‘Us’: Reflecting on privilege dynamics in the US
WARNING: SPOILERS AHEAD!
On March 22, 2019, the highly anticipated movie “Us” directed by Jordan Peele was released. This movie was released with the intention and expectation of solely being a horror movie. This was a shocker to many, after Peele’s previous movie “Get Out” reflected on many racial tensions in the United States. Although “Us” had the intention of just being a horror movie, it turns out this was not the case. Many were confused, including me, about what happened in the movie. However, after doing some research, and watching many analytical videos on YouTube, I found that these easter eggs meant much more than what appeared to the eye.
Immediately after watching the movie, I was confused. I got the main plot of the story, the world of the shadows or the “tethered” came back to kill and take over the humans above ground. However, there were many easter eggs that I noticed, and knew were important, but did not know what exactly they meant. Everyone had a conspiracy theory after the movie, but it still didn’t make much sense to me and not all of my questions were answered. Finally, I came across a video put out by Insider that objectively explained these easter eggs, and exposed the underlying theme of the movie...privilege.
Now, to dive into the theme of privilege, we can do some character evaluations, beginning with the tethered vs the “regular” people. The people/families represented in the movie were those of upper middle/high-class people. Both families were traveling on vacation, had summer homes, and generally ideal family and home lives. Even though Winston Duke’s character would try to keep up with his white counterpart by trying to buy a boat and getting jealous over his nicer car, his character and families characters represented a normal middle-class family. Reflecting on the tethered people, their lives were much different and less glamorous. Although the tethered people did the exact same things the regular humans did, they did not get the same sense of gratification or joy from these activities. For example, the younger version of Lupita Nyong’o was pictured in a scene, dancing in a recital in front of an attentive audience, while the tethered (or I guess un-tethered) version of her was dancing in a dingy hallway under fluorescent lighting, with a crowd of inattentive tethered people. The tethered people were living in a basement, under wretched conditions, and eating rabbits every day. With this complete separation of the two, we already can see the class structure set up by Peele.
Then to go along with this theme throughout the movie, there was an easter egg that I noticed when I first watched it but didn’t necessarily understand until I watched the Insider video. In the scene where the “tethered” version of Lupita first meets the “real” Lupita, she explains who they are by saying “We are Americans”. At this point in the movie, we were not necessarily sure who and what the tethered were, but we did know that Lupita’s character had some type of contact with this “other world”. This remark that she makes is very important to understanding the theme of privilege in this movie.
Reflecting back on the movie, you begin to understand that these polar opposite worlds do not represent the good and the bad, but instead the class system in the United States. The tethered are not demons or Satan, but a representation of the marginalized lower class that has been silenced (literally) by oppression. Also, the regular population is not necessarily God’s people either. They are beneficiaries of privilege and represent those who continue the cycle by turning a blind eye or ignoring those beneath them. I believe Lupita’s character is the best representation of this because she is the only person in the regular population who knows of the tethered. Even though she escaped for a better life, when she did leave, she turned her back on the tethered and became a beneficiary of privilege.
Overall, the movie “Us,” is a horror movie, but not a horror movie as we understand it. “Us” represents the horror of our reality in the United States. Even when you look at the title, does it mean what we think, or does it really represent the acronym used for the United States? Many were confused by the vagueness of the movie, and upset by the lack of terrifying ghosts and goblins jumping out at them. However, I believe that Peele did all of those things on purpose. I believe he did this to force us to think about what he meant and to interpret the theme behind the movie for ourselves. It’s definitely not the typical movie release, but should be appreciated for the statement that it made, in my opinion.