Us (2019)
March 22, 2019 6:15 AM - Subscribe

A family's serenity turns to chaos when a group of doppelgangers begin to terrorize them.
posted by doctornecessiter (113 comments total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
I loved this movie, up to a point. Approaching the end I thought there was too much attempt at explanation...I was totally down with the nature of the events being unexplored and just letting the social commentary have the wheel more than the plot. Don't want to get too spoilery here, but: So much about it had been obscure but I'd gotten enough to plant my own seeds of interpretation in my mind, that when we started getting details/flashbacks/etc to show us what's been going on, it let some of the air out of the balloon for me and that was kind of disappointing.

But otherwise I thought this was great...On the technical side, so many more typical horror scares than Get Out, and all done so well. And my God, Lupita Nyong'o.* She is unreal in this (both roles). Btw great cross-promotion to have that Elizabeth Holmes doc come out this week also, since I was thinking of that weird voice whenever tethered Nyong'o spoke.

* that sentence can be read two ways, both work
posted by doctornecessiter at 6:34 AM on March 22, 2019 [6 favorites]

I really enjoyed this despite feeling completely lost and confused about its meaning. I’m still sitting here thinking it over the morning after. It was absolutely beautifully shot and directed, a leap forward from Get Out, which itself was well done. There was one shot that just SHOOK me and moved me in a way that reminded me of Kubrick (a close up of a character crawling along the floor, choking on blood). Whew!!!!!

One thing I loved about Get Out that was deepened here—so much humor, both through one-liners and larger pieces of the film (the dad’s complete ineptness had me cracking up).

What the hell does it mean? Who knows! Who cares?
posted by sallybrown at 8:07 AM on March 22, 2019 [10 favorites]

I watched it and loved it, but what do you guys think the social commentary was in this? I have heard different theories, and so far I don't think any of them really fit.
posted by all about eevee at 9:37 AM on March 22, 2019

all about eevee: I had some partially-formed theories through most of the movie that got turned around once or twice before it was over, to the point that I know I need to see it again to get my head around it completely. I think probably after this weekend at least I'll be back in here to spew some spoiler-ific thoughts, but i need to let them simmer for a bit...
posted by doctornecessiter at 10:50 AM on March 22, 2019 [1 favorite]

I think this is a film that A) will benefit from multiple viewings to fully unpack the text, and B) whose meaning shifts depending on the viewer's perspective and what layers of the text resonate with them. Because right now I see several different ways to interpret the meaning and identify any social commentary it might be making, and all feel equally valid. It's not as easy a film to categorize as Get Out, that's for sure.
posted by palomar at 11:22 AM on March 22, 2019 [7 favorites]

Just got home from seeing it, seeing it again tomorrow.

Want to avoid spoilers, but for me, I think the movie pivots around a decision which causes one character to say “You didn’t have to” to another. If that moment had gone slightly differently...
posted by FallibleHuman at 1:37 PM on March 22, 2019 [1 favorite]

"what do you guys think the social commentary was" -- there does not need to be any inherent social commentary
posted by davidmsc at 6:50 PM on March 22, 2019 [4 favorites]

It was great. It reminded me of Suspiria (both, but especially the most recent) and Hereditary in terms of feeling like a slowly unraveling nightmare with its own definitive logic.
posted by codacorolla at 8:04 PM on March 22, 2019

Just got home from this. Really enjoyed it for the most part, to me the only major weak spot was the Fallacy of the Talking Killer as a means of filling in plot points, thought there could have been a more artful way to handle that. Only other complaint is “Good Vibrations”, one of my favorite songs, may be forever ruined for me.

Also, this seemed to be more of a straight out horror movie than “Get Out”. I think some of the search here for hidden depth and meaning might be a bit of an Emperor’s New Clothes situation (which is not intended as a criticism of the movie).
posted by The Gooch at 11:18 PM on March 22, 2019 [2 favorites]

I don't see how you can not see this as a sociological text? The opening shot literally has CHUD next to it. The entire thing is about an underclass staging a violent rebellion against yuppies. Fake liberal activism like Hands Across America is an explicit plot point.
posted by codacorolla at 12:12 AM on March 23, 2019 [39 favorites]

Yeah, I’ve spent the last several hours reading theories on the film, including watching this and realize I may be the dude with no clothes.
posted by The Gooch at 12:58 AM on March 23, 2019

I was all excited about the Black Flag t-shirts popping up in the film, until I realized they were probably just mirroring the 11 11 that was throughout the film. Here I was thinking Jordan Peele was a fan, and was sort of hoping Henry Rollins might pop up in his next flick.

Horror flicks usually aren't my jam, but at this point I'll turn up for anything Peele turns out. Agree with Palomar, I'm going to need to re-watch this, because I know I didn't catch everything at first pass.

Great performances, direction, and pretty much everything. Psycho Elisabeth Moss was unexpected and very convincing.
posted by jzb at 4:25 AM on March 23, 2019 [2 favorites]

I’ve been telling all my olds who remember Hands Across America to see it, because I saw it with some yutes who didn’t understand that it was a real thing and that it was everywhere. I’m not a horror person so I was glad to be less terrified than I thought I would be based on the trailers.

Also the talking killer is necessary, not only to explain background but to show how that particular killer is different from the other killers. The ability to talk is a key plot point. All the other shadow people can only grunt.

I’m hoping Jordan Peele does another AMA/GQ video for this one like he did for Get Out, but I’ve been having a lot of fun discussing this with people.
posted by loriginedumonde at 9:53 AM on March 23, 2019 [6 favorites]

This NPR interview with Jordan Peele is interesting and points to a whole lot of sociological commentary threaded throughout the film. Layers upon layers, y'all.
posted by palomar at 11:56 AM on March 23, 2019 [2 favorites]

I *thought* there was too much exposition until the end. Then ... dang.

I'll be seeing this at least once more. wheeee!
posted by allthinky at 5:05 PM on March 23, 2019

I'm finding myself trying to dissect everything.

Like: I understand the need to call the home-speaker thing something other than "Alexa" for legal reasons. But I'm wondering if the name Peele chose to change it to, "Ophelia", itself has some kind of hidden meaning.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 5:39 PM on March 23, 2019 [4 favorites]

From Wikipedia:
As with virtually all Hamlet characters, Ophelia's name is not Danish. It first appeared in Jacopo Sannazaro's 1504 poem Arcadia (as Ofelia), probably derived from Ancient Greek ὠφέλεια (ōphéleia, "help")
Maybe just a clever name for a helper? Also the name of a Hamlet character who famously kills themself features in a scene where a whole family kills their “selves”.
posted by Cogito at 10:30 PM on March 23, 2019 [8 favorites]

Oh my God "Ophelia---call---the--police."
"Okay, playing, 'Fuck the Police'"
Little kids enter murder house to save mom
posted by angrycat at 2:59 AM on March 24, 2019 [19 favorites]

I enjoyed the movie but I don't think it stuck the landing. I think it lost me when it started showing the shadow side of the beginning of the film. You can say 'secret government program' and I will buy it but when you show it in action it loses some believability.
posted by graventy at 8:31 AM on March 24, 2019 [5 favorites]

This movie is a huge success at the box office - well deserved for Peele. It's actually the second best live action opening day original film,

"One mind-blowing stat is to note that while animated features such as Inside Out ($90.4m), Zootopia ($75m), The Incredibles ($70.46m) and Finding Nemo ($70.25m) opened higher, the $70.25 million debut for Us is the largest opening for a live-action, original film since Avatar's $77 million debut back in 2009. On a list dominated by sequels it's not often original content is seen to climb quite so high."

That's sort of unreal for an R-rated horror movie that was made on a budget of $20 million. Even if you factor in marketing and such, this is a smash success in its first week. I can't help but feel that Peele basically has a blank check as an artist now.
posted by codacorolla at 5:31 PM on March 24, 2019 [20 favorites]

I saw it on Saturday afternoon; my roommate said he would be seeing it Sunday night, so I kept my mouth shut all day Sunday and then practically pounced on him when he got back last night all "so?????"

We ended up having a lengthy talk about "so is there any kind of social commentary like in Get Out or was it just straight horror." Peele had said this was just gonna be more horror, but naw, it's not.

One interesting thing to note: we had different responses to the Hands Across America thing, since we're an inter-generational household. He knew nothing about it until the film. But I was 16 when it actually happened, and remembered VERY well the buildup promotion and the damp squib it turned out to be. I even remembered the damn thing had a theme song. That all definitely affected my reaction to that being used in the film; did anyone else know anything about HOA going into this, and how did it color your reaction, if it did?
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 4:15 AM on March 25, 2019 [2 favorites]

The reason I assume this is a social commentary is that Jordan Peele said he was working on "four more social commentaries after Get Out". I assume he will make all five social thrillers right in a row.
posted by all about eevee at 5:12 AM on March 25, 2019

The more and more I think about the final twist, the more I think I see elements of pretty direct social commentary.

