If you went to see Jordan Peele’s sophomore feature, Us, over the weekend, congratulations: you’re part of the zeitgeist. If you haven’t seen the filmmaker’s follow-up to the pop culture phenomenon Get Out, then go check it out as soon as possible and then come back here when you have. This post contains MAJOR SPOILERS about the hit new movie.
Us debuted to critical acclaim (94% on Rotten Tomatoes) and a domestic gross of $71 million. But many of us left the theater a bit baffled yet curious as to the meaning of everything we just saw. Below we try to answer all the burning questions you were left with by Peele’s latest.
Who were the doppelgängers in red?
As noted by the titles at the start of the movie, tunnels exist below the entire United States, and as we learn at the end of the movie, they’ve been the home of every American’s doppelgänger. These underground doubles have been tethered to the humans on the surface following a failed government science project meant to control people via their clones. They’re “us,” also known as the “Tethered.” In addition to being the humans’ identical others, they’re the ones who wound up being controlled by their counterparts, having been forced to mimic the humans’ movements down below and even marrying corresponding doppelgängers and with them having children who are doubles of the humans’ children.
What did they want in the end?
Just like any suppressed population of people, they want freedom. Inspired by a hopeful charity stunt from the 1980s called Hands Across America, which aimed to end homelessness and hunger in the U.S., these literally lower-level creatures want to escape their underground prison and spread out from sea to shining sea. In order to have their place in the sun, however, each of these doubles had to eliminate their human counterparts and take over those people’s lives. There can only be one of each person.
What’s the meaning of it all?
Let’s look to Peele for the answer to this, to an extent. While the writer/director isn’t about to fully explain his movie, especially since he’s left enough ambiguous to a point that allows viewers to come to their own interpretations, he has discussed the some of the meaning of the movie and its doppelgänger theme in many interviews. Here’s what he told The Guardian:
“We are our own worst enemy, not just as individuals but more importantly as a group, as a family, as a society, as a country, as a world. We are afraid of the shadowy, mysterious ‘other’ that’s gonna come and kill us and take our jobs and do whatever, but what we’re really afraid of is the thing we’re suppressing: our sin, our guilt, our contribution to our own demise … No one’s taking responsibility for where we’re at. Owning up, blaming ourselves for our part in the problems of the world is something I’m not seeing.”
Of course, one of the other obvious meanings of the Tethered is not about outsiders (or insiders) looking to invade but simply the lower-class people’s of the U.S. (or “Us”). They are the ignored homeless and hungry people and other Americans living in poverty while the main characters we meet in Us are upper class.
Why was Adelaide’s family so important?
At first, the Wilson family seem to be the only humans under attack from their own doppelgängers, but later we see that their friends, the Tylers are also victims of a similar home invasion, and then it turns out this is a mass attack. But the Wilsons, particularly matriarch Adelaide (Lupita Nyong’o), are still central to the whole thing. As we find out in the end, when young Adelaide met her double in the funhouse as a child, she was actually replaced by her tethered twin, like a forced reenactment of the Prince and the Pauper. Years later, the real Adelaide (aka “Red”), who’d been living underground, orchestrated the attack on the surface.
So Adelaide was an imposter all along?
The big twist reveal of Us is that Adelaide’s doppelgänger had shackled the human version underground and then took her place. That’s why she didn’t speak, not due to some sort of PTSD but because the doppelgängers didn’t know how to speak. Eventually she found her voice, grew up, married a human man (Winston Duke) and they had a daughter and son. But even if it seems obvious based on hints early on, this twist isn’t confirmed until the end, once the doppelgänger has murdered what turns out to be the real original Adelaide. That makes for an eerie but also sort of bittersweet ending, because after all, that version of Adelaide we’d been following had adapted to surface life and had a family she loved and whom loved her.
Did she know she was the doppelgänger?
This part of the twist is less clear than the fact that the two versions of Adelaide had traded places in their youth. Did either of them know who and what she was? Did they have amnesia or had they simply forgotten what happened all these years later? The imposter Adelaide did know, and if you go back and watch the movie again, you can see hints at how that knowledge affects her through the attacks. But she doesn’t necessarily think of her as some evil fraud. What she did can be seen as bad, but from her viewpoint she just wanted to have that good life and forget and leave behind the subterranean prison for good. The choice is representative of any formerly suppressed or lower-class person who climbs the ladder into higher society.
So, which one are we supposed to be rooting for?
Both, or neither, or whichever you believe in? Each of the two versions of Adelaide has her own motivation for her actions that can be empathized with. The imposter Adelaide, who took the real girl’s place all those years ago wanted a better life and she did what she had to do in order to escape the Tethered’s prison. Red, who turns out to have been the real original Adelaide, led a revolution for the group she was made to live within, having grown up not necessarily bent on personal revenge but understanding that the Tethered deserved to be free and live aboveground.
Does anyone else know Adelaide’s secret in the end?
While not explicitly stated, Adelaide’s son, Jason (Evan Alex), discovers the truth about his mother. He’s nearby when the imposter Adelaide kills her counterpart, and there is a hint that he figures it out, emphasized with Nyong’o’s wicked smile at the very end when he looks at her in the car. The thing is, to him, she’s not necessarily an evil imposter. She’s still his mother, who gave birth to him and raised him. Of course, if there’s ever a sequel, Jason’s realization could be the beginning of the direction it heads in.
Will there be a sequel?
While nothing is planned at the moment, Jordan Peele was asked by Polygon about the potential for more movies set in this universe, and he said: “Sure! It’s a fun one …There’s a lot going on there. The ‘Us-verse’ ... I like that.” Of course, Peele could answer the call for a sequel with another story set in the same universe that’s not quite related to the Wilson family. Either way, Us made so much money in just its opening weekend, that executives at Universal Pictures are likely going to be considering the lucrative possibilities for revisiting the Us-verse.
How successful at the box office was it?
That $71 million opening for Us is a pretty big deal for a horror feature that reportedly only cost a fraction of what it grossed. Profits aside, though, the movie hit some pretty significant milestones in its first few days in theaters. Here are a few of its markers (without adjusting for inflation):
- Highest-grossing opening for an original horror movie.
- Highest-grossing opening for an original R-rated movie.
- Highest-grossing opening for a live-action original movie of any kind since 2009’s Avatar.
- Highest-grossing opening day for a live-action original movie of any kind (yes, even better than Avatar).
- Jordan Peele joined Avatar’s James Cameron plus Christopher Nolan (Inception) and M. Night Shyamalan (Signs, The Village) among the top-grossing filmmakers who are sole writers and directors of their movies.
- Lupita Nyong’o broke the record for best opening ever for a movie led by a woman of color.
What was the meaning of the rabbits, the spiders, the Bible verse, the 11s, the jumpsuits, the scissors, etc.?
For more on what specific elements of Us means, you can check out further explanations from our friends at Rotten Tomatoes as well as a terrific deep dive over at Shadow and Act. Also, as Peele expects and allows for by not detailing everything explicitly in his movie, you’re free to come up with some of your own theories, thoughts and interpretations.