Breaking Down the Sinister Symbolism of Us
Hopefully, you had the thrill of jumping down the rabbit hole this weekend and into a whole new movie monster universe with Us. Lupita Nyong’o as Red is an instant icon and introduced an entirely new form to fear. The deadly doppelgängers of Us will surely fill the streets this Halloween. Don’t run with scissors, kids! For now, we’re stilling trying to process the layers and layers of messages and meaning Jordan Peele packed into his masterful mythology. Here is some of the most sinister symbolism we’re still digesting.
SPOILER ALERT!! DO NOT READ ON IF YOU HAVE NOT SEEN US. PLOT DETAILS BELOW!
Before we get into what it all means, let’s refresh the basics of what we just saw. There were a lot of mysteries to unravel in Us and then there was that shocking and unsettling ending. Adelaide Wilson (Nyong’o) has a chance encounter with an identical twin at a boardwalk carnival as a child and is understandably scarred. She feels the “other” girl growing closer every day until they finally come face to face. Adding to the terror, she’s not the only one with an evil double. The entire family has a “tethered” that has been living underground in a shadow life of what happens above. After thousands of doppelgängers surface, the carnage begins. Adelaide does make it to the end and kills her opposite Red. Then the true twist is revealed. Adelaide is actually a tethered who attacked her human counterpart and replaced her in 1986. Peele is a master of chills and here are some of the other disturbing details that won’t let us go.
There could be an entire thesis about the fear of being replaced by an exact copy of yourself and Jordan Peele basically just wrote it, so we will keep it short. There are so many allusions to parallels in this film that left our minds reeling. The most frightening and literal manifestation is those sharp scissors. They’re meant to cut the binds between human and tethered and are also mirror images of themselves. One side moves and the other reacts in equal measure.
The big picture message we took away, though, is that undeniable connection to our darker sides. Can the worst part of ourselves overpower the good?
Hands Across America
The well-intended charity event of 1986 takes on a twisted meaning in Us. We aren’t sure until the very end why Red is fixated on the event, but it does have chilling ties to the tethered’s mission. Everyone is connected, even to forces they don’t know exist. As the underground people grab hands, they declare their liberation from victory over the humans they overpowered. Then, of course, the realization that Red was human delivers a whole different element. Hands Across America was one of the last memories from her childhood above ground.
The Old Testament of the Bible is a terrifying place filled with death, plagues, wars, and near-apocalypse. If you are looking for an uplifting Bible verse for your vision board, Jeremiah is not the best place to start. In Jeremiah, God’s people are worshipping false idols and the damage is done. He is on a warpath of revenge. Here is the passage:
Therefore this is what the LORD says: ‘I will bring on them a disaster they cannot escape. Although they cry out to me, I will not listen to them.
Not only is He plotting to destroy them, but even knows they will scream in terror and it will garner no sympathy. Yikes. If there was ever horror movie fodder in the Bible, that is it.
Seeing a vagrant carrying the sign on the Boardwalk as a child, 11:11 haunts Adelaide into her adulthood. That man later dies then comes to her son Jason (Evan Alex) in a violent vision. 11:11 provides the mirror image of a doppelgänger throughout the film.
Speaking of Adelaide’s son, something is definitely different about Jason. He is able to see flashes of things that have happened even in the tethered tunnel. He is also the only person who was able to destroy his tethered without attacking them. He has a special connection to Pluto and is able to telepathically burn his tethered to death.
There are no coincidences in Peele’s films and we can’t help but think of another famous Jason (Voorhees) in horror who has one of the most famous evil mothers in horror movie history. He gives Adelaide a knowing look at the end when it’s clear she is an escaped tethered. Here’s hoping we get a sequel to discover if she is just glad to have escaped with her life and family or if a more ominous plot is brewing.
We often use the phrase “going down a rabbit hole,” but Us gives it a literal twist. The term typically means obsessively investigating a conspiracy, but as it turns out, Zora’s (Shahadi Wright Joseph) theory about government mind control isn’t too far off the mark.
While Us primed the audience from the start that we would be descending into tunnels, I consider it to be more of a portal. Logically, if people were inhabiting abandoned hallways under a carnival, someone would have definitely stumbled across them. There’s something special about the meeting between Adelaide and Red that allowed them to connect. Obviously there has to be a suspension of disbelief, but even so, I think there are more theories about the underground that have yet to be uncovered. I consider the world of the tethered to be similar to the Upside Down of Stranger Things. It’s always there, but it may not always be accessible.
Rabbits and Spiders
If there are two creatures in the animal kingdom that receive a nearly universal response, it is probably rabbits and spiders. Both are featured heavily in Us and have parallels to the protagonists and villains of the film. But by the end, we feel sympathy for the characters we once saw as aggressors and realize there’s an even more shocking truth to the characters we thought we knew.
Beneath the surface, the tethered live with – and off of – rabbits. They prey on the rabbits, but also live alongside them as test subjects of a government conspiracy together.
On the other end, Adelaide begins whistling The Itsy Bitsy Spider when she gets scared in the Fun House before being abducted and attempts to again as she dies. The Adelaide we think we know for most of the film spies a big spider in the vacation home later in the film, but doesn’t move to smash it. Once we discover the shocking switch, we’re left to wonder – who is the rabbit and who is the spider?
Featured Image: Doppelgänger Red (Lupita Nyong’o) and Adelaide Wilson (Lupita Nyong’o) in “Us,” written, produced and directed by Jordan Peele.