I mean, you've got an underclass that is locked underground, literally denied a voice, viewed as somehow corrupt or incomplete, and literally discarded and ignored. However, the twist reveals that the protagonist has escaped those conditions and become a fully functioning, fully realized human being who loves her family and her children and is capable of all of the depths of humanity that the Tethered supposedly lack.

I mean, if someone can escape that condition and - merely through access to society and love and patience and time - gain their voice, learn to dance, become somehow complete, what does that say about all those *other* incomplete people's locked away, forgotten about, and despised?

Maybe a stretch, but that's what I see and that's what I got.
posted by absalom at 5:49 AM on March 25, 2019 [58 favorites]

So I assume the movie they mentioned being filmed on the Santa Cruz boardwalk in 1986 was supposed to be The Lost Boys? Which is interesting since The Lost Boys was originally conceived to be Richard Donner's follow-up (in a similar vein) to The Goonies, which is one of the VHS tapes beside the TV showing the Hands Across America ad.

Btw: People are scared of the Santa Cruz Boardwalk after seeing Jordan Peele's 'Us'

Speaking of the tapes besides the TV, this is the second brand-new movie I've seen this month which features that double-sized The Right Stuff on VHS. (The first being Captain Marvel.)
posted by doctornecessiter at 6:26 AM on March 25, 2019 [7 favorites]

However, the twist reveals that the protagonist has escaped those conditions and become a fully functioning, fully realized human being who loves her family and her children and is capable of all of the depths of humanity that the Tethered supposedly lack.

I thought the use of dance was also part of this—to show that through art we can express ourselves and that the “underground” people were capable of just as much talent and beauty and culture as the aboveground.
posted by sallybrown at 7:58 AM on March 25, 2019 [8 favorites]

Another interesting motif I noticed that I didn’t quite understand—the use of and focus on hands: Hands Across America, the emphasis on Adelaide and her son grasping hands palm to palm, the 11:11 guy with the bloody hands and the picture the son draws of him, “I got five on it,” the son saying “when you point a finger at me there are four pointing back at you,” the daughter and son’s fist bump toward the end, and I’m sure there are more that I missed...the importance of human connection? Solidarity?
posted by sallybrown at 8:02 AM on March 25, 2019 [6 favorites]

I loved this film. I came away from it with the interpretation mentioned above that this was about the yuppie haves and underclass have-nots—even aboveground, Gabe (Winston Duke) was envious of Josh’s (Tim Heidecker) boat and car.

Peele does an amazing job of creating terrifying and unsettling images. The tethered family standing motionless in shadow was unnerving enough, but when they go into action, with Pluto scuttling left into the bushes, Umbrae running to the right, and Abraham lumbering straight at you, it was panic-inducing. And I was horrified and fascinated by the scene showing the underground version of the boardwalk. The final scene of the Hands Across America chain inspired awe in its weirdness and wrongness.

The humor was expertly woven into the horror, like Gabe’s tough guy act when the tethered show up in the driveway, the tethered version of Josh with his pantomime douchey mannerisms, or the Chekhov’s flare gun fizzling out.

That all said, I think the film falls in a weird place in that the copious explanation provided for the events of the movie itself requires explanation. I hate to fall into the overthinking trap, and I’m fine accepting weird premises (like a clone sharing a soul with the original) as long as they’re internally consistent. But: If the clones came out so wrong, why did the mysterious cloners clone at least 6.5 million of them? (That being the number of people who participated in Hands Across America.) Why didn’t the real young Adelaide just walk out of the underground tunnels, the same way tethered young Adelaide did? Where did tethered Adelaide source 6.5 million right-handed leather gloves and 6.5 million pairs of scissors? If EVERYTHING was unexplained, I wouldn’t worry about it so much, but Peele’s effort to construct a conspiratorial backstory invites further questioning.

(Regarding the soul thing, I was wondering whether the reason the tethered were killing their originals was to claim soul ownership of the shared soul and become normal functioning people, but that did not seem to be the case. HOWEVER it does seem that as tethered young Adelaide learned to express herself and thrives above ground, she did drain the soul from original Adelaide, leaving her hollow, which was interesting.)

But still, I really dug this, and I look forward to Peele’s next film!
posted by ejs at 8:35 AM on March 25, 2019 [10 favorites]

I appreciated this thread on Twitter, about how Get Out and Us are both about double consciousness, and this note on facial disfigurement.

I am not used to watching horror,* so I'm not as skilled in reading it as a genre. I'm much more used to scifi and, somewhat less, to fantasy. Currently I'm trying to read Us the same way I would reflect on a nightmare -- what scenes/realizations caused visceral reactions, and what associations come forth when I remember striking images? -- and discard the "but logistically how would that work?" reactions that feel more appropriate to science fiction, but I would welcome pointers from horror fans/critics on useful frameworks for understanding the genre!

Freeform associations I've thought about:

Rabbits. Following the white rabbit reminds me of Alice in Wonderland. Rabbits in cages remind me of science experiments, potentially harming the rabbits in order to learn things that will better serve the humans. Racists (especially eugenicists) disparagingly say that some groups "breed like rabbits". Rabbits are fearful and hide in burrows underground. The Velveteen Rabbit comes alive because of a child's love.

Adelaide's wearing white at the start of the film, and more and more blood soaks into her shirt until she nearly visually echoes her red-clothed counterpart.

The escalator actually reminded me of Peter Singer's analogy of the escalator of reason -- that there are some realizations or lines of inquiry that irrevocably take you to a place you will find really uncomfortable, that will change your point of view forever.

* Example: I watched an early afternoon showing of Us so I could fill my brain with other stuff afterwards and reduce the chance of nightmares.
posted by brainwane at 8:42 AM on March 25, 2019 [13 favorites]

On the subway to work I had an epiphany about the HANDS ACROSS AMERICA thing.

I mentioned upthread that it was a damp squib - but watching the theme song video again reminded me that back in 1986, during the leadup, I didn't think it was. The theme song reminded me of the super-idealized ideas I had about it - the whole idea they were spinning was of "uniting with everyone", and standing hand-in-hand with our fellow Americans because of a "we're all in this together" thing. There's a line from the theme that reminded me of that - "see that man over there? He's my brother."

And if I believed in that at the age of 16, then a younger person would DEFINITELY have believed in that.

So: the idea that "Red" had was that she would lead the Tethered to claim their above-ground lives by recreating Hands Across America. But there really didn't seem to be any kind of a plan beyond doing that.

So - doesn't that sound exactly like the kind of plan a kid who had been affected by "see that man over there, he's my brother" would have come up with? Hands Across America as an affirmation that "we are all united and we are standing hand-in-hand to assert that"?
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:09 AM on March 25, 2019 [11 favorites]


Another thing about the rabbits: they're pretty much silent until they're injured to the point of death, which is when they scream out a blood-curdling scream.

However, one sound they will make while happy and healthy is a clucking/clicking sound (which Tether!Adelaide does to direct her children).

They also sometimes growl right before biting you, which we heard various Tethers do in the film.

Finally, Hands Across America was supposed to raise money to combat hunger. The only things the Tethers get to eat is those poor rabbits. However, HAA was also sponsored by Coca-Cola -- is there anything more quintessentially American than Big Soda sponsoring a hunger drive for the poor?

After all, when Gabe asks, "who are you people?" Tether!Adelaide answers, "We're Americans."

As far as the one-handed glove analogy? sure, we all immediately thought of MJ -- his Thriller shirt was right there at the beginning, and the key to Tether!Adelaide's escape.

Hand In Glove as an idiom means "working together, often to do something dishonest." Of course, Tethers would only have one glove, because the other belongs with with their shadow-paired partner on the surface.

But how many people also thought of "Hand in Glove" by The Smiths? I sure did. It came out in 1983, so definitely would've been on the radio when Original Adelaide was a kid.

"Hand in glove
No, it's not like any other love
This one is different - because it's us
Hand in glove

And if the people stare
Then the people stare
Oh, I really don't know and I really don't care

Kiss my shades...

Hand in glove
The good people laugh
Yes, we may be hidden by rags
But we've something they'll never have

So, hand in glove I stake my claim
I'll fight to the last breath
If they dare touch a hair on your head
I'll fight to the last breath
For the good life is out there somewhere

So stay on my arm, you little charmer
But I know my luck too well
Yes, I know my luck too well
And I'll probably never see you again
I'll probably never see you again
I'll probably never see you again..."
When interviewed about this song's lyrics, Morrissey said: "I just wanted to use the theme of complete loneliness. It was important to me that there’d be something searingly poetic in it, in a lyrical sense, and yet jubilant at the same time."

So, yeah. Maybe I'm off-base there, but I was 14 in 1986. I think I might actually be this film's target demographic? Clawed my way out of a crappy rural life to the middle class suburbs and 100% identified with Tether!Adelaide's actions as a child. In fact, as soon as I saw the first 5 minutes, I assumed that the twist had happened. It never occurred to me to think otherwise -- it's exactly what I would've done in TA's shoes as a child. There are WAY too many clues throughout the film indicating that's what happened, if you watch closely.

