted by red Adelaide, that we get an explanation to the turn of events. Adelaide enters the hall of mirrors once again knowing deep inside that that’s where she would find him. As she goes deeper into the attraction, she finds an escalator that takes her deeper still. She passes through a hall with rabbits hopping around, the same ones that had been shown caged during the opening credits. As she reaches a classroom, she finds her red self standing in front of a chalk-board which has a human chain drawn on it. Here (spoiler alert) she reveals how they had been part of a cloning experiment that had been abandoned. However, even after decommissioning, the souls of the clones had remained “tethered” to the ones who lived above ground. The reason for the experiment ? Well, since they shared the same soul, the scientists who had created the clones intended to control the surface-dwellers by controlling the clones down there with the sole aim of controlling the rampant consumerism that was destroying the planet. However, once the project was abandoned, the clones were left to fend for themselves without a purpose.
However, we get no explanation as to why Adelaide’s clone, who apparently is also an innocent girl like her, grabs her throat in the hall of mirrors. Where does she get her animosity from ? Aren’t they supposed to be the same ? Also, if she does grab her throat, why doesn’t the real Adelaide grab her clone’s throat back ? Does the mimicking happen only one way i.e., real to clone ? In that case, grabbing a real one by her throat should also affect the clone, because the clone feels what the real one feels. And they cannot stop themselves from doing that as we saw in a scene where Jason saves his family by walking backwards. His clone follows his action and steps into a burning fire behind him.
This is where I feel the premise starts to lose itself. We are shown that whatever happens above-ground is mimicked under-ground. This means that whatever actions the people do above is replicated by their clones down below. However, parts of it don’t make sense. We are shown that the tethered wear the same clothes and have the same things in their hands as the people above. How is that possible ? They are apparently completely cut-off. Their actions may be mirrored, sure, but how are they getting the material things that the people have above. Secondly, it is shown that the little Adelaide and little Adelaide’s clone form a connection when she takes up dancing. They meet for the first time right after this event. However, we get no explanation as to why Adelaide’s clone, who apparently is also an innocent girl like her, grabs her throat in the hall of mirrors. Where does she get her animosity from ? Aren’t they supposed to be the same ? Also, if she does grab her throat, why doesn’t the real Adelaide grab her clone’s throat back ? Does the mimicking happen only one way i.e., real to clone ? In that case, grabbing a real one by her throat should also affect the clone, because the clone feels what the real one feels. And they cannot stop themselves from doing that as we saw in a scene where Jason saves his family by walking backward. His clone follows his action and steps into a burning fire behind him.
Jeremiah 11:11 –
Therefore this is what the LORD says: ‘I will bring on them a disaster they cannot escape. Although they cry out to me, I will not listen to them.
Is this a reference to Global Warming ?
(Super-spoiler alert! Turn back if you don’t want the climax revealed to you)
Lastly, it is revealed that the Adelaide that we had invested ourselves into from the very beginning was not the real Adelaide at all. Our perspective is completely overturned when the clone grabs the real Adelaide and makes her captive in the underground world while she takes her place above. So, the fears and insecurities that we had seen Adelaide having, were actually the fears and insecurities of the clone, while the maniacal, murderous Adelaide was the real one all along. The red Adelaide then goes on to explain the “uprising” that had led to the killing spree, and the message that they wanted to send to the world through the human chain. Although there is no explanation as to how she convinced the other clones to follow her in her mission. When and how did they stop emulating the surface-dwellers ? Wasn’t it beyond their control ? Without having answers to these questions, the story just seems too convenient, even though the final message is, again, a social commentary like Peele’s past works are. I did find some semblance of symbolism in the premise of the tethered. Although the two sets of people were doing the exact same things, it made sense to watch only the surface-dwellers just because they had the context and the surroundings that justified their actions. If you took out the context, you became a mindless clone who just consumed and did things without any direction. Is that what humanity has become ? An organism who tries to justify its ruinous actions just because of a mere context ? That’s something to think about.
Although the two sets of people were doing the exact same things, it made sense to watch only for the surface-dwellers just because they had the context and the surroundings that justified their answers. If you took out the context, you became a mindless clone who just consumed and did things without any direction. Is that what humanity has become ? An organism who tries to justify its ruinous actions just because of a mere context ? That’s something to think about.
Even though they are two different stories, I can’t help but compare Us with Get Out’s clarity and coherence. Right from the beginning till the end, every single thread is addressed and closed, where every single detail mattered in the later story. With Us, I didn’t quite feel that. I saw the final climax about the “switch” between the clones coming from a mile, and even then it didn’t give me that jolt that I had expected since there were so many unanswered questions. This is the time when we will all discuss and dig into the possible hidden references and meanings but from a movie-goer’s perspective, abstraction is always as good as what you’re able to convey to the viewer. If you don’t find closure from the story, abstractions would not feel as important. Anyway, I will be thinking more about it more in the coming days and would probably re-watch it. Until then, keep the discussion going and let me know if you find some other hidden meanings in the film.