Us is the sophomore follow-up to Jordan Peele’s highly successful critically acclaimed horror movie Get Out, which Mary and Emily both loved. So there were a lot of expectations and excitement over here at the #BookSquadGoals camp for this latest movie. Naturally, Mary and Emily went to see this movie the day it came out and had to get their thoughts down immediately.
With a movie like this, there is a lot to process and there’s a lot going on, so please keep that in mind. Were they better people, perhaps Mary and Emily would have been responsible and would have gone to see this another one or two times before committing their thoughts to the written word. But they’re both too eager for that. And as you’ll soon discover, we are all our own worst enemies.
Naturally, all of the spoilers are to follow. Enter at your own risk.
Mary: I’m so pumped to talk about this movie.
Emily: Me too! And honestly the more I think about it, the more I love it.
Mary: Me too. Me too. And I think it’s safe to say we will be spoiling things.
Emily: Yes, it’s nearly impossible to talk about this movie without spoiling it, and you should go into this movie knowing as little as possible. So please, for the love of God, if you plan on seeing this movie, don’t read anything about it before you go. What the hell is wrong with you?
Mary: Definitely! #KeepItBetweenUS. That being said, here we go.
Emily: Yes, cue “I Got 5 On It.”
Mary: So this is Jordan Peele's follow up to his phenomenal and critically well received film Get Out. And people had EXPECTATIONS. All we knew from the trailer was that a family is terrorized by a family that looks...a lot like them.
Emily: Right. It sort of looks like a home invasion movie with a doppelgänger twist.
Mary: Which hey--I'm really interested in that! Doppelgängers are scary.
Emily: So scary. One of my favorite things about Black Swan, for instance, is the whole doppelgänger thing. But that's a discussion for another post.
Mary: Black Swan will have its day. But I heard Twitter rumblings of, Oh this is just The Strangers. Well reader, it is not.
Emily: NO IT IS NOT. AND TRUST. I HAVE SEEN THE STRANGERS. Mary and I are well-versed in the world of home invasion movies.
Mary: I've seen and forgotten The Strangers!
Emily: Oh, OR MAYBE NOT IF SHE FORGOT IT.
Mary: Hahahaha---it was one of those horror movies that leaves your mind after a fun time because there's not a lot to be analyzed. However, Us left me thinking for HOURS and probably days after seeing it. There is a LOT going on.
Emily: Yeah full disclosure, Mary and I are writing this a day after seeing the movie, so there's still a lot to process and ideally I'd like to see it again.
Mary: Yes, definitely. Todd Vanderwerff has a good explainer of the movie here. But it's not really a movie that benefits from being explained IMO. It's better to let theories float around and wash over you, because maybe there are a lot of readings for this film, and maybe that's its design.
Emily: Yes, I will say that I actually like this movie BETTER than Get Out because of that. It feels like there are multiple correct interpretations, and in that way, I feel like as a viewer we're invited to interact with the movie more. So I kind of think... let's start with the big twist and work our way backwards, since the article you shared is dealing with the twist ending.
Mary: Yes, yes.
Emily: So the twist is that Adelaide (played my Lupita Nyong’o as an adult, and by Madison Curry as a child) went into this funhouse as a child and was forced to switch places with her doppelgänger. So the character we're following throughout the movie is actually the doppelgänger from underground.
Mary: Yes, and also the doppelgänger family was created by some ScIeNcE experiment operation (by the Government), and they've been living underground for years, mimics for the versions of them above. Eventually, they rise to the surface to make a STATEMENT.
Emily: But it seems as if Adelaide herself (the Adelaide we have followed throughout the movie) has repressed this memory, and she doesn’t remember she’s actually the girl from underground.
Mary: Yes, it's unspecified whether she repressed it or simply...is good at acting! I think she repressed it though.
Emily: Well... I think it's clear she repressed it, because she has this moment at the end where it comes back to her and she appears shocked.
Mary: Right--but it's possible she remembered something and just chose to believe no no, that's not real. Which is, I guess, a type of repression. It’s wild.
Emily: Let me just say here that Lupita Nyong'o does some A+ acting here. She conveys a lot with her facial expressions in this final moment, for example.
Mary: She deserves all the awards IMO. Also, it's worth noting that all the actors do phenomenally.They have to, because they're playing TWO PARTS. The main character and the other them.
Emily: So let's just start with what we took this ending to mean. And then we can talk about the acting more. I just don't want us to talk about everything all at once cause it's going to get messy.
Mary: My thoughts on this movie are messy.
