Warning: Spoilers for Us are in play. If you haven't seen the film yet, you're going to want to bookmark this piece and come back after you've seen the film.
Everyone expected writer/director Jordan Peele's follow up to Get Out to be just as twisted, and just as deep, as his Academy Award-winning opus. But I don't think anyone would have expected just how hard Us decided to go when it comes to its end product. Like any good puzzle maker, Peele leaves a lot of clues and easter eggs throughout this film for the audience to put together. And the picture it reveals is something truly Biblical in scope.
Needless to say, if you haven't seen Us, you totally have to. Not only because it's a fantastic film that'll have you talking for days, but because what we're about to go into isn't going to make a lot of sense without that knowledge. So if you're planning on seeing the film, go do that now or whenever it's possible. Then come back, and dive into the deeper waters of the film's symbolism, as we're about to do now.
What Happens At The End Of Us
By time Us is ready to wrap up its narrative, we see Lupita Nyong'o's Adelaide, as well as her doppleganger Red (also Nyong'o), squaring off in an underground bunker. This confrontation comes after Red kidnaps Adelaide's son, Jason, and takes him into the bunker through an entrance in the maze that the two met at in 1986. Finding her way back underground, Adelaide is eventually given the entire story behind Red and the Tethered's existence.
As it turns out, the Tethered were an experiment in creating replicas of every human being in the surface world. An experiment that succeeded in physical copies, but as Red explains, fails in recapturing the souls of those copied. The project was eventually ditched, with the Tethered left to languish underground in their society of half-formed clones.
Eventually, this makes way for a sentiment of insurrection, with the Tethered world planning to surface and take their place in the sun. And leading the way is Red, the only clone with actual speech who's “different” from the rest. After this exposition is delivered, the two parties get into a fight, with Adelaide being the winner. Killing Red, she rescues Jason, and brings him back to the surface.
But as it turns out, Adelaide wasn't actually who she said she was. As it turns out, she was a Tethered who escaped, switching places with the real Adelaide back in 1986. So in actuality, Red was living Adelaide's life from that point forward, and vice versa. The only person that knows this besides her is Jason, who looks at his mother in horror before putting his mask back on. The film ends with a wide shot of the Tethered holding hands across America, with the news media covering the event through helicopter coverage. This is all pretty deep, but what does it mean exactly?
What It Means
Us feels like it's a film tackling that old socio-political saw best known as “the Haves, and the Have Nots.” In this case, everyone on the surface is a Have, while the Tethered are most definitely Have Nots. After decades of being confined underground, and being forced to live their lives unattended, uncared for, and impoverished, the Tethered are ready to mount an offensive and overthrow their surface-dwelling counterparts.
Now while we see a lot of the Tethered killing their surface-world counterparts, that doesn't look like it was their initial intent. We see beds made, with fresh jumpsuits and shoes in the underground bunker, so it feels like the initial plan would have been to simply supplant the surface world with their own numbers. But of course, there was resistance, it didn't work, and then the murders started.
Putting all of this together, Us is a story of revolt between the Haves and Have Nots, with the Have Nots trying to seize what they feel is rightfully there's. After being denied proper lives for so long, they hatch a plan to get into the mainstream and take over, all thanks to Adelaide being “special,” thus offering them a leader that could get the job done. If Red and Adelaide never switched, this may have never happened.
But looking deeper, Us also feels like a story of the political approaches and policies of the 1980s gone wrong; and their repercussions coming home to roost in the modern day. The entire story is one, big loop that spans from 1986 to the present day, with those created to be lesser than eventually taking over in one, apocalyptic gesture of dominance.
At the heart of it all though is a sentiment that any one of us is just a thin line away from being a Have or a Have Not. While we're all unique, it's the circumstances we're raised in that make us one or the other. Red was tired of being a person of the underground, so she switched places with Adelaide, and it wasn't too hard for her to fit in. As the film says through rather pointed, but understated dialogue, they're Americans. Looking through the hints scattered throughout Us, it's not hard to see this point being expertly sewn together throughout this slow burn narrative.
Sifting through all the details that Jordan Peele slipped into Us, it's clear to see what's at work during the unfolding of the story. Even the detail that this film takes place between 1986 and 2019 is vital, as it's a 33 year story. Palindromes are a big symbol in the story that Peele is trying to tell, and there's a pretty huge one that recurs throughout: 11:11. In particular, there's a Bible verse that's attached to this numerical coincidence, Jeremiah 11:11, which says the following:
Now if that doesn't sound like a biblical reckoning, I don't know what does. The Tethered are that great evil, and judging by the gigantic red wall that's crossing the country, there is definitely no escape from them. But that's only the beginning, as the symbolism gets really political when you run back to the film's opening. A sequence where we're shown a TV spot for the “Hands Across America” initiative.
Meant to be a fundraiser to combat homelessness and hunger, the massive human chain of people holding hands raised money and awareness for those two causes that took up a lot of political real estate in the 80's. So much so that, as shown in another easter egg at the beginning of the film, they had already spawned a movie that spoke to the subject, with even more of a sci-fi/horror flavor.
Stashed right in frame, next to a copy of The Goonies, is a VHS of the cult classic C.H.U.D., a film that involved toxic waste storage mutating New York City's homeless population into cannibalistic humanoid underground dwellers. While the Tethered resurfacing in Us is more of a political statement, the creatures in C.H.U.D. were surfacing to feed on the surface world; but either way, the statement was that if we ignored the homeless problem long enough, it would come home to roost eventually.
Combining these clues gives you a story that, basically, tells us that if we keep ignoring our problems and disregarding our differences, they're going to come back to haunt us. And if we're not careful, that visitation will result in a reversal most foul. We can either be our greatest friends, or our worst enemies; and in the end, the decision is left to Us.
What other clues to the ultimate message did you spot in Us? Head to the comments section and clue us in! Get it?
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CinemaBlend's James Bond (expert). Also versed in Large Scale Aggressors, time travel, and Guillermo del Toro. He fights for The User.