Also, the abundance of lame dad jokes was glorious:

- "Nobody wants the boat, dad."
- B'Yacht-h

Umbrae's name (Tether!Zora) means "fully shaded inner region of a shadow cast by an opaque object, especially the area on the earth or moon experiencing the total phase of an eclipse."

In Roman mythology, Pluto (Tether!Jason) is the god of the Underworld.

The Tether!twins are named Io and Nix (Nyx is the personification of Night in Greek mythology and the daughter of Chaos, which is a pretty apt analogy for Tether!Kitty/Elisabeth Moss's behavior).

posted by Unicorn on the cob at 10:26 AM on March 25, 2019 [12 favorites]


There's an interesting commentary on raising a family too without resources--the underclass are explicitly denied basic health care, to the point that tetherAdelaide has to perform her own c-section, and her children are either disfigured or evil.

What I wasn't sure about was the significance of the look exchanged between Adelaide and her son at the end? My SO thinks that her son somehow knew about the switcheroo, but I don't see how that could be.
posted by angrycat at 3:49 PM on March 25, 2019

angrycat I'm unsure if you're supposed to literally think he's figured it out or not, but what I think is that he's having a version of the experience she is where he's discovering that Red and Adelaide had much more in common than they thought.
posted by lumpenprole at 3:57 PM on March 25, 2019 [3 favorites]

I want to see this again. I'm too busy this week, though.

My main question, completely ignoring any higher level social commentary and just taking the movie at face value, is about the puppeteering link between two connected individuals. We're told through exposition that the purpose for creating the Tethered, however that worked, was to influence the original people they were copying and it didn't pan out. We see the Tethered acting out the lives of their surface twins, so the link definitely goes in one direction. But we also see original!Adelaide dancing as tether!Adelaide performs as a girl, and it didn't seem like original!Adelaide was the one originating the performance.

My theory is that the link is present for both the original and the Tethered copy, but very low level. On the surface, where the original is socialised with other humans, learns language, and is constantly exposed to novel experiences, any feedback from the tether is drowned out. For the tether, raised in near sensory deprivation, the connection to their counterpart is overwhelming. And so when the Adelaides switched places, their environments reversed the apparent effects of the tether over the course of years. The tether goes in both directions, but doesn't have overt effects on the surface dwellers.

So, do we see any instances where the tether!person is influencing the original!person at some level? I think the mask Jason wears, which we're meant to take as a temporary childish attachment, is an influence from tether!Jason who wears one for his burns. Do any of the rest of the Tylers have something that might have come from their Tether?
posted by figurant at 5:02 PM on March 25, 2019 [9 favorites]

What I wasn't sure about was the significance of the look exchanged between Adelaide and her son at the end? My SO thinks that her son somehow knew about the switcheroo, but I don't see how that could be.

We don’t know what Red might have said to him or what he might have understood of what happened between when Red grabbed him and Adelaide got him back. Or maybe he was just a kid worried about what was coming next, or experiencing death for the first time. The actor (Evan Alex) did an incredible job expressing his ambiguous concern. He also mimicked Winston Duke’s character’s expressions and mannerisms the way a son would of his dad.
posted by sallybrown at 5:09 PM on March 25, 2019 [7 favorites]

Favorite part of the movie was a blink-and-you'll-miss-it shot. While they were sitting on the beach Kitty was blathering to Adelaide and she said "isn't this beautiful?" as she tipped her fashion magazine to an image of a white woman wearing a Native American war bonnet. I think Peele told us in that second everything that he felt about who Kitty was supposed to be.
posted by komara at 7:46 PM on March 25, 2019 [28 favorites]

I've spent the day reading a lot of analysis of Us (sorry, I'm a bad Fanfare citizen for not keeping and posting the links) and I love this film even more than I did before. It's so layered with meaning, yet open to interpretation—here it is as an allegory for Generation X! (My generation; I did appreciate that the movie kicked off with a Hands Across America commercial flanked by VHS tapes for C.H.U.D. and The Goonies)

I can't wait to see it again—mainly to resolve the question, did Red even remember that she used to live on the surface? Thinking back I can't recall any pointed references to Adelaide's switcheroo—if anything, her saying something to the effect of "if only you had taken me with you" as opposed to "if only you had let me take you with me," or even the fact that she refers to herself as "the shadow" and not "the girl," makes it sound like she has internalized the idea she's the clone. But on the other hand, when Adelaide runs Red through with the poker, Red's dying act is to whistle "The Itsy-Bitsy Spider," which is what she whistled just before the two met in the Shaman's Quest. Anyone remember anything to decide it either way?

So, do we see any instances where the tether!person is influencing the original!person at some level?

A connection that only just occurred to me was how Kitty had "just a little work done" while her counterpart slashes her own face with her scissors. Who had the idea first? Oh, also real Kitty jokes about killing her husband Josh, while when Tethered Josh is killed, Tethered Kitty fakes distress only to dissolve into laughter. Man, so many great details, I really need to see this again!
posted by ejs at 7:50 PM on March 25, 2019 [16 favorites]

A connection that only just occurred to me was how Kitty had "just a little work done" while her counterpart slashes her own face with her scissors. Who had the idea first? Oh, also real Kitty jokes about killing her husband Josh, while when Tethered Josh is killed, Tethered Kitty fakes distress only to dissolve into laughter. Man, so many great details, I really need to see this again!

I really enjoyed the movie overall and have a ton of thoughts but the scene at Kitty and Josh's house was when i looked around and thought to myself "i knew this was going to be good and ridiculous but damn this is so good and so ridiculous"
posted by Exceptional_Hubris at 8:48 AM on March 26, 2019 [2 favorites]

What I wasn't sure about was the significance of the look exchanged between Adelaide and her son at the end? My SO thinks that her son somehow knew about the switcheroo, but I don't see how that could be.

I think part of what’s going on in that look between Jason and Adelaide is that Jason is being hit by a the incontrovertible realization that Adelaide started out her life in the Tether world. In the long set piece where Kitty and Josh’s family is killed, Jason goes outside the house and comes back in to see Adelaide finishing off the second twin; she looks really fierce and determined as she’s doing it, almost as though she’s enjoying it, and Jason seems stunned to see his mother like that. I think that when Jason was kidnaped, Red said something cluing him in to the truth; seeing his mother with her bloodstained clothes, along with the memory of her killing the second twin, lets him put two and two together.
posted by holborne at 8:59 AM on March 26, 2019 [10 favorites]

Even the name of the movie has a doppelgänger: Us and U.S. "We are Americans." And HOA.
posted by carmicha at 8:03 PM on March 26, 2019 [4 favorites]

'Us': Jordan Peele Has a Secret Backstory for the Tethered (Hollywood Reporter)

"I have a pretty elaborate mythology and history of what's going on in this film. And of course, the dilemma that comes up is how much of that do you tell?" Peele tells The Hollywood Reporter.

Intriguing! But even moreso:

"The way Jordan works is he has this kernel of an idea and an incredible script that he's always refining. He's an improviser," says Nyong'o. "The more we did, the more we found out about these characters, the more he developed it as we went along. It was an always-changing process until the very end."

Seriously? Us felt so meticulously planned and plotted that it's amazing to hear Peele was changing things up on the fly. Get this man a shield another Oscar!
posted by ejs at 9:35 PM on March 26, 2019 [8 favorites]

I think the kernel of doubt for Jason is that when Adelaide snaps Red's neck, she lets out a wail that is very much Of The Tethered.

When I first walked out of the theater, I thought it was a relatively quiet metaphor. Peele getting his New Dad anxieties out on screen. It wasn't until I read one of the Vox pieces, that of course it was about the large debt and violence accruing as we avoid facing our dark histories.

Big thanks to fanfare to point out the additional proof that with social support, Adelaide was able to thrive. Such an indictment of the costs of social injustices and "meritocracy". And there's also something about being both marginalized and privileged, and that when it matters most - we too often choose survival rather than justice.

It's a super fine line, and I think Peele managed it well. We judge Adelaide for doing nothing. But I find it hard to find the point when she should have felt safe enough to help the others. It's uncomfortable and unsettling and I want to have good Next Step - though I think just sitting with that feeling is probably a good start.
posted by politikitty at 3:14 PM on March 27, 2019 [6 favorites]

Loved this movie and I'm appreciating everyone digging into the social commentary. Particularly enjoy that the film's title is playing on "US" as in United States. I see Ophelia as a reference to doomed innocence: specifically, the story of Lupita's characters as children. Ophelia was bascially gaslight into madness and drowned underwater, just as Red was gaslight into madness and drowned underground.

I agree that it really didn't need so much exposition -- I don't need to hear about the government creating experiments to control people yadda yadda, I think it's stronger and scarier left as a supernatural event, and the social commentary works just as well.

I thought it was interesting that Adelaide's parents were portrayed as kind of like, low class? Strengthened the metaphor about what it's like to come from a family of lower means and "make it" into wealthier circles, and the immense internal struggle that requires to preserve and guard.

