Jordan Peele’s “Us” shows Americans we are our own worst enemy
by Brian Moniz
It’s been over a week since Jordan Peele’s newest film, Us, was released in theaters, and since then it has broken box office records and left countless Americans scratching their heads wondering what in the world they just witnessed. Peele’s debut film, Get Out, was a spooky mystery-thriller that made a statement about race in America; while Us does star a black family (brilliantly led by Oscar winner Lupita Nyong’o), the film is more about class than it is race.
WARNING: FULL SPOILERS AHEAD!
Us opens in 1986 with two parents taking their young daughter, Adelaide, to the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk for her birthday. At one point, both parents become distracted, and Adelaide wanders off onto the beach and into a house of mirrors. Inside the house of mirrors, she sees another little girl who looks exactly like her, not just a reflection, but an actual girl. The film then cuts to modern day, where we see Adelaide all grown up and traveling with her family back to Santa Cruz for their summer vacation. On their first night back, Adelaide’s home is invaded by strangers with gold scissors who look exactly like them. The doppelgänger-Adelaide (known in the credits as Red) says to the family that they are copies of the real family. She explains that clone copies of real people were made in a government experiment in their attempt to control Americans. The experiment didn’t work, and the clones were left to live aimlessly in abandoned subway tunnels and sewers underground for decades, mimicking the movements of their above-ground counterparts. Red explains that when the real family gets warm, tasty food, the doppelgängers must eat rabbits raw and bloody; when the real family gets nice Christmas presents, the doppelgängers get toys that are cold and sharp. The doppelgängers are sick of having to mimic their better-halves every move and have figured out a way to escape to the surface and kill off their above-ground counterparts to live the good life in their place. Adelaide asks the doppelgängers what they are, and Red simply replies, “We are…Americans.” In the end of the film, after many copies have killed off their counterparts, we see a helicopter shot of all the clones holding hands across America as far as the eye can see.
Since the film’s debut, Jordan Peele has given many interviews explaining his message and metaphors of the film, since so many people were left with many unanswered questions. Who are the doppelgängers supposed to represent? Why do they kill with scissors? What do the rabbits mean? What is special about the number 11 that appears over and over in the film? Why are they holding hands in the end?
Peele wanted to create a film for Americans to show how divided we are, and while there are many factors that divide us (gender, race, orientation, religion), the biggest one is class. The clones represent poor people who have nothing, are never heard, and are treated like dispensable trash. The humans that live above have everything at their fingertips. The well-off in America have the luxury of nice houses; the poor live in dilapidated homes, often crammed with other people. The rich have access to healthy, delicious foods and clean drinking water; the poor in America eat a lot of fast food, which is harmful to their bodies and has little-to-no nutritional value. The rich have healthcare; the poor must help themselves. The rich can afford to buy the newest smart phones, TV’s, laptops and take fun vacations; the poor cannot afford anything but old, outdated electronics and almost never take a vacation. Peele wanted to show viewers that those of us who are fortunate enough to have it all take it for granted and never think about those who have nothing. The film sends the message that those left out and forgotten still matter, and if we continue to leave them out, desperation could lead to a violent movement for power.
What is most brilliant about the film is in the end, it is revealed to us that when Adelaide met Red in the house of mirrors all those years ago, they switched places, so it has really been the clone living the good life all this time, and the real Adelaide has been stuck down in the tunnels living amongst the clones. Peele wanted this to show that in the real world, if poor, less-fortunate people only had the chance and the resources to be successful, they would be; and if anyone, regardless of their upbringing, was dropped into a terrible lifestyle, it would be almost impossible to break out and make a good life for themselves.
The symbolism of the scissors is brilliant. They are a tool of two parts that must work together to be useful. When one moves, the other half moves in the opposite direction, just like the humans and their clone counterpart. Jeremiah 11:11, which comes up throughout the film, is a bible verse that says God will release evil onto the world, and people will cry for his help, but he will ignore them. The number 11 appears at the boardwalk, the score of the baseball game that Adelaide’s husband watches on TV is 11–11, and Adelaide puts her son to sleep just before the clone family attacks her home, we see the time is 11:11pm; all signifying the beginning of the end. Some have even suggested that the clones represent Trump supporters, who all wear red, (the color of the Republican Party), are constantly conditioned to hate and be violent to the “Liberal Elite”, and holding hands in the end to symbolize that they finally got their wall.
Peele has said he wants the film to not have a 100% clear meaning so that anyone can leave it to their own interpretation. I’m sure many people will disagree with what every little detail means, but the message is still clear that the less fortunate in this country should not be left out or forgotten, because people can only go so long living in the gutter (pun intended) before enough is enough.
About the Author:
Brian Moniz is a 29-year-old man from San Jose, Calif. He studied filmmaking and writing at San Jose State University from 2010–2013 and got his bachelor’s degree in Radio-TV-Film. Throughout his high school and college years, he worked as a music and movie journalist and critic. Having only recently come out of the closet himself in 2014, Brian enjoys writing about LGBTQ issues. His only regret when it comes to his sexuality is that he didn’t come out sooner.