I taught a class on Apocalyptic Films in Port Townsend Washington back in 2013…and can tell you one of the greatest joys of teaching is keeping in touch with students and knowing that you made a difference in each other’s lives. Some of my students continued on to careers in the film industry, others went another route…regardless they know that film is a cultural artifact that can be decoded allowing us to further understand the era in which it is made, the ideologies it represents or criticizes and how it resonates with spectators, thus creating mutual meaning. AN
US- (Dir. Jordan Peele, 2019)
Us is as much of an original film as it is an homage to the true horror classics that came before it. It revels in its originality, and flirts with its uniqueness throughout, but it always stays true to Jordan Peele’s inspiration. Where Jordan Peele really separates himself from the pact is his use of underlying themes of the current state of our nation and his use of social commentary without pummeling you over the head with it. It’s subtle and nuanced. It educates you without you, the viewer, realizing it, and you always walk away understanding you just witnessed a tour de force, and are completely aware that there are things you missed and things you absorbed without realizing you have done so. It’s filmmaking at it’s finest.
The establishing shot of the protagonists driving to their secluded summer home is an echo of Stanley Kubrick’s shot of the Torrence family driving to the Overlook hotel. Another obvious Shining reference is the use of twins. The homages come in hot and heavy and I’m quite sure I missed many. But another particularly poignant reference came near the climax of the film where he paid homage to Black Swan, with a dueling ballet that is choreographed and filmed better than most high budget action films. I’ll just say it, if Jordan Peele stays true to himself, the cinematic universe has gained a heavyweight, powerhouse filmmaker, and the world is his oyster, and we all should sit back and enjoy the surf and turf.
Now there are as many ways to interpret Us as there are minutes in the film, probably more. Some people may be extremely happy taking it at face value which is a home invasion film, but it’s so much more. If you’re reading this, I assume you know that the film is about a middle-class family being attacked by their doppelgängers. However, from the opening frame which reveals some sinister information about thousands of miles of unused tunnels underneath America you know you’re in for something more than your run- of- the -mill thriller. If Get Out was about racial tensions, Us is about the tension between classes.
Whether you focus on the relationship between the Wilson’s (our protagonist’s) and their relationship with their more well-to-do neighbors the Tyler’s or the interaction with their doppelgängers. One of the subtle nods to this is Gabe Wilson (played by a brilliant Wilson Duke who seems to revel in playing the quirky father and the menacing Abraham who is a polar opposite speaking in only grunts, growls and guttural sounds) is constantly wearing a college sweatshirt alluding to his graduation from college, where again, his counterpart can’t even speak English and while truly terrifying in the end is nothing more than a puppet. Lupita Nyong’o’s rendition of Adelaide Wilson/Red is nothing but breathtaking. It’s early, and the award season has just ended, but we have a strong front runner here for best leading actress. She slips effortlessly between the two characters, a loving, protective and endearing mother, and a menacing sociopath bent on fomenting as much chaos as possible. Honorable mentions to the children actors in the film Shahadi Wright Joseph, Evan Alex, and Madison Curry. While the heavy lifting is done by the parents, the film would have fallen apart if the children hadn’t been nearly as spectacular.
Another takeaway from the film is the fact that in life, sometimes, along the way, for better or for worse, we let the best parts of us die. Whether you’re a talented dancer (Adelaide Wilson) or a prodigy sprinter (Zora Wilson played by Shahadi Wright Joseph), the consequences of you moving on from something that once was a passion can have long unforeseen consequences and the benefits of honing your skills can yield rewards that you’d never imagined like with Jason Wilson’s (Played by Evan Alex) tricks and traps.
All in all, I could not recommend this film more. I know when I view it again it will be a completely different film than the one I watched the first time. And when you see it, you’ll be seeing a completely different film than the one just described. You’ll take away what is most important to you. Trust me. As long as you follow the white rabbit, you’ll be just fine.