Everyone in my group figured out the "twist" before the reveal, some immediately. I think they should've just trusted the audience's intelligence and left it strongly implied. It'd have been perfect if it ended with that great shot of the son watching his mother suspiciously before lowering his mask.
posted by Emily's Fist at 3:30 PM on March 27, 2019 [4 favorites]

This chronological retelling may help to get a handle on the movie, though I don’t know if I buy the idea that aboveground Adele knew her identity all along or had repressed it.
posted by larrybob at 8:00 PM on March 27, 2019 [1 favorite]

I didn't love this as much as I thought I would although I still enjoyed it. I felt like it was just off a bit for some reason and a near miss instead of a home run. Some parts stood out as amazing, though. Adelaide/Red, for one. And Peele cannot help being hilarious, the "it's like some kind of fucked up performance art" line just slayed me.
posted by MoonOrb at 10:40 PM on March 27, 2019 [4 favorites]

I just saw this again tonight! I actually saw it last Friday, but there was an annoyingly chatty group in front of me who apparently thought the cinema was their living room and that everyone else had paid to listen to them comment their way through the film (plus use their phones to check Facebook! ARGH!). And these were grown adults!

Thankfully, tonight was much better, with people who actually wanted to, y'know, watch the movie. Obviously there was less suspense because I already knew the twist, but I enjoyed being able to fully focus on the movie and appreciate details I'd missed the first time around. For example, the toy ambulance that Jason uses to prop open the doors and provide a way of escape becomes literally true as the family uses an ambulance to drive away from it all. "We mustn't burn down our house," because yeah, that actually was Red's childhood home. When Adelaide goes into the maze looking for Jason and finds the hidden door, she looks back and there's a flashback of (who we think at that moment to be) Adelaide, but is actually original-Adelaide before she becomes Red, which makes sense because that would indeed be the perspective in the new Adelaide's memory -- of looking at the shocked and horrified face of the original Adelaide. The motif of Adelaide being "tethered" (handcuffed) to herself for most of the film and only freeing herself after she killed Red was symbolically delightful.

I'm also wondering if the "tethering" is stronger the younger the pair is, since it seemed like Jason could influence Pluto's movements more than the older pairs could influence each other, and maybe that's why Adelaide and Red eventually found each other. Perhaps it's a genetic component that made their connection stronger, being passed down from Adelaide/Red to Jason/Pluto? But then that would require me to try and analyze how the Tethered society works and functions, and my brain will start to hurt.

The important thing is that this time around I saw that Jason kept one of the bunnies at the end, which made me very happy.
posted by paisley sheep at 11:32 PM on March 27, 2019 [5 favorites]

My husband was pointing out that the jumpsuits that the Tethered wear are like prison jumpsuits. Later this made me think of the viral video of prisoners in jumpsuits dancing to Michael Jackson's Thriller, performing a pop culture moment from the 80s just like the Tethered perform the pop culture moment of Hands Across America. The film already references Thriller via the t-shirt and the single glove the Tethered wear. I think a read is possible where the Tethered stand in for the population of America's prison industrial complex.

In this Essence article "The Oscar winner also told us, when asked, that we were “right” to believe that the film also tackles the prison industrial system." Though he goes on to say there's more than one interpretation.

But theories aside, here's an article on the film's various costumes.
posted by larrybob at 10:10 AM on March 28, 2019 [7 favorites]

I think a read is possible where the Tethered stand in for the population of America's prison industrial complex.

That honestly was what I thought the story was going to be about before I saw it last week.
posted by palomar at 6:44 PM on March 28, 2019 [1 favorite]

so I hesitate to venture this as one possible layer of interpretation for the movie, since I think this particular lens minimizes the role played by race in 1) the movie 2) oppression in america.

nevertheless, the scenes of the Tethered in their underground tunnels mimicking the actions of the people who they were tethered to, even though those actions made no sense in the context of the lives lived by the Tethered, reminded me of some dimly-remembered critical media theory (I think from Adorno?) that focused on how once people started watching mass media, they would come to inevitably start duplicating what they saw in those films in their actions. Adorno-or-whoever observed that once moviegoing became the primary form of recreation, German shop workers started walking like Hollywood stars, kissing like Hollywood stars, making the same facial expressions as Hollywood stars — even though all those little Hollywood habits made no sense in their actual cultural milieu.

When we watch films and tv, we’re generally watching the actions of people who are relatively bourgeois compared to our actual lives — people in sitcoms and dramas tend to have good-paying jobs and relatively comfortable homes, they tend to have relatively stable and supportive families, they tend to have a fair amount of free time outside of work, they typically don’t have to spend much time worrying about money, and when they do have to worry about money, their money problems are typically relatively easy to solve. any time one of these things fails to hold — someone’s family is unstable, someone has to spend too much time working, someone has to live in a shitty apartment, someone’s life is meaningfully constrained or shortened by their lack of access to resources, this is viewed as a deviation from the norm. Meanwhile, out here in reality, all of those things — crap jobs, crap housing, no free time, limited prospects — are themselves the norm, and getting to escape from all of that is a deviation from the norm.

Nevertheless, we spend our free time watching tv and movies, and so we end up talking like and walking like and dancing like and kissing like and dreaming like the people we see on our screens — even though really the way those relatively unconstrained screen people talk and move and dance and kiss and dream don’t make sense for us out here living our relatively constrained lives. Our lives are in a sense a copy of the lives of the screen people, but turned grotesque and sad, because the things we do when we copy screen life are meaningless and grotesque when taken out of context and placed within the inhumane prison that is our real lives.

Zooming out a little bit, this line of reasoning makes me think about the old cliche about Americans considering themselves “temporarily embarrassed millionaires.” When we act as if we are rich people who just happen to not have money yet, when we think of ourselves as potential pre-rich, when we identify with the rich and act as if we identify with the rich, really what we’re doing is play-acting richness, behaving like the Tethered people play-acting at being the free people living their free lives in the carnival above us, play-acting as if we’re giving a dance recital before an audience when instead we’re just throwing ourselves against the walls of our underground holding pen.

but also, because it would be irresponsible to not bring race back into it: holy shit, Gabe’s Howard shirt. What a complex symbol to have in this movie. It marks him as exceptional — it marks him as someone who Made It Out, just as much as Tethered Adelaide Made It Out when she swapped places in the hall of mirrors. And even though he Made It Out, even though he got to go to Black Harvard, he’s still lower status than Tim Heidecker’s exquisitely played white bro moron. But also: what good is Making It Out when it’s only on an individual level, when the nightmare world of the Tethered is still there underneath your feet?

This movie is so smart and so complicated that I can’t talk about it without feeling like an idiot.
posted by Reclusive Novelist Thomas Pynchon at 7:17 PM on March 28, 2019 [38 favorites]

behaving like the Tethered people play-acting at being the free people living their free lives in the carnival above us, play-acting as if we’re giving a dance recital before an audience when instead we’re just throwing ourselves against the walls of our underground holding pen

Reclusive Novelist Thomas Pynchon, this is such a good point; thank you for it. I am grateful for your exegesis of the valence that sequence carries.
posted by brainwane at 8:20 AM on March 29, 2019

The important thing is that this time around I saw that Jason kept one of the bunnies at the end, which made me very happy.

It had been a really long and strenuous day. He was probably getting hungry.
posted by Pater Aletheias at 6:49 AM on March 30, 2019 [11 favorites]

I've seen complaints about Red's exposition at the end, about how the Tethered came to be. People thought it diminished the story and raised more questions than it answered. But then it occurred to me: why are we assuming it's all true and accurate? Red entered the Tethered world at around age ten, and has been stuck there in this miserable half-life for another twenty years or so. The Tethered have no culture or complex language, and certainly don't pass on education from one generation to the next. My theory is that what Red says is what she believes; it's the best theory she was able to construct from what little information she could glean. Maybe she's right, maybe she's wrong, most likely she got some of the history and details right but not all. That would account for a lot of the apparent inconsistencies.

Also, if Lupita Nyong'o isn't at least nominated for a Best Actress Oscar, I will be extremely upset.
posted by Faint of Butt at 10:52 AM on March 30, 2019 [4 favorites]

The prominence of Ophelia/Alexa in that one scene made me think about "shadow profiles". I feel like that was probably the intent behind the idea of using the Tethered to control their above-ground originals. The Tethered imitate their originals closely enough that they can be subjected to experiments and probably react the same way their originals would. Like testing cosmetics on rabbits, which is what the walls of cages were meant to evoke.

(And also... Amazon's empire relies on an underclass of workers that Bezos & co. would prefer we didn't look at too closely.)

