What has scary shadow people, multi-faceted symbolism, a huge plot twist and Lupita Nyongo? That’s right, “Us” is the film that everyone seems to be talking about and is even set to become the biggest domestic earner ever starring a woman of color.
Jordan Peele is an actor, comedian, director, writer and producer who has quickly become a household name in the film industry. “Get Out,” his directorial debut, dominated the box office as the intricate mix of thriller, suspense and social commentary. It’s no surprise, then, that that Peele’s second original film has been highly successful, as well.
To be clear, this is not a sequel to “Get Out,” though it does heavily allude to the current social climate of the U.S., as “Get Out” does. “Us” follows the story of Adelaide (Lupita Nyongo) who, as a child, has a traumatic experience in which she meets her shadow: her exact replica who she is spiritually “tethered” to and who lives underground.
As Adelaide grows up and has a family of her own, she continues to be traumatized by this experience. One day, Adelaide’s family comes face to face with their shadows, each one an exact copy of each family member. What follows is an intense fight for their lives as Adelaide and her family do unimaginable things to try to keep from dying at the hands of their own shadows: their own selves.
Eventually, we discover that they aren’t the only ones being attacked by these beings; in fact, they have taken over society, each shadow hunting and killing their respective tethered partner.
The climax of the movie comes during an intense head-to-head battle between Adelaide and her shadow as she fights to get her son back. The shadow explains that she and her people have been planning this revolution for decades, ever since the first time they had met. For centuries the shadows lived, not as full human beings, but as the forgotten, the other.
The plot twist comes when the shadow reveals that she is Adelaide. That day, many years ago, when they first met, the real shadow had kidnapped the real Adelaide, and they had switched places.
The audience is left to grapple with this undeniable fact: we were rooting for “the other” the entire time and didn’t even realize it. Even when the truth finally is revealed, we become torn between sympathizing with the real Adelaide or the shadow who has been living as Adelaide for decades.
In an interview with The Empire Podcast, Peele discussed some of the meaning behind the shocking ending:
“This movie’s about maybe the monster is you. It’s about us, looking at ourselves as individuals and as a group. The protagonist in the movie is the surrogate for the audience, so it felt like at the end of the day, I wasn’t doing my core theme any justice if I wasn’t revealing that we have been the bad guy in this movie. We’ve been following the villain. I say villain lightly because I think there are many experiences of the film, and I think a lot of people go through a question of what is good and evil? Does that even exist? Both characters are lovable and terrifying, based on the lives they’ve led they’ve just sort of inverted the paths.”
“Us” manages to place audiences in another person’s shoes and force empathy for “the villain.” According to Peele, it speaks to a social climate that is lacking in empathy and understanding, and it forces us to ask ourselves: how are we really that different from “them?”
“We are in a time where we fear the other,” Peele said. “Whether it’s the mysterious invader who might kill us or take our jobs, or the faction that doesn’t live near us that votes differently than we did. Maybe the evil is us. Maybe the monster that we’re looking at has our face.”