Spoilers: Are We All Ready to Talk About Lupita Nyong'o, 'Thriller,' and the Bunnies and Jumpsuits of Jordan Peele’s ‘Us’?
So … have you seen Us yet? Have you read TK’s exceptional review? ARE YOU NOW READY FOR SPOILER CHAT?
I’ve seen Us twice, because I live for the thrills! (And I hate sleeping, remember my ordeal after Hereditary?) But I saw it first at South by Southwest with the Pajiba crew and then again back in Baltimore earlier this week, and if you can see this movie with a crowd, do it. I cannot enthuse this enough. Surround yourself with people who are willing to laugh and scream and yell at the screen with you. Us is better for it.
… Ahem. So, I ask again: Have you seen Us yet? Because there is SO MUCH to talk about! I wrote 10 pages of notes on this motherfucker over my two viewings! Let’s get into spoiler shit!
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FOR REAL THOUGH
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TURN BACK NOW, OR DON’T COMPLAIN IN THE COMMENTS
Fast and furious, let’s go over broad strokes:
• Who called that the unbelievably fantastic Lupita Nyong’o’s characters Adelaide and Red were flipped the whole time? I must admit that I suspected this, and it was only because of the scene in the movie trailer showing little girl Red choking little girl Adelaide, and I really, really, really wish that scene—which is basically the first verse of Michael Jackson’s “Thriller,” the iconography of which plays a noticeable role in the film—hadn’t been included in any of the promo materials.
To jog your “Thriller” memory:
It’s close to midnight
Something evil’s lurking from the dark
Under the moonlight
You see a sight that almost stops your heart
You try to scream
But terror takes the sound before you make it
You start to freeze
As horror looks you right between your eyes
And the corresponding scene:
I’m not necessarily saying the movie was ruined for me because of that, because there was so much other terrifying and great and memorable and insightful stuff going on, but it was just slightly disappointing.
• But still, what does their characters being switched the whole time mean? I think Peele is trying to say something here about being forced to adapt yourself, as he did with Get Out, to situations in which you are at a fundamental disadvantage, and the ways we contort ourselves to belong. Because not only does Red-formerly-Adelaide as a child, now in the underground, have to adapt herself to this monstrous place, but Adelaide-formerly-Red as a child, now above, has to teach herself to be someone totally different, to “pass” as human, not as a shadow, to love and be loved.
Think of her behavior in that therapist’s office, as she lines up the animals in the sandbox, connecting them together in a horizontal line—and her utter blankness when Adelaide’s father rubs her arm and touches her hair. She later tells Elisabeth Moss’s character Kitty that she’s not good at talking. She fails to get in rhythm to Luniz’s “I Got 5 On It.”
And yet when Red-formerly-Adelaide’s children are dying, she tries to comfort them. She goes out to the tree where Umbrae (Shahadi Wright-Joseph) is impaled and soothingly shushes her; she freaks out when she realizes that Pluto (Evan Alex), mirroring Jason, is backing himself into the fire. So there are core things about Adelaide-formerly-Red that do not change—her connection to these children who could have been her children—and about Red-formerly-Adelaide that do not change. Why else would she cling onto the image of Hands Across America as her political motivation, as her inspiration for making a statement, if some part of her aboveground self wasn’t still inside?
• What was up with all the scissors (those sharp gifts Red-formerly-Adelaide described receiving for Christmas) and Madewell-style jumpsuits (red, like Jackson’s Thriller jacket) and the single leather gloves (a la Freddy Freddy Krueger)? I’m not sure I have an answer for all of those, aside from they are mostly ’80s signifiers, and well, they looked cool aesthetically.
• I have a weird reaction to being underground in that it freaks me out, so suffice to say that watching the shadow people be trapped in those endless sterile hallways and rooms really got to me. My partner and I did a tour of Mammoth Cave National Park in Kentucky a few years ago and there are approximately a billion spider crickets in there and the whole thing was an astonishing feat of nature and I wanted to escape as soon as we went down.
But: Did the “government cloning experiment” idea work for you? It almost serves like a throwaway explanation, and I wondered how Red-formerly-Adelaide would know that, since she explains it to Adelaide-formerly-Red, but she was the interloper in that situation, not the original, you know? If scientists abandoned the project decades ago, how were the clones still being made? Who was giving them clothes that were similar to their aboveground counterparts? Who was supplying those rabbits, or were we to assume that they were … breeding like rabbits? (This joke brought to you by The Favourite.) Ultimately, I think that whole speech about the government project and shared souls between bodies served less as a plot moment and more as exposition for us as viewers, but hey, at least it gave us that cool split diopter shot where both women were in focus, one hovering with the fireplace poker in the background and the other returning to her scrapbooking roots in the foreground, cutting out paper dolls of people joining hands.
• I had a lot of nightmares the first night after Us, but the scene that has stayed with me most is that of childhood Red, before she switches with Adelaide, wandering around the underground with her shadow parents Weyland (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, of Aquaman) and Eartha (Anna Diop), watching the other shadows grotesquely act out the movements of the people at the carnival above. Eating those bloody rabbit pieces as if they were french fries or funnel cake. Playing crazed games of rock-paper-scissors. And their bodies writhing and contorting and spinning, as if they were on the same rides as the people to whom they were tethered. SPOOKY UGH I HAVE TO STOP TALKING ABOUT IT.
• And, finally: My favorite recurring detail was the coincidental doubling (11:11, the circular Frisbee on the circular pattern of the beach towel, Kitty and Josh’s twins, numerous characters wearing Black Flag T-shirts), and my favorite thing overall was the exceptional cast. Nyong’o is fucking amazing and she is joined by a stellar ensemble, with whom I cannot find a single fault. Winston Duke uncomfortably trying to fit his gigantic body onto that bed to entice Adelaide-formerly-Red was perfect; he really slipped into a great dad mode here that is so different from his work as M’Baku in Black Panther. Wright Joseph and Alex were great as sparring siblings who smoothly team up when it’s time to defend their parents.
Moss’s face was chillingly perfect as shadow Dahlia, when she starts screaming in response to the hilarious Tim Heidecker’s shadow Tex being in danger and then she transforms, utterly seamlessly, into peals of maniacal laughter. And Madison Curry as young Adelaide and Red, whooo, boy. That child is terrifying. She’s got a great future ahead of her!
• OK, I lied. ACTUALLY FINALLY: At the Q+A after the film at SXSW, Peele noted how “Us” is basically “U.S.,” which syncs up with Red-formerly-Adelaide’s description of herself and her family as “We’re Americans,” doesn’t it?
Time for your thoughts on Us! What are your responses? Theories? Favorite parts? Did the hype work for you? Or, did the movie not live up to the hype you expected? Did you expect that twist? Did it thoroughly surprise you? Join us in the comments!
Image sources (in order of posting): Us/Twitter, Universal Pictures