Us (2019) Dir. Jordan Peele
There is a disturbing sense of being replaced, that unpleasant feeling we feel when the position of a familiar person is replaced by someone else with no mention of where the other person went. Or when an actor on a soap opera is replaced with a new actor playing the same character—it’s disconcerting. This is kind of the premise of Us and the horror is in watching ourselves become the ones replaced.
This is an interesting and horrifying update on the Pod People/Invasion of the Body Snatcher-type film where alien replacements take the place of their identical human counterparts. In the retrofitting of this theme, Us eliminates the alien narrative and we literally become our own enemy. Where we, our replacements, come from is a mystery steeped in symbolism that is highly suggestive of child trafficking and cloning.
In the opening credits, we see stacked cages of rabbits and there is mention of miles of mysterious underground tunnels, neither of which are really ever fully explored. But we learn that there is something taking place underground and we see evidence of training and classrooms, but we don’t ever see any staff or people running the operation. As far as we are concerned, it is an alternate universe that we are never meant to fully understand. We see that all of the replacements or clones are dressed in institutional style jumpsuits and all are armed with a pair of scissors, but before the scissors became killing tools, they were likely used to make paper cutouts of people joining hands which we can assume was part of their long term programming that would come into play once they were above ground.
Us is a horror film that represents our personal disconnections from reality and our willing abandonment or forfeiture of accessing knowledge and truth. I believe that in our forfeiture and rejection of knowledge, we become something other than our true potential which is what we see in the murderous clones of the film. When we allow another source or power to speak for and through us, we are no longer our true selves and this alternate identity does only the bidding of powers that are external to its actual nature. They, the external power that replaces our thoughts and identities, becomes us. It is a horrifying thing to consider which is why the movie is so effective and scary. And worst of all, it is only a visual representation, a reminder of what is taking place in the real world with millions of people having fallen victim to propaganda and social engineering. The clones also represent the merging of good and evil personas where the mind chooses dark over light. When one clone says, “It’s our time now.”, we know that the message is that evil will reign.
By the film’s end, we learn that the Us of the title is really the US, the United States. We are all represented as mindless, removed, replaced clones who obediently join hands in what some people might now call equity. The unity and consensus of the programmed Us, demonstrates the fulfillment of a social experiment called Hands Across America.
It’s interesting to note that in a film with a black cast, there is no mention of race or racial inequality. The film seems to deviate from the standard practice of calling attention to skin color by playing a divisive race card. This is refreshing in itself, but the observant viewer will note that the branding for Hands Across America shows an outline of the United States that is neatly divided in half with black representing the north and white, the south. Can a more plain reference to racial division exist? So while the film avoids the obvious, the purpose of anchoring the entire film to race remains typical Hollywood and the message is not just about the death of the individual and the corruption of the family unit, but it aims to maintain racial drama and the divisions created by it.
This review first appeared in the print version of Victims of Cinema. The first 50 reviews can be obtained HERE.