The horror movie Us (2019) could also stand for U.S. or United States because the phenomenon which unfolds in the film seems to be only happening in that country.
That is not to say that it isn’t happening elsewhere but the events seem to be homegrown.
As the beginning of the movie declares: there are apparently hundreds upon hundreds of miles of underground tunnels in the U.S., hidden away and apparently lost in some cases. What goes on in those tunnels, leads to the action of the movie.
It all starts innocently enough in 1986 as it follows a young girl named Adelaide, whose father has just won a Michael Jackson’s Thriller t-shirt in sideshow alley at an amusement park, which he gives to her (remember back then?). She strays from her parents and ends up in a hall of mirrors. There she meets her reflection, but it isn’t – it’s a girl who is an exact replica of her… She becomes a disturbed child.
It’s now the present and the girl is now grown with a teenage daughter and younger son, obviously well off, or upper middle class (they can’t be too rich because they have a faulty secondhand boat). Her husband suggests they leave the solitude of their private beach and go to the beach at the same amusement park where she had this disturbing incident take place as a child.
Jump to later at home late in the evening and a “family” turns up on their driveway and while you would think such a thing harmless, it’s actually quite sinister. Enough to call the police!
They are an evil family of dead ringers who seem to want nothing more than to murder their “originals” with big pairs of scissors.
When my loving and nurturing grandfather (he took me to see Jaws when I was ten and he laughed), who happened to be a Freemason, died back in my early 20s, my grandmother said: “And he left you his scissors!”. Nothing else in terms of cash or property but it’s the thought and memories that count. Anyway, a person who has a pair of scissors, whether they are real or symbolic, better be careful how they use them, or at least use them productively and positively!! Not these doppelgangers. Real scissors and used very nastily.
Despite being murderous and apparently totally evil, you may see as the film progresses, that they are almost to be pitied, as they appear mentally ill and down-trodden, criminal certainly. They have known a life of little intellectual or artistic stimulation and certainly one marred by poverty. They were also perhaps tortured. There is no positive light emanating from them as they have known nothing else. And they are to be pitied for that.
But as Jason, the son of Adelaide says, when the family is finally confronted up close by their doppelgangers: ”They are us”! Jason’s fire-scarred doppelganger is a pyromaniac named Pluto, perhaps named after the Greek ruler of the underworld rather than the planet or Disney character.
Remember there is a family just like you somewhere that is not as fortunate!
There is a reference to Jeremiah 11:11 from the Old Testament, which some may know or will be able to look up. The reference is apt as the movie unfolds.
Heavily referenced also is the 1986 Hands Across America movement. It was a one-off movement where enough of the US population actually got together to hold hands for 15 minutes to span the nation to help raise money for those living in poverty. While the end result was far from an unbroken line coast to coast – it was six to ten-deep in places, according to reports, and would have spanned the country in terms of participation. It raised over ten million dollars which was distributed to the underprivileged. However, as a movement it didn’t catch on and remained a one-off.
What emerges in the movie, is a kind of anti-movement in the same vein as a wave of mass murders by these downtrodden doppelgangers, perhaps even clones, leading them, for some unknown reason, to link hands in an unbroken line – across the whole country! Really this time!
The apparent order from craziness is symbolized by Adelaide’s doppelganger holding up a string of paper dolls cut with scissors, thought to be the long-held domain of the totally demented. Albeit basically productive.
This new “shadow” Hands Across America Movement, as the doppelgangers call themselves “shadows” of the “real” people, is a movement borne of suffering and is one totally unexpected for the United States. I mean what the…? And as a character jokes about the chain of murderers, is it some sort of insane performance art?
It could be seen as mirroring when Trump got elected. When the grassroots and the Christian movement literally held hands across the country and elected him president in a sudden shock victory.
Much to the horror and surprise of many Americans, the lunatics, these people of the shadows, the “Deplorables”, the hidden and forgotten Americans, took over the asylum.
In the movie this revolution is taken to apocalyptic proportions. The revolution has come. And murder and chaos reign with the breakdown of the fabric of civilized society. The armed poor, using scissors instead of guns, overrun the country.
It is truly the American Nightmare as opposed to the American Dream!
Adelaide returns to the amusement park to confront her past. She remembers some of the past at the park almost perfectly, when the people at the park were kind of crazy and lowbrow and maybe slightly scary. She eventually enters a tunnel system, mentioned at the beginning of the movie, which is somehow familiar to her…
Invoked at the end is the question of nature or nurture? Or both in the formation of a person. Are people born evil, or is it events in childhood and the way they are brought up which forms their character? Can a disturbed child be saved through outlets such as art or sport? In the case of the disturbed child Adelaide, it is a melding of both in ballet.
Can a disturbed, or a so called grown “bad seed”, grow resilient as a parent and raise a resilient child?
Or are “bad seeds”, or disturbed children, as they grow to adulthood, doomed if they are not nurtured by family, or by a good community (Christian or gay or whatever)?
The outcome otherwise may be a doppelganger, a “shadow” of what could have been. One living in poverty, perhaps suffering mental illness, alcoholism, drug addiction or criminality. They in turn may produce the same “shadows”, some resilient some not. There are a lot of “bad seeds” and disturbed adults in middle and upper-class families. The result is the same.
The end, which I found hair-raising, while the rest of the movie isn’t particularly scary or gory, is not hopeless. Despite perhaps the inevitable showdown, there is hope for Us in the United States in the future of a single child with a loving parent – and with a bit of help from the army, no matter how bleak things may seem!
It is basic unconditional love no matter what class or race, whether you are the “real” deal or only a “shadow” of what you could be. The “shadows” care for their families too you know!
Ultimately the Trump “shadow” movement had to happen so the middle classes could wake from their complacency and see the possibility that something far worse could’ve and still might happen in terms of revolution for Us and the United States.
As the movie ends it is finally the land of the free but you have to fight for freedom!
Cripes I get bloody serious at times but this is what I read in Us.
There’s a nice song at the end by legend Minnie Riperton (1947-1979 breast cancer)!
FACT: The Bad Seed (1956) is a psychological horror based on a play and book about a murderous child. See video clip below.
FACT: Us is directed by Jordan Peele (1979-) who made the massive horror hit Get Out (2017).
FACT: Get Out was made on the budget of $4.5m (US) and reaped a box office of over $250m (US).
FACT: Us was made on a budget of $20m (US).
FACT: Actress Lupita Nyong’o (1983-), who plays the grown Adelaide, is Mexican born of Kenyan descent.
FACT: The Macquarie Dictionary calls a doppelganger a ghostly duplicate of a living person.
FACT: The word doppelganger comes from the German Doppel (double) and Ganger (walker).