Join “Us” For an Uncomfortable Time

Gari De Ramos, Scarlet Staff

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At 7pm on September 28, students trickled into JEFF 320 for the Clark University Film Screening Society’s showing of “Us” (2019). Coming from Jordan Peele, who directed the renowned racial commentary that is the film “Get Out” (2017), I was eager to see what was in store. Although I missed Us when it was in theaters earlier this year, I knew nothing more than doubles were involved. Was it another racial commentary? How would these doubles come into play? I had no idea. 

Now having seen the film, I still have no idea. What I did know walking out of the theater, however, was that I was feeling some type of way. 

For a simplified synopsis, “Us” follows a nuclear family on their summer vacation in Santa Cruz that gets interrupted by their doppelgangers, called the Tethered (since their doubles are tethered to their counterparts) invading and terrorizing their home, trying to kill them. As the family attempt to escape, they learn that the Tethered are terrorizing the entire city and, it is implied, nation. 

“Us” is a cinematic work of art. Although only his second movie, Peele has demonstrated  his exemplary command of all artistic and cinematic storytelling components to make audiences captivated, uncomfortable, and thoughtful. “Us” was riddled with all sorts of symbolism that will leave you scratching your head and navigating an awesomely confused feeling at the same time. 

Upon the film’s end, my friends and I went to the bistro to try and dissect the film. The film’s point is difficult to grasp. In our conversation, we each found ourselves gravitating to certain details. Early in the film, a spider crawls out of a sculpture of a spider, which may highlight how the Tether of Adelaide (Lupita Nyong’o) is akin to a spider queen pulling all the strings. Adelaide’s husband, Gabe (Winston Duke) is fixated on wealth and garnering more and more symbols of wealth, which may highlight how our infinite desire for profit and growth is unsustainable. The red outfits worn by all the doubles may resemble the red coats worn by the British military during the American Revolutionary War, signaling another war to come. 

Whereas “Get Out” was clearly a comment on racism, “Us” can be about anything. Capitalism, greed, colonialism, genocide, race, and more.

Although Peele has revealed little about the meaning or point behind the film, he has stated this: “The state of this country inspired me. We’re a country that is afraid of the outsider. Whether it’s within our borders or outside of our borders. I think when we fail to point our finger inward, we’re capable of really messing up in big ways.”

The Tethered represent the outsider Peele discusses. Adelaide’s double, Red, goes so far as to explicitly say that the Tethered “are Americans.” And they are. They are the result of a failed experiment by scientists in an attempt to control the population. America self-segregated and created the conflict that will now consume it. 

The us versus. them conflict of the Tethered and the ‘real people’ is akin to the mentality that exists in almost every facet of American life today. ”Us”, after all, not only refers to the collective ‘us,’ but also to the United States (U.S.). The aforementioned red coat symbolism can point to how the political climate today feels like there are multiple sides opposing each other and ready for battle. It’s not a promising picture of the nation.

In “Us”, Peele presents a manifestation of the American psyche. It’s intentionally broad and uncomfortable, because our divisions are all-encompassing and tense. It is a film that leaves you wondering what it was all about, but, more likely than not, it is about it all.