Emily: So just what was going through my head when Adelaide has this moment of realization (or what I took as realization; clearly Mary read this scene differently) was that she's beginning to understand fully just what she is, and it's frightening. But there are parts of ourselves that are frightening to us all. And ultimately she has to just come to terms with her identity. She is still a mother to these children. Has always been. She's the person she has always been.
Mary: Yes, she’s just got to move on.
Emily: And ultimately there is no "us" and "them." We're all "us." There are no bad guys.
Mary: There are no bad guys, just different levels of privilege and understanding.
Emily: Yes, and I think privilege is definitely a big point in this movie as well. The only thing really separating the underground people and the above ground people is privilege. We see than when Adelaide is given an opportunity to literally rise up, she is just as human as everyone else.
Mary: Definitely. I think it's most important that there's not a lot of talking in the final scene. Adelaide drives her family towards their new life, her son in the front seat beside her. And as she realizes and thinks about who she is and where she came from, it seems like her son might be thinking something too. BUT we don't KNOW because the movie lets us come to our own conclusion. Lots of horror movies go to lengths to explain everything and provide a succinct ending that is neatly tied up. Us doesn't do that, and I think it works so well. The best horror leaves the viewer thinking and analyzing, and the silence (and good acting!) let us do that here. So we get these multiple readings--she probably repressed these memories of her origin, but maybe she didn't--and the film allows for that! I think it's a beautiful thing.
Emily: I think also this moment shows us that this family is going to be changed by this trauma. Like, they just killed a ton of folks.
Mary: Oh man, YES. They killed so many. By necessity but still.
Emily: Including versions of themselves, which they experience as a very traumatic thing
Mary: And versions of their friends.
Emily: And I love that those murders didn't just come easily to them. They do it in the moment, but it's clear they look at themselves and each other differently now because of it. Even though they joke about their "kill counts.”
Mary: Which was a very funny scene.
Emily: But look, I get it, sometimes when you experience something traumatic, you have to joke about it to keep from going insane. And also it’s funny.
Mary: Yes--humor is an important part of processing bad things. I also want to say about the story here before we move to acting--I think what's really great about Peele's movies so far is that he's not afraid to dip into science fiction. This let's us get to these wild twists that aren't just "oh it was a ghost" or "oh they were possessed." I like those types of movies too, but Peele is doing something more complex, I think, and science fiction twists--things that can technically be explained but are SO WILD--let us get to a more nuanced film. He's not going full sci-fi and definitely knows the conventions of genre, but he employs sci-fi when he needs it!
Emily: Sci-Fi and horror are SO CONNECTED, and I love that too. So yeah, let's talk about the acting? Because I think it connects to this idea of there not being a clear "good" and "evil.” I think we've seen other movies where people play good and evil versions of the same characters, but this is more nuanced than that.
Mary: Yes, the acting! It's very good. I think the cast was clearly chosen for their ability to inhabit both the main version of their character and the more animalistic, murderous Tether (which is what the other versions are called).
Emily: And I was especially impressed by the kids, to be honest. Lupita was great too, but when kids can do shit like this, I am blown away.
Mary: Definitely! The kids were great. We KNOW Lupita is good, but these kids are phenomenal as well! I'm also impressed because they all, at some point, had to interact with themselves. Filming that can't be easy, just looking at a double or at nothing.
Emily: I found Madison Curry, the little girl who played young Adelaide, to be completely mesmerizing.
Mary: Me too. She did so much acting with just her facial expressions--her eyes especially.
Emily: And one thing I love about her scenes is the way we see a lot of the same moments, the same imagery, over and over again to the point where it becomes mythology. So what she says and does in these scenes becomes VERY important as we as an audience spend a lot of time revisiting those moments and studying them.
Mary: Mythology is a very good way to describe it! There are many little symbols that return in a big way--like the stick figure family on the back of their car later appears as the Tether family ominously standing in the driveway.
Emily: Oh wow, I didn't even think about that
Mary: This is why we need to rewatch it!
Emily: Yes, I am ready!
Mary: I’m sure we’ll both find more stuff with a rewatch.
Emily: And then I guess we’ll just have to do a second blog post. JK we got this.
Mary: I'm thinking there are a lot of ways we can read the film, which is something we both liked. Get Out has such a specific (and good!) message that is very thoughtfully and painstakingly explained, but Us could be about a lot of things. It's definitely about privilege and opportunities afforded to people, so in a way it's about class. But it could be about so many other things. And even within those bigger issues, we can look at individual characters and learn things too. One thing that stuck with me after the movie is the dynamic between Adelaide and Gabe, her husband (played by Winston Duke). They clearly love each other, and love their kids, and are trying to be a nice normal family, but when shit begins to go down and the Tether family is there, Adelaide begins to make a lot of the decisions and take a lot of action.
