Curating The Incredible Visual Storytelling In 'Us'
There's a little evil in all of us, and plenty of it in Jordan Peele's new thriller.
With his second film, writer/director Jordan Peele returns to the themes of class and race that made his first, Get Out, so memorable. A film historian, Peele litters his movies with genre tropes and timeworn motifs to inform what you're seeing onscreen and pay homage to the things he loves. Us, his second film, is a thriller about the duality of man. "The Tethered" in the story represent the dark side of us all. For every Mr. Hyde, sure enough there's a Dr. Jekyll, and no one is exempt.
Often times in film and literature, the darkness inside us manifests itself as an evil twin, or doppelgänger. Great minds, from Dostoevsky to Stephen King, have devoted plenty of time to understanding man's duality. And every new generation of thinkers modernizes the idea. Peele is only the latest. Us introduces a contemporary family on vacation who are visited, and terrorized by, their doppelgängers. In telling the tale, Peele colors the narrative with dozens of references, metaphors, sight gags, and callbacks that double down on the theme of dual nature. Here's a breakdown, beginning with the title and characters themselves.
**SPOILERS to follow...**
1. The title, Us, refers to the evil family in the movie, of course. "It's us." Jason tells his family when the Tethered appear. But it also refers to the collective "us," as in everyone. And you can also infer Peele is talking about the U.S., as in, the United States of America, land of the free and home of the brave, where that's not true for everyone.
2. The Tethered are, as mentioned, the physical manifestations of everyone's dark sides.
3. Peele uses production design and art direction to tell the story visually throughout. The VHS tapes shown at the beginning all mirror something in Us. C.H.U.D. and The Goonies are underground adventures, which Us turns into. The Right Stuff is about the opposite, an outer space adventure. The Man With Two Brains is self-explanatory. And A Nightmare On Elm Street gets a few callbacks — the boiler room scene, and Pluto's scarred face.
4. The Hall of Mirrors is a literal structure of duality. The Mirror Maze is something seen in many books and movies from Something Wicked This Way Comes to Enter the Dragon and Conan the Destroyer.
5. The image of Michael Jackson is reflected in the Tethered. They all wear red and single gloves.
6. When the Tethered appear in the Wilson's driveway, they appear in the same order as the stick figure family sticker on their car.
7. Adelaide's mother says a movie's being shot on the Santa Cruz Boardwalk. That movie is The Lost Boys, which was partially filmed there also.
8. A character eats Froot Loops in Us, which also happens in Get Out.
9. The number 11 appears a number of times in the movie. "Jeremiah 11:11" is seen on a homeless man's sign. The Giants game is tied 11-11. The Michael Jackson shirt is prize number 11. A digital clock reads 11:11. And a character wears a Black Flag T-shirt with four lines that look like 1111.
10. The board game Guess Who, in which you have to match identical faces, appears in the closet.
11. Stanley Kubrick's The Shining may be the biggest influence on Us. It's also about a family who travel together to a new place and Peele borrows certain shots from Kubrick (overhead drone). More to the point, The Shining is about the darkness inside Jack Torrance which bubbles to the surface. And who can forget the Grady twins? Us also features a pair of twin little girls.
12. Brian DePalma is another filmmaker whom Peele references with shot selections. DePalma's movie Sisters, about a good sister and a bad sister, is the reference point.
13. "Good Vibrations" might feel like a weird choice to score a horrific scene, but Peele is referencing A Clockwork Orange, which also belies violence with a lighthearted tune ("Singin' in the Rain").
14. The golden scissors, or "sharp toys," seen in Us seem like a mystery, but they've been used in dark ways in plenty of movies. Dead Again, which features multiple sets of doppelgängers, is the prime example.
15. Lupita Nyong'o and Winston Duke were Yale classmates and both were in Black Panther last year. You've seen them before together.