Peele-ing Back The Layers: Us Decoded
“Us“, brought to us by the same Jordan Peele who shocked the world with “Get Out”, is not your typical horror movie. Peele is a true student of the genre with hat tips to “Jaws“, “Misery“, “Nightmare on Elmstreet” and much more. Us is the story of The Haves vs The Havenots that you don’t often see occupying the same space at the same time.
The story flashes back to 1986 to Lupita Nyongo’s character Adelaide Wilson as a child. Young Adelaide (played by Madison Curry), wearing the thriller t-shirt her father won for her, wanders away at a beachfront carnival and into a house of mirrors where she met her double. In the flashback sequence we also see her parents talking to a child therapist with her mother saying Ade hasn’t been the same since she walked away as young Ade looks on in silence. Fast forward to present day where The Wilsons (a middle-class black family) are on vacation and Adelaide is reluctant to revisit the same beach from the 1986 carnival to meet up with family friends. Ade tells husband Gabe about narrowly escaping her doppelgänger in the house of mirrors decades earlier. Despite Ade’s apprehension Gabe convinces Ade to enjoy a day at the beach with the kids. Before sundown we learn more about track star teenage daughter/phone whisperer Zora and son Jason, a kid fascinated with magic who also struggles with social interaction.
After a day of fun in the sun The Wilsons return home and are confronted by their doubles in the driveway. The doubles break into the house and each family member paired off to fight their double except for the two young sons with virtually the same mindset who were told to go off and play. The family narrowly escapes their doubles getting away by boat. They fled to their friends home to find refuge only to find the whole family murdered by their doppelgängers. After killing off the doubles who killed their friends they take the family’s car in an effort to escape. On their way to “Get Out” they encountered their remaining doubles, exterminating them one by one until only Ade’s double remained. The final fight scene is between the two mothers. It was a fight to the death. Ade (Lupita) not only killed her double, she impaled her and twisted the object like a move from “Mortal Kombat”.
Let’s breakdown the symbolism throughout the movie. When the doubles showed up Lupita’s double said “We are Americans”. She talked about Ade having better gifts, better food and a better life. The movie referenced “Hands Across America“, a star studded campaign to help the hungry and homeless in America in 1986. HAA raised 34 million dollars but only half of the funds were used for its intended purpose. The year 1986 is also significant as it relates to “The Crack Era”, devastating “Regan Era” policies that further handcuffed poor and vulnerable communities at large as well as white and black flight from major cities that produced cataclysmic consequences. The classrooms and cookie-cutter bunk beds represent both the school to prison pipeline via “Mass Incarceration” and the school to military pipeline via JROTC. Peele even hit us with Jeremiah 11:11 (KJV) Therefore thus saith the LORD, Behold, I will bring evil upon them, which they shall not be able to escape; and though they shall cry unto me, I will not hearken unto them. Translation: Not even God can save you when them chickens come home to roost. The carnival represents working people with low incomes who cannot afford health insurance. The killing or removal of the fathers first in the movie leaves the family unit vulnerable and less able to defend itself. Young Jason and his double played brilliantly by Evan Alex compares and contrasts a privileged child with social development issues and a poverty stricken child with the same challenges.
Underserved communities that include the working poor, the homeless, the recently incarcerated, and military veterans are plagued with underfunded school systems, heightened police presence, and limited access to the high paying jobs of the future. In less than 2 hours Jordan Peele and the extraordinary ensemble of “Us” tackled the inequities in America in a very meaningful, powerful, and remarkable way. “Us” came to make you scream and expose the hypocrisy in the American Dream.
You didn’t think we would end this deep dive without discussing the cliffhanger to end all cliffhangers did you? At the end of the Lupita fight scene there is a flashback to young Ade being dragged by her double, switching shirts, and cuffing her to the bed leading the audience to believe that Ade’s double took her privilege and ultimately her life. It is a flaming reminder that all skin folk ain’t kinfolk and a lot of the time we are our own worst enemies. Not watching this movie was the second worst mistake of your life. The first was reading this review before hitting the theatre.
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