Mary: BUT. What's important to me is that the film doesn't play this as Adelaide being bossy or masculine, and it doesn't emasculate Gabe. They both have roles and strengths and try to work together. They just want to save their family. A lot of the time when there's a powerful woman in a relationship, there are jokes made at the man's expense--which hey, that is not what feminism about! I think Us does a good job of showing a couple use their strengths together for the betterment of their family, not worrying about who SHOULD be taking action. In other words, Adelaide is strong, but that doesn't take anything away from Gabe. He loves her in part because she is so strong!
Emily: HOWEVER, I do think there are some moments where Gabe could have done better as a husband. EXAMPLE: he totally ignores her trauma, and it concerned me that she hadn't told him about it at all until this moment. Like what does that mean about their relationship? ALSO: when he wants to have sex with her, he literally lies back on the bed with his crotch up. Like, just waiting for her to do her thing.
Mary: Oh for sure haha! It's wild to me that she hadn't told him, but then again, I think maybe she was living her life like it just never happened. Maybe if she didn't talk about it, it wouldn't be real for her. Gabe is definitely portrayed as a stereotypical dude with a Big Dad Energy in the beginning of the film.
Emily: Yeah, and he has said in interviews that he took a lot from sitcom dad, so that makes a lot of sense.
Mary: One cool thing is that we really don't know much about this family other than what we can imply through scenes like that.
Emily: We learn SO MUCH about this family and their dynamics from these small scenes though. Like those moments in the car, when they’re just driving and hardly talking.
Mary: We don't really know how the white family knows them, or what kind of friends they are (I'm guessing Gabe is work friends with the dad?). But yes, the acting is what clues us in on these relationships! And it doesn't have to be in scenes with talking.
Emily: Yeah, I was confused about the relationship with the white family because Adelaide seemed really uncomfortable and like even said to Kitty (played by Elisabeth Moss) at one point, "sometimes it's difficult to talk." Like if they hang out ever, wouldn’t she know that?
Mary: But maybe sometimes it's difficult to talk because she is originally from the underground place! It also seemed like maybe they only saw each other once a year, since Adelaide tells her she looks the same as last year.
Emily: Yeah true. And yeah, that's what i took it to mean, that sometimes she still had difficulty talking because she was from the underground place. But on a human level, it seems like Kitty might realize that she doesn't like small talk. Then again, Kitty doesn't seem to care about anyone but herself and her dranks.
Mary: Her "medicine.” But Adelaide not wanting to talk is also such a big mood. Don't we all hate smalltalk sometimes?
Emily: Like, all the time. And I mean talking about privilege, I think this family is here to emphasize that
Mary: Oh definitely! Their house is insane and Gabe talks about how the dad just got a new car to make him jealous.
Emily: Like Adelaide's family is OBVIOUSLY rich because they have a fucking summer home and a boat, but it's a shitty boat
Mary: It's a shitty boat and it seems to be an inherited summer home--which hey, is still a type of privilege, but it's different than the sleek modern summer home of the other family. I want to bring up a parallel with another movie we love, Annihilation.
Emily: Ohhh okay. Do it.
Mary: Music is SO important to Us. We see the family listening to "I Got 5 On it" early on, but the song comes back later, once Adelaide journeys to the world underneath the amusement park to confront her other self. And we get this wonderful, dancelike battle between the two Adelaides to a haunting version of the song. I thought a lot about Annihilation's final scenes there--the dancing, the mirroring characters. It's a nice way to bring music to the forefront of design in a meaningful way. Also the overall music in the film was great I thought!
Emily: So good. The soundtrack and the score.
Mary: There's something really creepy about that final battle to me, and it worked so well.
Emily: The dancing part also kind of reminded me of another movie we didn't like so much: Suspiria. When she's dancing and the girl is being distorted in the other room, because it’s the same type of puppetry in a way.
Mary: Except...I think that Us (and Annihilation for that matter) are trying to do something specific with these scenes. Suspiria felt, at times, like it was trying to just be wild for the sake of it. But definitely those two scenes are very similar! The puppetry thing is dead on.
Emily: Yes absolutely. Suspiria did not work for me at all. I want to talk about all of the horror movie references, while we’re comparing it to other movies. I felt like Jordan Peele was really shouting out to his horror movie nerd roots here.
