Okay, so if you’re reading this, you’re one of the millions of people who saw Us this weekend. It’s the new horror film from the Oscar-winning Jordan Peele, who won audience and critical acclaim with the masterful Get Out. It stars Black Panther’s Lupita Nyong’o and Winston Duke as a married couple who come face to face with their evil doppelgängers while on holiday in their remote lakeside summer house. Their bloodthirsty lookalikes appear on their doorstep one night, hellbent on terrorising the couple and their two children, and things rapidly go from bad to “what the f*** just happened?!”
If you haven’t seen Us yet, then what are you doing here?
Go away, and come back when you’ve seen it. We may have problems with it, but we don’t want to ruin it for you.
Us spoilers coming up…
If you have seen it, and you’re a bit baffled by what you saw, we totally understand, that’s because the plot-threads are a bit untethered, so the story doesn’t fully make sense. But we’re going to explain what it’s supposed to mean, then go into why it’s all a bit confusing, before bringing it all together for what it’s probably saying about society.
THIS IS YOUR LAST CHANCE BEFORE WE HIT THE SPOILERS
At the end of the film it’s revealed that, when Lupita Nyong’o’s Adelaide Wilson wandered into the hall of mirrors during the opening flashback sequence, she coincidentally met her shadow, Red, who took the opportunity to kidnap her and switch places with her. When you see the little girl in the psychiatrist’s office, that’s Red.
Now, there’s several reasons this is a bit confusing. The first is that, if the tethered are unsupervised, and able to wander up to the hall of mirrors, then why didn’t the real Adelaide just escape the moment she had her first opportunity? You know, as opposed to doing ballet.
Potentially, it’s because when the characters switched, the power dynamic also shifted, which means that the surface version was now in control, and so Adelaide couldn’t escape.
But that’s not made clear in the movie, and also doesn’t make sense as an explanation – because if that’s the new power dynamic, then Adelaide wouldn’t be able to lead a revolution to the surface.
If, somehow, close proximity between the surface people and their shadows leads to more autonomy for the shadows, why would surface Lupita ever agree to a holiday to the one place she’d be avoiding for her entire life? This is definitely one of the most baffling elements of the whole thing.
But the major element that really doesn’t make any sense is the sequence where shadow Lupita gives the big exposition dump in her croaky voice. She wasn’t a baby when they switched, she was a communicative child, fully aware that she’d been switched.
So, rather than telling that whole ‘once upon a time’ story that totally suggested she’d been born into the underground lab, why wouldn’t she go into that house and say ‘You stole my life!’ Why wouldn’t she immediately bring this up, rather than saving it for another big exposition dump later in the movie?
There’s one explanation that could tie everything together, but you need to do a bit of hard work to apply it to the movie. The film could be a metaphor for ‘the return of the repressed,’ where basically surface Lupita has repressed the memory of how she escaped the underground bunker.
Similarly, underground Lupita may have gone through so many traumatic experiences, that she became so disturbed, she might as well have been born among the shadow people. That’s certainly inferred.
Still, while we understand it was very rubbish down there, if Red was able to blend in with overground society (outside of not speaking for a bit), we’re not entirely sure why literally every single tethered is a total psycho when they come up to the surface. It might make sense if they were killing their originals, but the news broadcast makes it clear that they start randomly killing people.
Read more: Jordan Peele hailed ‘modern day Hitchcock’
But, as far as we can tell, the ending is supposed to mean this:
Young Adelaide was switched with young Red. Red had such a nice upbringing she became a good person. Adelaide had such a terrible time she became a bad person.
While Red started a family, Adelaide was somehow able to break the tethered connection to gather the entire underground populace into a revolution, inspired by a TV broadcast of the ‘Hands Across America’ movement (in which people were encouraged to hold hands to bring attention to hunger and poverty – 6.5 million took part, so we’re probably meant to assume that’s the scale of the tethered protest, that’s what that very last shot is all about, which means Red has been very busily organising a lot of people who can only communicate in grunts and screams!)
This revolution is partly inspired by the fact Adelaide can do ballet (this is probably a metaphor for how art can free the spirit, but doesn’t really make sense on a practical level – the tethered mimic what’s going on overground, so they would have seen ballet before?), and by a ‘Hands Across America’ t-shirt she brought into the underground bunker (which makes us wonder, where do the tethered get their clothes from if they’re so impressed by this t-shirt? Do their clothes just manifest? Where does the dude pretending to work in the fairground get his Thriller t-shirt from?)
Anyway, around 30 years after the switch, Adelaide leads the revolution overground, and decides to go and confront her shadow, and her shadow’s family. Presumably because she’s not an original tethered, she decides to toy with Red, whereas every other tethered immediately kills everyone they meet (seeking out their originals in some cases, and in some cases not).
This gives Red the opportunity to rally her family (who are also special – because they’re half human, half tethered, which probably explains why they’re able to survive and fight back, where everyone else dies).
Then, we hit the end sequence – and the look between Red and her son. This is presumably meant to suggest that they share a secret, the secret that’s at the heart of the movie – that there’s a very fine line between the tethered and human, and they are both now in touch with their dark sides, following the events of the film.
Then we get the final moments of the movie, the Mirror World ‘Hands Across America’ tracking shot, the tethered’s “performance art” protest that demonstrates that the underclass are now in control of America (“we’re Americans.”) and the world is now chaotic (bit of a weird message, but okay!) as a result.
So, make sure you keep repressing your dark side folks! And definitely make sure to keep those pesky mentally challenged / disturbed / underclass citizens / people who work with scissors in sweatshops in place, or things will get crazy!
Us is in UK cinemas now, and you should see it to make up your own mind.