Jordan Peele made a splash with the satiric horror film Get Out and even won an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay. His new movie Us proves he’s not just a one-hit wonder, but a visionary filmmaker who will keep surprising, delighting, and frightening us for years to come. (He’s already in talks to do a new Candyman film.)
One of the joys of Us is that it lends itself well to multiple viewings. I enjoyed it even more my second time around. There are things you won’t see your first time because you don’t know to look for them. Us is one of the rare films like The Sixth Sense or Memento that practically demands you watch it again immediately. I watched this movie a second time two days after my first watch.
Us — What I Noticed on My Second Viewing
— The movies on the shelf in the opening shot are Goonies, C.H.U.D., A Nightmare on Elm Street (which I thought was The Man With Two Brains because I can’t see well apparently), and some VHS tape I’m not sure anyone has been able to read the title of. A lot of the action in Goonies takes place underground. The monsters in C.H.U.D. live underneath the city. Both of these are Easter eggs foreshadowing the Tethered.
— Adelaide’s father wins her a Thriller t-shirt. Thriller is the video in which Michael Jackson reveals to his girlfriend he secretly has a monster inside him. Just like adult Adelaide secretly has a monster inside her. Or viewed another way, we all have a Tethered self.
— Everything in the movie has a double:
- The Vision Quest fun house is later Merlin’s Quest fun house.
- The twins are literally doubles of each other and even speak the same. (“Jinx! Double jinx! Triple jinx!”)
- The bleeding man on the beach is the double/Tethered of the sign man. (This is confirmed by one of the last shots of the film when we see him holding the Jeremiah 11:11 sign in flashback.)
- The families are doubles of each other. One black family, one white family, each with two kids.
— One of the coolest bits of foreshadowing is an overhead shot of the family walking across the beach with their shadows walking beside them.
— The words above both versions of the funhouse door (“Find yourself”) are both foreshadowing and a subtle joke.
— On a second viewing, the rabbits in the cages are even more unsettling because now you know the context.
— When the family first get to the beach house and have dinner, Adelaide is very quiet. She’s reliving her memory of what happened after the fun house incident at Santa Cruz beach. Her parents are talking to a therapist about why Adelaide hasn’t spoken since getting lost at the boardwalk. “I just want my little girl back,” the mother says. Hmmm. That’s the first clue that this isn’t her little girl.
— Adelaide tries to talk Gabe out of going to the beach. He guilts her into going. She finally reaches a compromise: “We leave by dark.” (Um, “Because I don’t want the self whose place I took to try to take it back!”)
— As they drive to the beach, they see paramedics putting a patient into an ambulance. It’s the sign guy (Jeremiah 11:11). This creeps Adelaide out.
— Jason, the son, is making a tunnel out of sand on the beach.
— The frisbee lands on a dot on the beach towel, perfectly covering it up, a visual symbol/metaphor for humans and the Tethered selves that live in the darkness beneath them.
–Jason sees a man on the beach who has blood dripping from his fingers. This is the Tethered of the sign guy and presumably the reason for the sign guy’s injuries. He’s also the only Tethered whose face we get a close up of later when everyone is joining hands. He has a sort of maniacal smile. I believe he’s meant to be a Christ figure. Jeremiah 11:11 (NIV) says, “Therefore this is what the LORD says: ‘I will bring on them a disaster they cannot escape. Although they cry out to me, I will not listen to them.’” When the Tethered sign man is bleeding on the beach, that is him crucified. When he is holding hands with others in the morning light with a rapturous look on his face as humanity is destroyed, that is his resurrection. And he is definitely forsaking mankind, reveling in its destruction. As GameSpot pointed out, he is also the first link in the chain, standing in wait to join hands with the rest of the Tethered.
— Adelaide doesn’t just freak out because Jason is missing. She freaks out because she thinks he went in Merlin’s Forest. She knows that it’s the gateway to the Tethereds’ world.
— The 11:11 on the clock at bedtime disturbs Adelaide because it reminds her of the sign guy and his fate.
— When Adelaide says, “I don’t feel like myself,” Gabe says, “I think you look like yourself.” This line takes on new meaning on a second watch. Because technically she’s not herself.
— When the Tethered family appears in the driveway, Adelaide calls 911 immediately. Not out of irrational fear, but because she knows what they are: their Tethered selves. (There’s a separate theory that Adelaide has repressed the memory of dragging Red/the real Adelaide to the underworld until the end of the movie when it starts to come back to her. And she really only has the memory of seeing a second self in the mirror as a child. I don’t subscribe to that theory.)
— I swear on my second viewing I heard Red say “the girl hated the shadow so much for so long until she realized she was being tested by God.” But I seem to be the only one. Call it the Mandela effect.
–When Red tells Adelaide to tether herself to the table, it’s revenge for Adelaide leaving Red chained to the bed as a child.
— I love the small moments of the Tethered enjoying what they’ve been deprived of. Abraham trying on Gabe’s glasses. Elisabeth Moss’s Dahlia playing with lipstick and trying out different facial expressions in the mirror.
— Umbrae who was born laughing also dies laughing.
— Adelaide follows Red and Jason into Merlin’s Forest. She seems to know the path a little too well and to not be surprised by anything she encounters.
— Red’s creepy, hoarse voice is most likely due to her throat being injured from Adelaide choking her so hard when they were children.
— I’m still confused as to the significance of the ballet recital other than it just looking cool as hell and poetic. I also don’t understand why the dance is what convinced the Tethered to make Red their leader rather than her rare ability to speak.
— Adelaide has a sinister grin on her face after she kills Red. The type of remorselessness we don’t usually associate with our heroes.
— In the ambulance, when Jason looks at his mother, he pulls his mask down. They are both wearing masks now.
I walked into my second viewing wanting to answer one question: Does Jordan Peele play fair?
Initially, I wanted to see if Red’s final monologue made sense once one knew the twist. “We were born special. God brought us together that that night. I never stopped thinking about you, how you could have taken me with you.”
That part still makes sense after the twist. Adelaide could have grabbed Red (the real Adelaide) and walked out of the fun-house with her instead of chaining her to the bed. Presumably. “If it weren’t for you, I never would have danced at all.” This is literally true as it is Adelaide that starts taking dance lessons as part of her parents’ attempt to get her to talk by encouraging her creativity. When Adelaide dances, Red has to dance. In a deeper sense, like Lee Ann Womack’s “I Hope You Dance,” Red may not have done much with her surface life if she’d never entered the fun-house. But instead she’s started a revolution that is going to change the world. Something that would never have happened if Adelaide hadn’t switched places with her.
But does Peele play fair with the rest of the film?
Can one reasonably guess at the twist ending from the clues provided? I believe so. I’ve mentioned several clues in this post that all point to the twist. Red’s voice, the mother’s line about wanting her little girl back, Adelaide’s extreme reluctance to return to the beach, her overprotectiveness of Jason at the beach, her immediately calling 911, and Adelaide knowing the entrance to the tunnel system a little too well. I’ve read one reviewer who made the assumption that the girls switched places from the edit the first time he saw the movie. Just like I assumed in The Sixth Sense (SPOILER) Bruce Willis had died from getting shot in the first scene. But soon abandoned that thought as the movie went on.
I definitely recommend seeing Us more than once.
It has earned a place among my favorite horror movie endings of all time. If you really want to jump down the rabbit hole, you can spend hours reading about fan theories, Easter eggs, and symbolism in Us online.
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