Why Jordan Peele’s “Us” is a must-see
By: Kerry Ingram, Arts & Life Editor
Featured image courtesy of denofgeek.com
If you thought Jordan Peele’s “Get Out” was a psychological thriller that would be nearly impossible to follow, then prepare yourself. The director/writer has done it again in 2019’s “Us,” bringing to theatres a new horror movie that not only excites the viewer, but also forces those who watch to question American society in order to fully understand the horror aspects of the film.
As someone who is not a professional movie critic, I have to first start off by saying that this film was so encapsulating that I undoubtedly knew I had to write a review on it the moment I left my seat in the theatre. Although this review will not contain spoilers, I will be sprinkling a few Easter eggs worth paying attention to come your time to watch this film.
The movie takes place in modern day California, but begins with a flashback to the 80s in which the film’s main character, Adelaide (Lupita Nyong’o) is a little girl. She goes to a beach carnival with her parents, where she wanders off into a mirror maze, only to eventually run into a doppelganger of herself. The film makes it very clear from the beginning that the little girl she sees in the maze is, in fact, another being (and not a reflection, which most would assume), however, it leaves the flashback at that, with the viewer being responsible to fill in the rest of the story of what happened that night as the film develops.
Once back to modern day, Adelaide’s family takes a vacation to that exact beach she was the night she met her “clone.” After coincidences start occurring, Adelaide begins to panic in remembrance of the trauma she experienced that night. After communicating her fears to her husband, Gabe (Winston Duke), her worries start to come to the surface when an entire family of doppelgangers intrudes her home. The rest of the film consists of this battle between “real people” and their “shadows,” a huge and clear metaphor in and of itself.
Okay, so now for the film analysis: this film is a HUGE screaming message towards American society. Where “Get Out” was Peele’s film to speak on racial issues and disparities, “Us” is his film to speak about classism and privilege in American society.
And if you have any doubts about it being about this country, look no further than the title. “Us” has a double meaning, not only to speak about us as people, but to speak about the “U.S.” more specifically. More clear signals of this are found in the beginning of the movie, in which an old 80s “Hands Across America” commercial plays (which is then strung along throughout the entire film), as well as the fact that the battle between people and evil doppelgangers only occurs within the United States. (Another Easter egg for you: the daughter Zora (Shahadi Wright Joseph) mentions early on in the film that the government is putting fluoride in the water as an experiment to spy on citizens. This serves as a gentle wink to the country-wide doppelganger experiment to come).
Something I truly appreciated about this film is the representation that comes with it. For once, Black people are the main characters in a horror film and (*tiny spoiler) they DON’T die first. That’s a win just by itself, honestly.
But all jokes aside, I truly value how in both of Peele’s now iconic films, Black people are portrayed as everyday people, rather than as extreme social stereotypes. It allows viewers to not only see that people of color can live normal lives. It also forced people to see life through the eyes of someone in that perspective. Again, “Get Out” was clearly made for race issues, in which a Black man is made into the protagonist as a way for all people to see what African Americans face in today’s society, but “Us” takes that notion one step further by also focusing on class systems. Adelaide’s family is upper-middle class, and as the story unfolds, Peele’s message about classism between those privileged enough to be “real” and those born as experimental doppelgangers rings loud and clear.
Another thing to note in this movie review, Nyong’o’s acting skills are SUPERB in this film. I’ve never had any doubts of her acting before, but she develops two deeply layered characters throughout the course of the film that make it impossible for you to watch without thinking about it for the next few days.
Ultimately, the use of doppelgangers (called “the tethered” and “shadows” in the film’s story) is meant to showcase the idea that we all have sides to our story that are less than ideal. We all have pasts, things we try to hide or run away from and things that can ultimately destroy our lives so long as we choose not to properly acknowledge them. This idea of role duality in one’s life also has double meaning (a giant theme throughout this movie) – it can be applied individually, to each person’s own life and story, or it can be applied to the country, as a way to say that we’ve been in denial of our nation’s past and running away from the truth about privilege and inequity, and now that it’s finally catching up to us, the people who have benefitted from these lies are now scared to lose them.
Seems like a stretch? Watch the movie and then come talk to me.
Peele has fantastically brought another thought-provoking film to the box office, one that I recommend everyone sees. Although it’s a horror film, Peele refrained from making it excessively gorry, which I assume was a choice made to encourage more people to see it. It will make you uncomfortable in all the right ways, lead you to question society and the role you play in it, and will ultimately make you so upset once you watch the last minute of the entire film. That’s the largest Easter egg, but the one I’m definitely not spoiling.