Nightmares and reality arise from the mind of this generational filmmaker Jordan Peele. He has single-handedly explored the past, and oppression America fails to recognize, and that alone makes it incredibly dangerous. His only two films so far, Get Out and Us, secure the horror genre’s power in a fascinating (and intelligent) manner. More masterpieces, Mr. Jordan Peele? Pretty please?
In 2019, Peele released one of the best (and underrated) films of the year, Us. This film details the struggle between the Wilson family and the “Tethered,” a group of doppelgangers that dwell in forgotten tunnels beneath the United States. The latter eventually surfaces, murders their doubles, and recreates the “Hands Across America” campaign. This real-life event in 1986 requested Americans to join hands to unite the country while fighting hunger, poverty, and homelessness. The motif sets the stage for an astonishing film, seeking to unravel questions of American capitalism and wealth inequality in a horror setting.
Take, for example, the first time the Wilsons’ meet their doppelgangers at the beginning of the second act. Red, the Tethered leader, explains in a raspy voice a story of a girl and her shadow.
“The two were connected, tethered together. When the girl ate, her food was given to her warm and tasty. But when the shadow was hungry, she had to eat rabbit, raw and bloody. On Christmas, the girl received wonderful toys, soft and cushy. But the shadow’s toys were so sharp and cold; they’d slice through her fingers when she tried to play with them” (Us 0:45:07-0:45:51).
Maybe it was a sorrowful tactic used to create sympathy for the Tethered, but no. The story described here is frighteningly reminiscent of the United States culture. This country is defined by severe inequality and an ethos of vicious social mobility. The wealthy live in the beautiful houses and vast mansions with their voices echoing across the country. The rest are subjected to squalor, fighting to maintain a living, and are suppressed continuously to ones that stand above them. What is even more daunting is when Red stated, “We’re Americans.”
Some may find this ludicrous, but it demonstrates how blind we are to the truth and how we instead proclaim exceptionalism, the pleasure we find in convincing ourselves that we are equal (which are the words the forefathers stamped on the constitution of this country). The evidence counteracts this falsehood as some communities are still disrupted and chaotic, fighting for survival or being free.
Peele also employs the use of Jeremiah 11:11 frequently in the film. The verse (found here) refers to the impending fall crumbling onto the shoulders of the people of Jerusalem as they worshipped false idols. In Us, this may become understood as a criticism of how America worships capitalism, unrestrained consumption, and the usage of the free market. Anyone who watched it recalls how the wealthy family of Tyler’s used Ophelia, the virtual assistant?
People abuse what they take for granted. It speaks to the theme of entitlement and how we are collectively ignoring the consequences of privilege. What we desire or feel like we deserve comes at the expense of someone’s freedom or happiness. The Tethered have no real feelings as they lost it to those on the surface enjoying themselves.
This film is a disturbing commentary on how America operates. Today’s struggles are of yesterday, and inequalities within America are the rule (not the misconception). Is this a country where man is equal? From this writer’s stance, it became built on the back of blood and genocide. Great ideas or changes come at the expense of great horrors such as slavery, rape, murder, and brutality. There are sins entrenched in our wisdom and theologies. There is a lack of awareness that haunts those who choose not to recognize it.
We do not want to look in the mirror. There is a dark side within us as the outside illuminates our superficiality. The duality is inescapable, just like the scissors and doppelgangers shown in the film. If that is not enough for one to handle, examine the Thriller shirt young Adelaide received at the beginning of the film. Michael Jackson was a saint of duality, loved yet suspected at the same time (back in the past and in the present moment).
Jordan Peele’s Us is ridiculously innovative and sensational. He can essentially force us to question ourselves and implore us to ask whether we are systematically evil or not is a hell of a consolation prize. A tense, gritty film plagued with America’s political messages is something for all of us to witness and reflect.
If the devils were to come from hell and find us today, be prepared. Heck, they may exist within us already.