Mary: He really was—and is. He’s been dressing like Jack Torrence in interviews.
Emily: Yes! Which I love. And I think there are actually a lot of parallels that can be drawn between Jack Torrence and Adelaide. Some of the obvious ones: she's the head of this family, and she's the reason they're going to this remote vacation home together. Both Jack and Adelaide are fighting against past trauma and parts of themeselves they don't want to address. And omg btw her husband says "give me the bat" at one point doesn't he?
Mary: He does!
Emily: Okay, so this is basically a remake of The Shining. The end.
Mary: That’s what’s so wonderful here though—Peele KNOWS his horror classics and uses his knowledge of the genre well. And he’s showing us he really knows his stuff with these homages, since so many have criticized him for being a comedy guy.
Emily: But back to horror movies, this obviously has nods to classic home invasion type horror. But also once we realize this is happening everywhere, it's very zombie movie-ish. But turning both those conventions on their heads because instead of us vs them, it's very much (literally) us vs. us.
Mary: Hard agree! Playing with conventions is what made this great, among other things.
Emily: What do you think was the point of the Jaws stuff? Besides, hey, we is on a beach.
Mary: Well the little boy has a Jaws T-shirt. I’m not as familiar with Jaws, but from what I remember there is this same feeling of building dread on the beach. You can’t do a beach horror thing and not have it stick out as Jaws-like.
Emily: And at its heart, Jaws is a movie about family.
Mary: True! And a fear of the unknown.
Emily: My little bro used to be obsessed with Jaws, so I've seen all of the Jaws movies a bazillion times. Oh also, the fight on the boat was very Jaws-y.
Mary: Yeah! The old crappy boat lolol
Emily: What about Michael Jackson’s “Thriller”? That was also very important to the movie.
Mary: It was! The dance battle was kind of a nod to all the dancing in “Thriller” maybe. A lot of the play with shadow. Actually a whole lot of this film does interesting things with shadows.
Emily: I need to go back and look at that. I do remember them referring to themselves as shadows.
Mary: I’m not super familiar with “Thriller” either bc I was scared of it as a kid.
Emily: My mom listened to it a lot when she was pregnant with me! Maybe that's why I'm obsessed with horror now. Who knows.
Mary: You absorbed it.
Emily: I for sure did. Changed my life.
Emily: Okay I have one last question. What about the biblical references?
Mary: You know I meant to look up Jeremiah 11:11 after the film but didn’t.
Emily: Okay here it is: "Therefore thus saith the Lord, Behold, I will bring evil upon them, which they shall not be able to escape; and though they shall cry unto me, I will not hearken unto them."
Mary: Ooooh. Wow. That makes me think, in terms of the movie, they really can’t escape the evil because in a sense, they are the evil. There’s not really any running from yourself
Emily: Oh for sure. And there's no escaping the evil you have brought upon yourself.
Mary: And it’s also very apocalyptic, which fits here.
Emily: And also just in terms of numbers, 11:11 is a lot of doubles. And kind of looks like four stick people. Am I reaching?
Mary: No, I agree. It’s like a family
Emily: Cool. Do you have any more questions?
Mary: Hmm. I could talk about more, but I’d just be wondering. I also want to look at more info about Hands Across America, but I’m not sure just yet.
Emily: Well Hands Across America ultimately failed. I do know that. But it was before my time really so...
Mary: Oh definitely. It was a statement that wasted a lot of money. But it’s one of the last things that Adelaide sees before she switches places so she hangs onto that memory.
Emily: Yeah, and it’s very idealistic.
Mary: Very very. This is a movie we could talk about for a whole podcast. A whole series of podcasts.
Emily: Yeah I wish we could have done a podcast on this but timing-wise, it just didn't work out. Jordan Peele, plan your release dates more carefully.
Mary: Yes, please ask us before you release a new movie, Jordan.
Emily: I'd really like to hear people's thoughts about the movie, so like, write in and we'll read them on the podcast. If you write in and tell us your theories.
Mary: Yes! Let us know what you thought.
Emily: Rating? It’s a 5/5 from me, obviously. This movie was made for me.
Emily: LOL WOW OK
Mary: I loved it.
Emily: I loved it too.
Mary: I want it to win awards.
Emily: All the awards. OKAY THANKS FOR TUNING IN EVERYBODY! What did you think about Us? Go see it and let us know in the comments.
Mary: Yes, yes. Go see Us.
So there you have it. 1,500,672/5 stars from Mary and Emily. Hooray!