If you were to ask me to summarize this film in one word, I would say:
As I’m typing this, I’m still trying to wrap my mind around the various elements featured in this movie. For example, I’m still trying to comprehend that the mastermind behind this amazing narrative,
Academy Award winner Jordan Peele, was previously doing this:
Who would’ve thought that he would be the auteur of two great films, Get Out (2017) and Us (2019), at the very beginning of his career that leave audiences around the world with minds blown and jaws dropped!
In Peele’s second project, Us follows our main character Adelaide Wilson, played by the marvelous Lupita Nyong’o (Black Panther, 12 Years a Slave), who is spending a family vacation in Santa Cruz. Although the beach and boardwalk may be picturesque, it holds a very dark memory for Adelaide. The movie integrates flashbacks of her past at the beach in 1986, which reveals the origin of her fears that came from a destined walk into a hall of mirrors. As her fear of staying too long at the vacation site mounts, a suspicious family appears outside their vacation home. When the Wilson family confronts these outsiders, they realize that they are face-to-face with violent doppelgängers of themselves!
If you’re a movie fan in general, you should watch it! If you were a fan of Get Out, then you absolutely need to watch Us too!
And yes, fair warning, there are moments of heavy violence and blood. So if you are classified as being light-hearted, maybe this might not be the film for you. I usually deter from watching horror films because I consider myself a chicken on scary stuff. However, because I loved Get Out, I wanted to watch this movie. AND IT ENDED UP BEING A GOOD DECISION ON MY PART. In my opinion, the film’s actual scary element comes after watching it as you try to decipher the hidden meanings behind Peele’s mise-en-scène (pronounced as meez-on-scent but without the “t” sound, it refers to the visual elements featured in a movie that increase the audience’s immersion into the story; elements of mise-en-scène include the characters, props, and setting of the movie).
The purpose of this blog is for me to share with you, my fellow reader, my interpretations on several elements of the film, especially pertaining to the amazing plot twist at the end! Now, I’m not able to cover all of the components considering the fact that Peele stuffs a lot into this film. It’s truly amazing to read and watch what others are saying about their film experience and interpretations! So, if you are reading this before watching the film, it will be an EXTREME disservice to your film experience. Read my thoughts AFTER you watch the film! ENJOY!
AND JUST TO CLARIFY MY PREVIOUS STATEMENT ABOVE: MAJOR SPOILERS DOWN BELOW!!!
To remind you guys of the plot twist at the end: the Adelaide that we’ve been following as the main character was a Tethered being this whole time!!! When the plot twist happened, my cousin and I were both like
But thinking about the film retrospectively, the movie meticulously slides various hints that the Adelaide we follow was switched a long time ago. Here were some of the hints I picked up after reflecting on the movie. And just for reference as I write this blog, when I am referring to Red, I am referring to her as Red/the Real Adelaide.
Red/Real Adelaide (Images from IMDb/Amazon/Monkey Paw Productions/Universal Studios).
Conversely, the Adelaide that is part of the Wilson family will be referred to as Fake Adelaide/Tethered Adelaide.
The Candied Red Apple
In the beginning of the film, we follow the young Adelaide spending time on the Boardwalk with her parents. When she gets separated from them by wandering off, she adamantly holds onto a glossy, blood-red candied apple. The movie obviously chooses the color red to be a recurring theme throughout the narrative–it’s meant to represent the red colored jumpsuits that the Tethered beings wear. The red apple can be linked to the expositional confrontation between Adelaide and Red in the final act. Red reveals during her exposition that the Tethered were a failed government experiment, which ultimately left them all to be forgetten. As a result, the Tethered beings had to survive only eating raw rabbit meat while living in the underground tunnels. The similarity of the Tethered being long forgetten is similar to how the candied apple is treated. Once Adelaide lays her eyes on the Hall of Mirrors, it starts to rain. Forced to seek shelter, she hurriedly runs to the Hall of Mirrors while dropping the candied apple. She didn’t even get a bite out of it. She never had a second thought to even retrieve it. Adelaide being able to escape from the rain ties to how humans living above the tunnels were able to live a life of comfort, which is mentioned in Red’s exposition. On the other hand, the forgetten red apple represents the forgotten Tethered that were forced to live under poor circumstances–it’s left under the rain to bear the harsh elements that it had no control over.