What's really fascinating about the Tethered is that they apply so well to so many different metaphors, and I don't think any one reading undercuts any of the others.
posted by tobascodagama at 2:37 PM on March 30, 2019 [4 favorites]

Also also, just the way the movie plays like it's going to be a simple "family under siege" movie and then suddenly expands was just played off so flawlessly. There are lots of movies with that kind of ambition, but so few of them pull it off like that.
posted by tobascodagama at 2:41 PM on March 30, 2019 [7 favorites]

“I got 5 on it” is what you say when you can afford only half a dime-bag if weed, so you and your homie have to share it between you.
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 2:55 PM on March 30, 2019 [20 favorites]

Also… As someone who lived through it, I remember; hands across America failed. Because of the terrain there were large stretches of America that had no people holding hands. I heard stories of long-ass ribbons between people.

But it was a failure. There was not an unbroken chain of hands across the continent.

From what we can tell by the ending of the movie, the tethered succeeded
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 3:04 PM on March 30, 2019 [6 favorites]

Something else I noticed, probably a coincidence, was a surprising number of elements from Friday the 13th: a boy named Jason, a deformed face hidden by a mask, a lake. I may just be looking for patterns where none exist.
posted by Faint of Butt at 3:21 PM on March 30, 2019 [8 favorites]

Well, we know Peele is a horror fan, that's why it's his preferred genre. So the Friday the 13th stuff may not be significant, but I'm quite sure it was intentional.
posted by tobascodagama at 4:53 PM on March 30, 2019 [3 favorites]

The clever and layered homages to other movies and deep understanding and riffing on genre conventions reminds me a lot of Edgar Wright's stuff.
posted by MoonOrb at 5:33 PM on March 30, 2019 [1 favorite]

how much They Live is in Us?

no but really is They Live namechecked at any point, are there shots that echo shots from They Live?
posted by Reclusive Novelist Thomas Pynchon at 5:37 PM on March 30, 2019 [1 favorite]

Just came from the theatre north of Boston, where the all-white audience was riveted.

Might be time to give Ursula K. LeGuin's "The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas" another look.
posted by Sheydem-tants at 6:40 PM on March 30, 2019 [2 favorites]

I disagree with the theory that Jason and Pluto have been switched the way Adelaide & Red we’re switched. I think there were a lot or red herrings, and that Jason is Jason, Pluto is Pluto.

Jason is a quiet introvert. He wears a Chewbacca mask and hides alone in the closet where he lost his toy 2 summers earlier, which is essentially the flint-&-striker mechanism of a Zippo lighter.

Two Summers ago when Jason was last playing with it, Pluto was down below playing with real matches or something. This is why the lower half of his face is burned (he had a mask down below too), and why the scars are fully healed by now. I knew someone in HS who was badly burned as a kid; those were well healed scars on Pluto.

Jason is a quiet introvert, but he’s observant the way introverts tend to be. He’s also a child, and is the first one to accept the evidence of his eyes; “They’re us”.

Whatever they are, Jason knows instinctually that they are doppelgängers of the family while everyone else is stuck in WTF mind space. The child Does not question the existence Of monsters.

In the closet, Jason fully recognizes that Pluto is his shadow, and that he can get Pluto to follow his lead physically. Jason also figures out that that Pluto has never actually been in the closet, which is how Jason can trap him with the door jamb trick.

Once Jason figures out that the doubles are also in some way their “shadows”, Jason uses that knowledge to kill Pluto by puppet-walking him back into the fire.

This is the second Chekhov’s Gun, the one that doesn’t get fired. First one is the flare.

Adelaide sees Jason Kill Pluto using the mirror trick. So why doesn’t she use the weapon that she saw her son use in her fight w Red?

She can’t. Because Adelaide was born a shadow, and the tether only goes one way. This is why Adelaide could dance, because Red was down below puppeting her.

So finally, because Jason is the only one who unquestioningly accepts the evidence of his eyes… he recognizes that the mother who raised him, showed him love, and just fought and killed to save their family… that woman is not his birth mother, but her shadow.

And he keeps his own counsel, and just goes quiet behind his mask, where he started.
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 7:53 PM on March 30, 2019 [11 favorites]

Isn't it his birth mother, though? It's just not the person who was born as Adelaide, I thought.
posted by MoonOrb at 8:03 PM on March 30, 2019 [8 favorites]

Good point.

Ok, everything else stands. He recognizes that his mother was a shadow at one time.
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 8:15 PM on March 30, 2019 [2 favorites]

The Ophelia thing actually made me think of Pan’s Labrynth, in which a little girl named Ofelia has to go into the Underworld; it also has themes of duality. It’s similarly creepy and unsettling. I haven’t seen that movie since it came out, but my biggest memory is that the world above ground is as scary and dangerous as the underworld. In the end, the “real” Ofelia dies and there’s an underworld version of her that becomes the Queen of the Underworld! Definite parallels!
posted by the sockening at 8:29 PM on March 30, 2019 [4 favorites]

As far as is there any social commentary in the movie, to me it perfectly encapsulates the famous quote by Frank Wilhoit:
“Conservatism consists of exactly one proposition …There must be in-groups whom the law protects but does not bind, alongside out-groups whom the law binds but does not protect.”
Slave revolts are never pretty.
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 9:05 PM on March 30, 2019 [5 favorites]

Regarding the lack of explanation of the details, a reviewer whose name I’ve forgotten opined that it’s like a ”The Twilight Zone” episode that way.

TTZ stories would throw all sorts of weird shit at you with no explanation, and you just had to inhabit the weirdness. If the TTZ theme started playing over the final Scene with the news choppers, would not have felt out of place.

JP is helming the reboot of TTZ, so the tone makes sense to me, and honestly I like it. If I presume to believe the evidence of my eyes that the movie presents, then somehow it all happened. That I don’t understand the mechanism doesn’t change the fact that it went down that way.

Yes, the movie is ambiguous, but the details of government vs corporate project or where the jumpsuits came from does not interest me. Knowing the logistics or not knowing does not alter the story being told.

That it is, and what it means, is infinitely more interesting and compelling to me than “how”.
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 12:28 AM on March 31, 2019 [3 favorites]

The question of where the jumpsuits came from wouldn't have bothered me if he'd left more unexplained. Once there is an explanation for some freaky occurrence, I want that explanation to make sense. I thought the film was brilliant, but that little nit is hard for me not to pick.
posted by Mavri at 8:53 AM on March 31, 2019 [2 favorites]

For me, it's kind of like one of those Stephen King stories like the alien satellite that causes all the dead to come to life. That raises all kinds of questions but they're sort of buried in the WTFery of the dead digging their way up out of the ground and in this movie, the line of the Tethered extending from sea to shining sea with smoke and helicopters indicating the havoc they have wrought.

I mean, I don't know where they got the identical scissors, either, that's pretty weird. Maybe they learned how to clone thing through whatever Super Sekrit Gov't Cloning program was there.

I guess that's the whole suspension of disbelief thing. If I'm going to suspend my disbelief to accept that there's this vast cloning program where, like, right now a Tethered Angrycat is miming typing a comment on Metafilter, I can accept that they came up with the jumpsuits over the course of what, twenty years at least?
posted by angrycat at 9:53 AM on March 31, 2019 [4 favorites]

My husband brought up that Nightmare on Elm Street's one of the movies on the shelf at the film's beginning. Freddy wears one tan fingerless glove on his right hand, exactly like the Tethers do in US. The gold scissors symbolize the slasher-knives attached to this glove in the original Nightmare film (released in 1984).

Definitely another horror classic homage!
posted by Unicorn on the cob at 10:42 AM on March 31, 2019 [7 favorites]

Maybe they learned how to clone thing through whatever Super Sekrit Gov't Cloning program was there.

This actually works for me as an explanation. The question of what, if any, connection the tethered had to the outside world is left unaddressed. If they're self-perpetuating though reproduction and cloning technology, that makes enough sense for me. Also, Red's explanation for where the tethered came from is what she believes--what she pieced together as a child around people who cannot speak. There is an element of the supernatural in the connected souls and the mirroring of lives and movements. So, the introduction of a government conspiracy/program run amock may be a bit of a red herring or just a shallow, incomplete explanation.
posted by Mavri at 10:52 AM on March 31, 2019 [3 favorites]

So, if I understand correctly, the original purpose of the Tethered was to be a sort of control interface for folks on the surface. Presumably you could do something like have an inconvenient political agitator step out into oncoming traffic by prodding their Tether to do the same. The only problem, and hence why the program was canceled, is that they never really got bi-directional transmission. The Tethered live out their lives below-ground, mimicking their surface twin (e.g. Abraham mimicking Gabe's compulsion to push up his glasses), but they didn't succeed in getting it to go the other way. The exception is in Adelaide / Red. I think at a certain point someone mentions that she was 'special'. She not only has more awareness than her Tethered bretheren, but she is also able to control her surface duplicate effectively - hence the scene of her slamming Red into walls as she's dancing as a teenager. I think you could even wonder if that power is what allowed her to lead Red to the funhouse as a kid. Adelaide / Red is sort of like a lose-lose scenario for the larger project, though: it's the desired effect working in the worst way possible. For whatever reason, Jason (rather than Zora) has a similar connection with his twin, both of whom are half Tether / half Surface Dweller. He is also able to get his twin to mimmick him directly, which he puts to use in walking him backwards into the fire. Zora and Jason being hybrids might make them unique among the entire human population (especially since Umbrae and Pluto are both dead!). But, in the end, it actually doesn't matter that the other Tethered are 'defective', because Red uses social power to get them to revolt. The completely ineffective Hands Across America motif is actually leveraged by Red as a way to rally the Tethered together in overtaking the surface.
posted by codacorolla at 2:01 PM on March 31, 2019 [1 favorite]

Not being a horror fan I didn't pick up on the huge majority of references, but Jaws was definitely in there - Jason was wearing the t-shirt but also during the boat fight when Gabe knocks "himself" overboard the life preserver popped up in the same way that the barrels do after having been attached to the shark.
posted by jontyjago at 2:31 PM on March 31, 2019

Also, Red's explanation for where the tethered came from is what she believes--what she pieced together as a child around people who cannot speak.

