Movie Review : Us (2019)
* this review contains spoilers *
No one in cinema felt pressure to perform harder than Jordan Peele, coming into 2019. The mastermind behind Get Out finally announced his sophomore effort last Christmas and fans expected to be pleased after a game-changing debut that was both profound and terrifying in a Twilight Zone kind of way. And he did not disappoint. Us almost immediately became the hottest source of debates and fan theories on the internet. This is a special movie. One that consecrates Jordan Peele as one of the best talents of his generation. It’s been five days and I’m still reeling from it.
Us tells the story of Adelaide Wilson (Lupita Nyong’o), a young mother of two with a creepy secret in her past: as a child, she wandered into a house of mirrors at a boardwalk carnival in Santa Cruz and found an exact copy of herself. Not a reflection, a living, breathing doppelgänger. Since then, Adelaide always remained irrationally afraid of Santa Cruz, but her husband Gabe (Winston Duke) unfortunately bought a beach house there (in order to flex his social status as a successful black man). Adelaide becomes afraid to meet the little girl again…. and rightfully so. She comes back to haunt her… with her family. That looks exactly the same as her’s!
OK. Here’s my Us theory.
Take it for what it’s worth, though. Jordan Peele said on the record that he wanted the movie to have a personal meaning to everyone. There’s a duality to every human being between who we think we are and who we really are. The latter is who we are to others, but it’s also a mosaic of what we buy, where we live, what we eat and every choice we make that have an impact on the world. Let’s call it our demographic self. It’s a self that is mainly built from our decisions, impulses and therefore that betrays our deepest problems. And this is what the Tethered people (the creepy red jumpsuit-wearing doppelgängers) are. Hidden problems and ugly inner selves surfacing in an increasingly dehumanizing world.
It’s never clear in the movie who has created the Tethered. They are referred to as “they” by Adelaide’s evil doppelgänger. My (very personal) reading of this statement is that they’re composite human beings just like those who are built from your personal data by mass marketing companies such as Facebook, Google, Apple, etc. They are selves that reveal your worst problems to you. For example, Elizabeth’s Moss’ character is obsessed with her face in a self-destructive way, so it’s all her double thinks about. Adelaide’s son Jason (Evan Alex) is obsessed with a magic trick involving fire, so his double is badly burned.
Adelaide’s duality is a little more complex. She’s chained in the past by events from her childhood and literally wears chains for half of the movie. But she’s not only fighting her hidden problems like, let’s say her kids or her white neighbors. She’s fighting an entire perception of black people who are stereotypically “supposed to be soulless and violent.” She’s also chained in the past by that perception and has to… well, kill it, in order to set herself free. That’s why I think there’s an impersonal, demographic aspect to this movie. The Tethered is who we are to people who don’t know us and only have stereotypes and impersonal information to go on. Does it make sense? That’s why you need to confront it and kill it to exist.
Of course, I might be completely wrong. Us is a complex, prismatic movie that reflects differently to viewers depending on their experience. I work in online marketing, so there’s probably some of my background coloring my viewing. But I do believe that I’m on to something. There’s a powerful existential statement to Us and a caution against dehumanization through capitalism. There are plenty of subtler winks to that in the movie. For example, a Black Flag shirt worn by a working class kid in 1986 and another worn by a girl who doesn’t what it means in the present. The loss of meaning in our choices reflects the loss of meaning in our lives, you know?
Us is absolutely fantastic. I can’t stop thinking about it. I haven’t liked a movie like this in ages. It’s beautiful * and deep. Cerebral and visceral all at once. I live for film like this. Go see it .
* Did I mention how fucking beautiful Us is? The final confrontation between Adelaide and her double is flat out one of the most beautiful scenes I’ve ever seen. It’s total cinema. The lighting works. Framing and composition work too. Performances are stellar and it’s the best use of a soundtrack I’ve see in some time. Get Out had a stern, Hitchcockian beauty to it, but Us is a level above.