The Hall of Mirrors – The Switching of the Mascots and the Significance of the Owl
Now, when we see the Hall of Mirrors in the beginning, the front features a mascot of a Native American man “pointing at” Adelaide. Next to the entrance, an arrow shines to the door saying “Find Yourself.” It’s not until the later third of the movie that we find out that this is the opening where the Tethered are. The aforementioned “Yourself” links to the idea that entering the House of Mirrors would help one to find their doppelgänger–the literal sense of finding one’s own self. Also, if you think about it closely, Native Americans are derogatively known as “Redskins” (please do not quote me out of context. I am, by no means, trying to cause any racial tensions from my blog. I am only stating an unfortunate fact that we know that Native Americans are rudely called “redskins”). And tying it to the red theme repeated throughout the film, the Native American represents the Tethered people: it is as if the Tethered Adelaide was “calling” the Real young Adelaide to enter the Hall of Mirrors to find and meet her. On the other hand, when the movie becomes the present day, the mascot changes from the Native American to the White Merlin Wizard. The legend of Merlin originates from European/Western mythology and you can safely say that the United States origin is from European descent. Even later in the movie, when Fake Adelaide asks who the mysterious doppelgänger family were, Red is the one that replies, “We’re Americans.” Therefore, the Merlin Wizard represents the Real Adelaide/Red, the original American child seen in the beginning with the apple, who was “calling” her, the Tethered/Fake Adelaide, so that she can take back her rightful place under the sun.
Even if you don’t find my description above as convincing (Tethered Adelaide “calling” Real Adelaide as a Native American versus Real Adelaide/Red “calling” Fake Adelaide as the Merlin Wizard), perhaps you can believe that it was God who created their destined fate, just as the Real Adelaide/Red mentions in her exposition. This theory is supported by the owl that pops out from the wall and scares the young Adelaide as she walks into the Hall of Mirrors for the first time. In both Native American and European Mythology, the Owl represents an all-knowing, wise being. Just think about it: the fact that owls have the ability to rotate their heads 360 degrees shows how nothing can leave their sight, just like a God. I cover more about owls being all knowing beings later in the blog.
An owl, according to mythology, can also represent a bad omen–if an individual hears the hoot of an owl, then the person is destined to die. And who was the one that heard the hoot?
The young Red/Real Adelaide at the very beginning of the movie!
On the other hand, when Tethered/Fake Adelaide navigates through the Hall of Mirrors during the last act, she gets scared but unwaveringly smashes the owl before it can hoot. In other words, this foreshadowed that the Tethered/Fake Adelaide would be able to beat Death at his own game and ultimately seal the fate of Red/Real Adelaide.
The Coincedental Red Frisbee
During the scene of the Wilson family spending time on the beach, Fake/Tethered Adelaide is talking to her friend Kitty (played by Elizabeth Moss) when a red frisbee comes flying out of nowhere. When Fake Adelaide picks up the frisbee, she notices how it perfectly lands and covers a dark navy blue circle, which is a part of the pattern of the beach towel. This moment alone causes Fake/Tethered Adelaide to feel apprehensive. During this scene, we didn’t know that she was the Fake Adelaide, a shadow of the Real Adelaide/Red. The way that she stares at this dark navy circle serves as a reminder of who she really is–she will and always has been the fake. And the fact that she, the dark navy circle, was perfectly eclipsed by the frisbee represents that someone is going to take her place. Again, think about it: it was a red frisbee with a golden design, which is meant to symbolize the red, Tethered people with their golden sheers. The fact that the red frisbee came out of no where foreshadowed that they, the Tethered people, were coming to replace their counterparts, including Real/Red Adelaide to the Fake Adelaide. In other words, that frisbee alone foreshadowed the Tethered people saying:
“Pas de Deux” Soundtrack of the Film
I swear, when this song came on during the climatic fight, I had chills!!! And if you don’t remember or know the name of this amazing score, I got you covered.
During their fight, there were constant flashbacks made back and forth between the Fake Adelaide and the Real Adelaide dancing their ballet recitals. This scene is shown through cross-cutting or parallel editing, which is meant to show how two actions are happening at the same time but in different locations. So in this case, they were both dancing at the same time but Real Adelaide was dancing her performance underground whereas Fake Adelaide was dancing up above. I never thought there was a deeper meaning to the name of the song until this appeared on my screen when I was searching it up on Youtube.
“How strange” I said to myself. “Why would this song share the same title as another song from The Nutcracker?“ But then I looked at the thumbnail: it depicts a female ballet dancer–JUST LIKE HOW THE ADELAIDES WERE DANCING. And to prove how even more thoughtful the titling was for this score, apparently pas de deux is ballet jargon for a dancing duet! Not only does this song serve as a jarring reference to how the Tethered copied every movement of their original bodies up above, but it also defines how the Adelaides were technically having a dancing duet, with the Fake Adelaide taking the lead on teaching Red/Real Adelaide how to dance. And that really ties to Red’s haunting, foreshadowing quote of her true origins:
“If it wasn’t for you, I would never have learned to danced that day.”
The Epic Finale
Now remember how I said that owls represented all-knowing beings earlier? Well, it also perfectly ties to the main argument of the film. This movie is meant to talk about the struggle between social classes: it seems that whatever family you are born into, you are stuck with the circumstances that come along with it. But how is one able to arise from their poor circumstances?