I thought it was interesting how unhappy and zombie-like most of the people in the opening scene look wandering around the boardwalk and carnival games. Not just the original Adelaide’s parents but the various people she notices in the crowd—a lot of them look drunk or sad or vaguely “creepy” the way messed-up adults seem to a kid.
posted by sallybrown at 6:43 PM on March 31, 2019 [3 favorites]

And then in the later sequence, when Adelaide and Gabe and the family are on the beach, the camera pauses on various people's interactions in a way that quietly focuses on tension and hostility.

From SFGate: All the nostalgic Santa Cruz Easter eggs in Jordan Peele's horror hit 'Us'.

Having grown up locally and been a teen in the area in the '80s, hearing the voices of the anchors in the news segment in the beginning was a jolt. Also, the "she's not old enough to ride the Big Dipper" moment… I blame meeting that ride at age 6 for my subsequent dislike of roller coasters.
posted by Lexica at 9:19 PM on March 31, 2019 [4 favorites]

I've been wondering what to make of the fact that "I've Got FIve On It" is all about drugs--I mean the lyrics are--is the refrain really synonymous with rhythm?
posted by angrycat at 2:29 AM on April 1, 2019

One thing I haven't seen come up in discussions about this movie is the spider stuff. When Red goes into the Shaman's Vision Quest at the beginning, the "shaman" character is giving some kind of origin story involving the "spiderwoman". Later, on the day that the Tethered start attacking, Addy sees a spider walking across a table nightstand. And then when Red has Addy and her family captured in the living room, she does this very spidery thing where she rests her head on her hands and starts tapping her (8!) fingers in sequence. It's just before she starts talking, IIRC.

The connection between spiders and tethering is pretty obvious, but I'm wondering about the "spiderwoman" story. Is that based on a kernel of real folklore?
posted by tobascodagama at 5:31 AM on April 1, 2019 [4 favorites]

Something else I noticed, probably a coincidence, was a surprising number of elements from Friday the 13th: a boy named Jason, a deformed face hidden by a mask, a lake.

Not mention that in the original Friday the 13th it's actually Jason's mother who's the villain.
posted by Ragged Richard at 8:48 AM on April 1, 2019 [10 favorites]

In response to a comment from above that I can't find now after going through the whole thread:

Original Adelaide didn't try to escape the underground when she was younger because she was unconscious when she was dragged down there and woke up handcuffed to Original Red's bed, and probably didn't figure out her situation until she was older, at least not until when the Tethered regarded her as special and she started planning the uprising.
posted by numaner at 9:07 AM on April 1, 2019 [3 favorites]

The thing about “I’ve got Five On It” is not that it’s particularly about rythym, but that it has a pretty easy to identify “back-beat”, the 2 and 4 beats in 4/4 time signature. It’s got a smoothe, easy groove you can settle into.

Clapping on the 1s and 3s” is how you describe someone whose rhythm has no swing to it, whose hips do not move much when they dance. This is different from funk’s “rythym of the one”, where EVERYTHING hits on the one-beat, and wanders off crazily for the rest of the measure, before locking back on the 1; BOMP! Wikity-wikity-booti-booti-booti! BOMP!

Gabe sings along in time, Zora is grooving in place smoothely

Adelaide is not clapping on the 1s & 3s. She’s trying to hit the beat and missing it.

Adelaide can not make the basic musical gesture of snapping along with a back-beat because Adelaide has no Soul.
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 4:12 PM on April 1, 2019 [19 favorites]

I really enjoyed this! It wasn't as scary as I'd hoped/feared it would be, but it was very creepy and interesting and surprisingly funny. Like, if you are someone who doesn't really watch horror movies, but want to see Us, I really think you'll be fine. It's violent, but they cut away from the worst of the gore.

I had to double check IMDB because it's so hard to believe this is only Jordan Peele's SECOND movie. He's such an assured filmmaker. I love it. And God, his visual style is just...MWUAH. Amazing. Two visuals I'm stuck on: the family walking to the beach with their tall, defined shadows next to them and the white hands of the doubles of the Tyler family grabbing Adelaide and pulling her into the house. Oh, and little Adelaide with her candy apple walking on the beach with her face shining blue in the darkness. Oh, and the double of Zora grinning down at her from on top of the car. Oh, and Red standing in front of the chalkboard, turning to look at Adelaide when she walks into the classroom.

Everyone was SO good, but the standouts to me are Lupita Nyong'O (she is asked to do A LOT and she does it all so well, and I love her face so much), Shahadi Wright Joseph (I loved her performance as both girls, but her tethered double is TERRIFYING. Maybe the scariest one. And her delivery of, "I have the highest kill count in the family, sooo..." had me howling), and Elisabeth Moss (her weird, otherwordly-in-a-bad-way performance as her double was really freaking. THAT GRIN, GOOD LORD).

There are so many homages to other things, but the one that hit me the strongest is the deadly acrobatic flipping of the doubles of the Tyler twins reminded me of Daryl Hannah's Pris in Blade Runner. (Also featuring another character named Zhora. COINCIDENCE? I mean, probably. It's a good name.)

The double of Adelaide's father is named Weyland, which is I'm sure a little nod to Alien. One character and her double (I think one of the young women on the boardwalk) are Nancy/Syd, which made me giggle. The doubles all have really interesting names. I'm into it.

I'm a spoiler whore so I was spoiled for the Red/Adelaide twist (but only that) and when you know, it's pretty obvious. Like, it's not an unearned twist, there are lots of clues. VERY fun movie.
posted by Aquifer at 7:14 AM on April 3, 2019 [5 favorites]

The bunk beds. The identical clothing. The neatly laid out clothes on said bunk beds before ascending to their salvation via killing themselves.

This is the Heaven’s Gate riff the tethered are playing. And like “Hands Across America”, the Tethered succeed in their plans where the above-ground version fizzles out.
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 10:15 AM on April 3, 2019 [6 favorites]

I love that the whole movie is subverting the key part of Doppleganger stories: "which is the evil one?" Where I've landed on with Adelaide and Red is that they both, partly because of their own choices and their environment, are broken and selfish people who are obsessed with one another and can seem to only define themselves through the broken prism of the other. Red out of fear, Adelaide out of anger. In spite of being the only people in either world who know about this connection existing, that knowledge makes both of them less whole than anyone else in either world.

(The inclusion of actual twins who are antagonistic if not quite evil who are then summarily murdered by their dopplegangers is a whole other thing...)

I saw this last night and am unpacking my thoughts and my mind keeps bending in on itself.

What's most shocking about Peele's films is that for all the layers of symbolism and concepts they still function as crowd-pleasing horror movies. It's almost unbelievable that he's done this twice in a row.
posted by slimepuppy at 5:57 AM on April 4, 2019 [10 favorites]

You know, I think I've cracked it. I've figured out the unifying center of all of the different theories. The Tethered can, and do, represent any underclass you wish to name, whether by race, or class, or any other characteristic; Peele was careful enough to leave room for all of these interpretations to be valid and true. (And the Tethered are a literal underclass as well, living below our feet.) But consider this: Whenever a more conscious member of a privileged class tries to evoke empathy for the marginalized in a fellow privileged person, what always gets said? What point is always made to spark that emotion?

"They're people just like us."

Peele took this simple sentence to its logical and horrifying extreme.
posted by Faint of Butt at 12:21 PM on April 4, 2019 [7 favorites]

So I was about make a comment about "going down a rabbit hole" regarding the logistics of the subterranean people, and then I realized she really did go down a hole and there were rabbits there.
posted by RobotHero at 9:26 PM on April 4, 2019 [12 favorites]

One thing that felt like a nod to 1986 was Adelaide going down into the tunnels whipping around corners ready and armed to get the mother who took her child. It felt incredibly reminiscent of Ripley going down into the alien hive in 1986’s “Aliens”

“Get Out” was not a fluke. Peele is good.
posted by rmd1023 at 7:17 PM on April 5, 2019 [2 favorites]

The Tethered reminded me of a recent dr Strange arc. Doctor Strange is forced to confront the fact that there is a secret cadre of devotees to the Sorcerer Supreme, whose holy task it is only to suffer Grevious Bodily Harm, (and Grevious Psychic Harm) so that the Sorcerer Supreme will have more magical power and resilience to injury.

