The following contains spoilers for Us.
Three's a lot of odd, strange, and bizarre stuff going on in Jordan Peele's new film Us. However, one of the strangest things has to be the movie's opening scene. The film opens on a little girl watching television in the 1980s. Specifically, she views a commercial for the 1986 fundraising event Hands Across America. The ad isn't entirely random, as the event has a part to play in the larger story of Us. In fact, it sort of sets the tone for the entire movie, which is apparently why Jordan Peele decided to open the movie with it.
In addition to the Hands Across America commercial being important to the plot of Us, it also mirrors the film itself, because while the ad wants to be full of hope and optimism, Jordan Peele actually had a very different reaction to it. It seems that ultimately, it was the commercial which helped the writer and director figure out what he wanted to do with the movie, which is why he decided to open the film with it. According to Peele...
Old creepy commercials also come up in both, ones from the ’80s. In conceiving this movie, I arrived at the Hands Across America commercial from one of these moments of feeling as opposed to thinking. I found a real Hands Across America commercial — I don’t know what I was searching to find it, but I just had this feeling of dread watching the amusing, bright optimism on display. It took me back to a time where I was also afraid and young and vulnerable, and didn’t really know what was going on. So I probably said, ‘what if this was the first scene in the movie?’ And that began to answer questions about what I was working towards.
I'm old enough to remember the actual Hands Across America, but I'm never going to be able to think about it the same way again thanks to Us. The unwavering optimism of it all is almost terrifying, which is part of the point. Everything looks good but there's a feeling of something wrong underneath, which is exactly was Us is trying to say.
The first part of Us takes place in 1986, the same year that Hands Across America took place, but as we learn later in the movie, the commercial wasn't simply set to help set the time and place. The actual event has a part to play. Based on what Jordan Peele tells Polygon, it sounds like connecting his story to Hands Across America helped him figure out where to take the characters in his script, as he'd still had some questions previously.
It was certainly a unique and interesting way to open a movie, not to mention effective. The choice to use the commercial makes the audience wonder just what they're seeing and why, throwing them a little off balance for the story that is to come.
Us is in theaters now.