By attaining Knowledge, which is achieved by getting an education. And owls are a common mascot associated with schools and education.
The school classroom is meant to be the setting where we, regardless of social status, are able to pursue the American dream: to become better, to change out fates, and ultimately (and hopefully) be able to reach happiness. And pop quiz: where does this epic finale between the “lower” class Real Adelaide, who lived underground, versus Fake Adelaide, who lived up above, occur?
In a classroom.
This battle to achieve higher academics is prevalent today. Some of us may cheat our way there (in the case of Fake Adelaide becoming Real Adelaide) while some of us have to struggle in order to get there (Real Adelaide/Red literally trying to kill Fake Adelaide to claim her spot with regular humans again). Before the fighting scene occurs, Red is seen in front of the classroom, which signals her spot at the “top” of the academic system–she is literally on “top” of the class. On the other hand, Fake Adelaide approaches Red from the back of the classroom. And in this classroom, remember what is placed in the back? It’s the cages that held the rabbits, which is meant to represent the Tethered who were mistreated and placed literally under regular humans. And the fact that Fake Adelaide stands alongside these cages is a suitable foreshadow of her true origins.
The competiveness to get into higher education can be seen in the setting design, particularly the chalkboard bordered with red hand prints at the bottom.
Originally, the activity of painting handprints in elementary school is meant to be something endearing and a fun activity for kids. Case in point, I still have my painted handprint that I had from Kindergarten.
In other words, this activity should be connected to the pure innocence of childhood. However, Peele mentions how duality is another theme that he integrates in this film and the handprints totally serve that purpose. Notice how the hands are abnormally close to each other as if they were huddled bodies trying to claw their way up to the chalkboard, which serves as another representation of school and education. And the fact that these hand prints are painted blood red doesn’t make it any less creepy than the movie already is–these hands represent the Tethered being’s desperate attempt to be noticed and escape their horrid conditions. The duality of using children as intentionally being haunting can be connected to another soundtrack of the film, “Anthem,” which was used during the chilling introduction of the film. Perhaps the depiction of bloodied hands is also meant to illustrate how the competitiveness in the academic system starts at a young age.
On a personal side note, this unfortunate circumstance of us battling each other for a better education reminds me of one of my first lectures that I attended in college (shout out to you Professor MS). She told my class that the way classrooms are structured are poor. Our seats are side by side, which makes us ignore each other and places us in competition to attain our academics alone. She wished that classrooms were structured in a way that students are able to have face-to-face communications with one another and to learn from one another as well because in the real world, it involves teamwork and social interaction to ultimately achieve meaningful change in society. But if we are constantly battling each other for better grades, then how are we able to see and appreciate the meaning of a true community that fosters equality for all? In an interview with Esquire, Jordan Peele mentions that
Jordan Peele, Esquire
This movie’s about maybe the monster is you. It’s about us, looking at ourselves as individuals and as a group. “
Maybe we, as individuals in the school system, shouldn’t be looking at everyone as our competitors to step on and use. We should be building relationships and connections to one another and form a group in solidarity. And the school system should accomodate to these standards. Besides, we all are sharing the same world and it’s important to treat each other fairly while pursuing equity not only for ourselves, but also for everyone else.
Now the last thing I want to analyze from this epic finale was this certain frame that I drew in order to make my point across.
Now this type of framing is known as a close-up shot which makes an object or face of a person fit tightly into the frame. A close-up shot is purposefully used to enter into the consciousness of the character. In other words, the camera has positioned itself to give us an insight on what is going on in Red/Real Adelaide’s mind. Adjacent to the close-up of Red’s head is a full body shot of the Fake/Tethered Adelaide. This image is literally showing us the Fake/Tethered Adelaide is occupying her mind (think of it as Tethered Adelaide residing in Red’s thought bubble, which would be placed right next to Red’s head). Now remember, we have the Tethers killing their originals in order to gain their spot in the sunlight. This shot further proves this murderous intent as her eyes are menacingly staring at the direction of where the Fake/Tethered Adelaide is standing (I could’ve drawn her eyes but 1) they kept on being poorly drawn and 2) it freaked me out even more). However, this murderous attempt is technically justified (at this point, we’ve reached morally ambiguous territory) since Red is trying to fight for her life to become the Adelaide that she used to be. But we know how that ends…
“Wow,” amiright? If I had analyzed this film any further, I wouldn’t be able to get some sleep! But that just shows how deep Peele has went into crafting this film and showing how nothing is more scarier than having your art reflect the world’s haunting realities! What are your thoughts on this movie? Did you see what I saw? Share your film experience and interpretations with me down in the comments below! 🙂 And thank you for reading my thoughts! ‘Til next time!
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