Stephen Strange discovers that Wong has been hiding this cadre from him. He decides that this residual privilege of his titled position is a horror, and he moves to free them, even though it makes him weaker and he has to suffer all of those psychic mutilations as a result.

It s a story about confronting hidden privileges of power structures, and having the courage to take personal responsibility for your role in life, to own your darkness and your ignorance. It s a good story.

This movie is like that, except one thousand times more real. It s about the US prison system as the residual privilege of slavery, a system of oppression with no purpose. It s a tale of Those Things We Don't Talk About on a familial and a national level, and how we are haunted by those ghosts.

I looked up the US prison population, 2.3 million is less than the hands across America population, but fucking close enough. All those 2.3 million are directly 'tethered' to a hundred million on the outside.

It s also a tale of intergenerational trauma between the mother and son, a racial drama within the middle class, but also the hilarity of the emptiness of those consumer privileges and pissing them into the ocean.

But it s a slave revolt story. Slave revolt myths are the OG Horror genre of the United States, 'superpredator' ish fever dreams of white supremacy that have resulted in black codes, caste laws, elected presidents and swayed supreme court decisions. Absurd nightmares with real power.

So for Jordan Peele to grab the ring, and make millions off slave revolt genre fiction, with this much heart and family pathos? this shit is kinda epic.
posted by eustatic at 6:30 AM on April 10, 2019 [8 favorites]

Also, how did this movie make boat humor work?
posted by eustatic at 6:38 AM on April 10, 2019 [4 favorites]

All it took was a little flare.
posted by codacorolla at 8:55 AM on April 10, 2019 [29 favorites]

Here's another visual reference: check out Nimoy in Invasion of the Body Snatchers (about evil doubles killing and replacing people!). He has a red jumpsuit and a fingerless leather glove. That's no accident.
posted by Pater Aletheias at 9:00 AM on April 10, 2019 [6 favorites]

I've never seen Invasion of the Body Snatchers and thought that was a very strange glove so I looked it up and apparently this is a real quote:
NIMOY: We were looking for something that the character could wear that was distinctive and immediately recognizable. I got the idea from a friend who had a badly burned hand and wore the leather covering. [*]
so not only is it a movie about doubles but it also references concealing a burn. Or is this me just looking too hard at a coincidence?

it's me looking too hard at a coincidence
posted by komara at 9:16 AM on April 10, 2019 [3 favorites]

The whole costume seems to have a few interesting elements. Visually it's arresting because of how... bad it looks. The birkenstocks, riding glove, and jumpsuit are all mismatches and cast-offs that don't fit properly but also serve to unify The Tethered. This is similar to real life revolutionary movements, which use common everyday items that are easy and cheap for a lot of people to get (e.g. yellow safety vests) to signify unity. It also gives the actors menacing and odd shapelines that make them bulkier and more alien.

From a plot perspective it's never explained (probably for the best), but it's kind of easy to see how those might all be elements left over from the failed Tether experiment. Maybe from their handlers. The tunnel network seems nightmarishly extensive, and constructed out of a bunch of material bought in mass from a government contractor. So it's plausible that there are caches of material left from whoever built the project in the first place.

In terms of visual metaphor it's also interesting. Red is a color associated with a number of popular uprisings in America (both left and right). As others have mentioned upthread, there are a few different sources you might be able to trace the riding glove to. The shears are both a frightening weapon with lots of body horror potential, while also fitting as something that would be in bulk at a failed research project (maybe even something each Tether would have to kill and dismember their raw rabbit), and they fit with the idea of "cutting" the tethers from the over-worlders.

I think that the costuming (and really the whole premise of The Tethered themselves) succeed in the movie despite being ridiculous because they're first effective visually for horror purposes, and then because they play into the movie's themes, but also because (from the perspective of nightmare logic) you can kind of start to rationalize how they might literally function within the world of the movie.
posted by codacorolla at 11:59 AM on April 10, 2019 [5 favorites]

Adelaide is a fascinating character. She makes a brutal choice when she imprisons her doppelganger in her place, and she is only a child when she does it, but...she still does it. And adult Adelaide doesn't seem to feel any guilt about what she did to Red -- she feels only fear. Maybe she has come to believe that her experiences as a little girl in the underworld were all just fantasies, but this seems so unlikely to me. She looked about seven or eight back in 1986. That's a lot of time to write off as a nightmare. I suppose she could have come to believe a false memory of a normal childhood, but I don't think so. At best, she might have thought her own memories were the product of insanity.

This reminds me the blind artist who was slated to claim Chris' eyes in Get Out. He seemed like a genuinely good person who liked Chris -- probably the only person in the movie who did. But he had this thing he wanted, he needed, and he was capable of compartmentalizing. I don't think I was alone in a shocked recognition of myself in this character. I think I could live without sight, but surely there's something -- there's always something. You would want to think you wouldn't do this. But would we? Is it just a matter of being offered something that's too good to turn down? What makes life, your life, worth living?

On a literal level, the underworld makes almost no sense to me. I believe Peele has a world built around the film that might make it seem more logical but I don't actually really want any logic. The final act made me think a little of the 2004 French horror film Saint Ange (from the same director of the wildly better Martyrs), which ends with the heroine finding a secret world underneath the hospital where she lives. This is so outlandish that we know it can't possibly be right, and indeed it's revealed as insanity. Obviously the Tethered are real, but I'm inclined to think whatever we learn of their home in the film must be filtered through the incomplete understanding of people raised in this bizarre environment. Red may have a much fuzzier grasp of it all than the other Tethered, since she wasn't born in the underworld, and communication among the Tethered doesn't seem especially nuanced. (Indeed, Red seems to be the only Tethered who can form complete sentences.) I don't see this as a flaw in the film. Some airtight science fiction explanation isn't needed. The metaphor only breaks down under scrutiny.

More nerdily: Dude. I totally think the jump scare where Jason pops out at his sister with the mask on is a reference to Night of the Demons. Evil Kitty (Dahlia!) at the mirror with the lipstick, too.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 2:42 PM on April 10, 2019 [3 favorites]

I just got back from the movie and blazed through this thread.

First point that I didn't see mentioned anywhere above:
One of the VHS tapes next to the TV along with the Goonies and CHUD was a home recorded tape labeled (I think) Thursday Night., I think there's a pretty good chance that an American family (especially a black American family) recording Thursday night television in 1986 was recording The Cosby Show. I'm too tired to sort through all the layers of potential meaning there, but I'll think about it more tomorrow.

I was wondering from the time that Adelaide/Red first met Red/Adelaide if the "wrong" one had come back out. When their mom said "I just want my daughter back" I decided that that was probably the case. I don't feel like this diminished my enjoyment of the movie, though. I was never certain until the final reveal.

I found it interesting that there was apparently only one escalator, and it went down. The lighting was such that I couldn't tell if there were staircases next to it. If not, I imagine it was quite the task for Adelaide to make it up that, even with her son's help.

I caught a few of the references listed above, but not most of them.

Storywise, I was not as impressed by this as I was by Get Out, but that's not saying a lot. Get Out was incredible, this was merely (to me) very, very good.
posted by Tabitha Someday at 8:15 PM on April 11, 2019 [1 favorite]

Max Gordon is one of my favorite writers and he’s written an interesting analysis of Us.
posted by larrybob at 9:15 PM on April 11, 2019 [4 favorites]

That s a great article, and insightful, about a great number if things, worth reading. so I'm confused that he writes about the core plot point of the movie as a 'twist added in later'. Maybe earlier criticism is correct, that there is too much going on in this movie.

I mean, I sort of agree with him, that the final flashback could have been cut, but because it had been telegraphed as having happened in so many other scenes, and showing it is kind of redundant.
posted by eustatic at 3:50 AM on April 12, 2019

I'm on team too-much-explaining. The concept was killer but I found myself wishing I knew less about the tethered by the end, and the "hands across America" reveal in the final shot wasn't much of a reveal since it had been repeatedly telegraphed over and over and over. "Find yourself" was also so on-the-nose it made me yell "BOOP!"

That said, I'm looking forward to Jordan Peele's next movie because is he is clearly a super talented auteur.
posted by grumpybear69 at 7:43 AM on April 12, 2019

Max Gordon is one of my favorite writers and he’s written an interesting analysis of Us.

Read this essay. It's long, but well worth your time. I particularly admired his analysis if Thriller, a reading I hadn't encountered before.
posted by Faint of Butt at 10:11 AM on April 12, 2019 [1 favorite]

Something I spotted in an online hot take - a lot of people are commenting on the VHS tapes in the first scene, but they comment on the copies of The Right Stuff, The Goonies, or CHUD.

