Opinion by: Norbu D.
Visual by: Erica N.
Edited by: Kody T. and Justin S.
2019’s next biggest horror movie hit, Us, released in the Philippines this March 20th, and it has already grossed an estimated $113,760,391 worldwide. Jordan Peele, the same director of Get Out (2017), has once again released a blockbuster film with an multilayered plot line and a controversial message. While the previous film dealt with the topic of systemic racism quite clearly, many watchers were left confused with the deeper meaning behind his newest movie. Since the plot and themes of the movie will be discussed, be warned, SPOILERS AHEAD!
The movie follows the life of Adelaide Wilson, who has traumatic flashbacks of meeting another haunting version of herself in a funhouse. Despite this, she grows up normally and these flashbacks never occur again until she becomes a married adult with two children, and they all celebrate their vacation at a lake house. Things go awry when a strange family stands in their doorway in the middle of the night– a mother, a father, a daughter and a son, all clad in red robes with darkness cloaking their faces. This family is a mirror to theirs, all of them are clones of the members, but there’s something more sinister about them. The supposed clone of Adelaide speaks with a raspy, airy voice about her disdain for the real humans and calls themselves the “tethered.”
It is revealed to the audience that the clones were created as a government project to try to control citizens. The clones would live in the underground tunnels going around all throughout America and were forced to mimic every action of their surface dwelling counterparts above, with raw rabbits as their only source of sustenance. Researchers saw that the experiment failed to bring any results and abandoned the tethered under the ground forever. Adelaide however, refused to stay underground and started an uprising that led the tethers to the surface through the sewers. Fueled by revenge, she planned for every tether to kill their “real” selves and form a human chain all over America to trap the citizens within. This was inspired by the real life event of Hands Across America which the image in a shirt she wore when she got switched. In reality, this event was a campaign to raise money for the impoverished and homeless that organised 6.5 million people to hold hands in a chain across America for 15 minutes in May of 1986 to show solidarity with all Americans. The event raised raised $34 million, but unfortunately after deducting the fees for organizing the activities, the net profit was $15 million. Additionally, another oversighted issue was that there were many breaks in the chain due to obstructing landforms or simply not enough people. Similar to the actual event, the human chain in Us is also filled with flaws and complications.
In the end, Adelaide’s family defeats the mastermind Adelaide, and thus defeats all the tethered. A happy ending, but, is it really? At the end we find out that the protagonist Adelaide was the clone all along, and she switched places with the real Adelaide in the funhouse after strangling her until she became unconscious. The movie’s final scene is of her family peacefully driving off and a pan of all the tethered holding hands in a human chain across America.
With such a complex and confusing plotline, viewers were left wondering:what does it all mean? Jordan Peele is not the type to create a movie without a hidden message and the true meaning is surprisingly even darker than the events of the movie.
Who in real life, much like the tethered, are abandoned by the US government and forced to mimic the actions of “real” Americans? Minorities. If you parallel the treatment of the tethered and the minorities, the similarities are uncanny.
The feeling of being left behind and taken advantage of because of never being accepted as equal to “real” Americans is a dilemma that many people living in the US feel today. While the country is incredibly diverse and contains hundreds of ethnicities, there is an overwhelming belief that non-caucasian Americans are inferior. As these non-caucasians more likely to be immigrants with fewer generations of family in America, the struggle to identify who they are is only magnified by others telling them that they are not American.
Inability to find a place to call home is not the only issue, as many immigrants also deal with the issue of being undocumented. Due to this illegal status, they are forced to live paycheck to paycheck everyday and are exploited with unfair wages– conditions they must accept in order to survive. Being unable to return to their home countries because of their own circumstances, yet also unable to gain legal entry to the US, leaves them stuck. The tethers are also left hopeless and lost after being abandoned. They cannot find a name for themselves and have no place in the outside world, so they are forced to live in the harsh environment of the underground.
In a Yahoo Entertainment interview regarding Us, Peele stated: “There’s a double meaning to everything… Yeah, the state of this country inspired me. We’re a country that is afraid of the outsider. We’re afraid of the other, whether it’s within our borders or outside of our borders. And I think when we fail to point a finger inward, we’re capable of really messing up in big ways.”
The flaws of the American system are hidden in plain sight, much like the theme of this movie, which is actually a social commentary on the inequality of Americans. Even though the storyline includes the lower status members of society rising up against their oppressors, the grim ending displays how nothing will be able to stop the system. The “real” humans continue to be privileged and do not coexist with the tethered, who lose the battle. This pessimistic view is only further supported because the main character is a clone, but betrays her own kind to help herself, in spite of knowing how they were treated. Humans are selfish and, after suffering, people will often abandon their own communities for an opportunity to rise in status.
Us is regarded as a cinematic masterpiece, however there is even more than meets the eye to the plot of this movie. It warns us about the dark future that may lay ahead where the divisions between people – whether race or social class – will only increase. On one hand, the upper class fear having their positions threatened and oppress those less affluent than them. But on the other hand, the lower class strive to be on top and become the elite, irregardless of the lives that they will damage on the way up. The cycle of social inequality perpetuates, and the gap between the aristocrats and impoverished only grow wider and wider.