As of yet I haven't seen anyone remark on the fact that there is also a copy of The Man With Two Brains.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:23 AM on April 12, 2019 [5 favorites]

Let us consider the symbolism of Whack-a-Mole. What have the moles done to deserve such violence? Merely poked a head out from their holes. The player, as the wacker of moles, enforces the moles' place in the world, that they should stay in their holes.
posted by RobotHero at 5:51 PM on April 12, 2019 [23 favorites]

My favorite tiny detail; when we first meet Josh on the beach, he is literally wearing a shirt that says “fragile.” He is literally the embodiment of white fragility. (It’s also a foreshadowing of how easily the tethered take him down later).
posted by I am a Sock, I am an Island at 3:51 AM on April 15, 2019 [4 favorites]

I grew up in, and currently live in Santa Cruz, which added an extra layer of unsettling weirdness to watching this film.

I also worked at the Boardwalk for a couple Summers in my teens, and apart from how interesting it was to see it up on the big screen again, and seeing a couple of the scenes being filmed in town, setting a movie that (I think) is about class in Santa Cruz is kind of brilliant. The Boardwalk, like other amusement parks in my experience, is where different groups of people mix that wouldn't usually.

Santa Cruz is an ostensibly liberal town that is also very fearful and seemingly becoming more so. It is struggling with a large homeless population, as it has been for as long as I can recall, but which is very much on everybody's minds at the moment due to a pseudo-sanctioned encampment near the entrance to town. Coming up with a solution is at the forefront of local politics, and while many people want there to be a place for them to go, nobody wants it in their neighborhood. Many suburban types say they never want to go downtown or to the beach for many of the same reasons Adelaide gave for not wanting to (weirdos, crowded, dangerous, etc.). Very "Us" and "Them" mentality going on. Though, it would not be too surprising to see a disheveled man in torn clothes posing weirdly and dripping blood on the beach, frankly.

Also, there are in fact a network of tunnels underneath the Boardwalk, but no cloning experiments I was aware of.

Adelaide's father calling it "The Big Dipper" is either an oversight, or a very accurate representation of a Boardwalk tourist calling the Giant Dipper by the incorrect name.

The layout of the scenes that take place on the Boardwalk/beach are all quite accurate, save for the inclusion of the Shaman's/Merlin's Forest, which isn't really there. The ball toss game at which the dad win's the Thriller shirt is a different midway game, penny-tossing I think. There is no Whack-a-Mole midway game, so those were deliberate choices.

The lagoon that you see the tethered standing in at the beach is right at the San Lorenzo rivermouth. It is an artificial lagoon (right next to the Lost Boys trestle) that is dug out by excavators, and only there seasonally. They probably all caught E.Coli from doing that. On a pedantic note, their hand-chain was not stretching East, but to the North (and into the river, although maybe they don't care). SC is on the North side of the Monterey Bay.

Zora's throwaway comment about "fluoride is how the government mind-controls you" is interesting because Santa Cruz has its own local water system, and doesn't fluoridate its water.

The least realistic thing about this film was that there weren't tons of seagulls eating the dead bodies on the Boardwalk.
posted by subocoyne at 12:44 PM on April 15, 2019 [16 favorites]

My favorite tiny detail; when we first meet Josh on the beach, he is literally wearing a shirt that says “fragile.” He is literally the embodiment of white fragility. (It’s also a foreshadowing of how easily the tethered take him down later).

Another thing that I caught from that scene on rewatch was that in the awkward conversation Kitty has with Adelaide she's reading a magazine and leans over to show Adelaide something, remarking on how gorgeous it is, and the audience can see that she's pointing to a white person wearing a stereotypical Native American headress as fashion, which seems to connect to the similar cavalier use of indigenous imagery in the hall of mirrors.
posted by codacorolla at 2:33 PM on April 15, 2019 [4 favorites]

As of yet I haven't seen anyone remark on the fact that there is also a copy of The Man With Two Brains.

I had completely forgotten about spotting this until you pointed it out...Which is silly of me, as that's one of my favorite movies (it's the source of my user name; David Warner's character was Dr. Necessiter).

One thing that bugged me about the VHS tapes, though it's so trivial that I hesitate to even bring it up: in 1986, wouldn't it have been really rare to own officially-released movies on VHS, with the sleeves? I don't think they were priced to own until the late 80s/early 90s (around the time of the huge marketing push for Batman on VHS, as I recall). I suppose they could be used copies from rental stores, but even then I think it was still early for stores to be selling off their used tapes.
posted by doctornecessiter at 10:45 AM on April 16, 2019 [3 favorites]

"I don't think they were priced to own until the late 80s/early 90s (around the time of the huge marketing push for Batman on VHS, as I recall)."

I approached my local Blockbuster about buying a copy of my favorite movie in 1995 and was quoted a price of $100 (or in that vicinity) so yeah, 1986 would have been a little early to have a home collection.
posted by komara at 11:02 AM on April 16, 2019 [1 favorite]

You could find VHS tapes cheap, though. I remember seeing Cujo for sale in a big box store (K-Mart?) in the '80s, right after I'd read the book (I spent most of the summer between ninth and tenth grades reading Stephen King books). I'm not sure something like The Right Stuff would have been priced to buy, but a movie like C.H.U.D. -- a low budget exploitation film -- might have been, I'd imagine.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 4:56 AM on April 17, 2019 [1 favorite]

According to conventional wisdom, E.T. was not the first movie to be released on home video at a consumer price point, but it was the first mega-blockbuster to do so and singlehandedly spurred millions of VCR sales. That was late 1988. So, a middle-class family owning a small library of commercial VHS cassettes in 1986? I'll never say impossible, but a little unlikely.

(And as long as we're scraping the bottom of the barrel for things to criticize, Us had a really bad case of Audible Sharpness. Every time the scissors came out, schhing!)
posted by Faint of Butt at 5:24 AM on April 17, 2019

Jeremiah 11:11:

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.

And I just looked up the Vietnamese word on Zora's shirt, and I'm screaming
thỏ: rabbit
posted by Gordafarin at 1:30 AM on April 19, 2019 [1 favorite]

Also, an interview with the composer has some interesting facts about the opening theme:
We had always agreed that the lyrics would just be nonsense, and we wouldn’t try to choose a language. But when it came time to write the lyrics, I realized the obvious, which is that there’s no such thing as nonsense. Everything that comes out of a voice means something, even if it’s a moan or a sigh. Suddenly I had new respect for Dr. Seuss and Lewis Carroll. I ended up just choosing vowels that are very easy to sing. By the time I ruled out all the difficult sounds, I had a little nonsense language of my own. When I was worried that something was actually a word, I would Google the syllable just to make sure it didn’t have a secret meaning. They sound like Latin only because they’re sounds that we’re used to making.
It is called, appropriately enough, Anthem. The Us Anthem.
posted by Gordafarin at 1:47 AM on April 19, 2019 [10 favorites]

Just watched this and am on the fence. Honestly I was distracted while watching it and it read to me as just a straight up horror film with a Twilight Zonesque twist. I liked it OK for that but there's like an hour+ of running away from the scissor zombies and it got tedious. Compared to Get Out it seemed like a very straightforward film. Fresh in some ways, and fun references to stuff, but nothing much going on.

Now I've read the Fanfare discussion and appreciate there's a lot more effort to unpack what the film really means. But unless I missed something, no one's really sure. I liked this Vox article best. Maybe it doesn't have some single deeper meaning, just draws on a lot of cultural consciousness to create complexity.

Take the use of Hands Across America, for instance. It's a powerful symbol from the 80s; naive social movement, a pretense of inclusion that didn't really work, a pretense of charity that wasn't very effective, even just the simple human contact implied. Lots of emotions attached to it. OK, so what does that have to do with the film? How does it inform the story or themes here? I honestly have no idea. I don't have any idea for most of the symbolism. Why scissors? Why red jumpsuits? Why Santa Cruz, if you're not going to lean hard on Lost Boys comparisons?

I'm left baffled. Clearly I need to watch it again. But if someone here is really not baffled and knows exactly what this movie is saying, or has an article that explains it clearly to dopes like me. Please share!

(Posting in the awkward interlude between theatrical release and first streaming video release in a week or two.)
posted by Nelson at 7:47 AM on May 28, 2019

Finally got this on Redbox; still digesting, but I gotta say it's a testament to how well-directed this is that it wasn't until watching the special features afterwards that it even occurred to me that the same actors were playing both roles and that it took careful planning and SFX trickery to film the doppelgänger scenes. Not in the sense that I thought they used different actors or something, but that it was so entrancing that I just accepted at face value that they were talking to themselves in the same room and didn't even think about how that would be possible outside the world of the film.
posted by Rhaomi at 10:51 PM on June 25, 2019 [6 favorites]

Also, I like the interpretation of Red's explanation just being conjecture on her part, with the Tethered world being some kind of metaphysical dreamtime sort of place instead of a literal government cloning experiment gone wrong. Like horror plots where every mirror becomes a portal into a mirror universe, but replace mirrors with "anyplace that leads underground." It's our collective cultural subconscious guilt boiling over into something very real.
posted by Rhaomi at 1:29 AM on June 26, 2019 [3 favorites]

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