The Ending of Jordan Peele's oroughly Explained - because, truth be told, I'm not 100% it is completely understandable, and yet it is so so very good!
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There are so few absolutely perfect Mindjobs to grace the world with its intricacies. But I promise you this, Jordan Peele’s movie Us, is definitely one of them. And that my friends, isn’t said with a hint of hyperbole or exaggeration. Here at THiNC., mindjobs are our bread and butter. Literally no one knows mindjobs better than us, and I would put Jordan Peele’s Us up against all the best mindjob movies of all time. And, by that I mean the best of the best, Primer, Enemy, Upstream Color, The Invitation, Coherence, Ex Machina, Old Boy, Memento, Killing of a Sacred Deer, The One I Love, you get the idea. And having just walked out of the theater – knowing full well that I am totally, 100% biased – but I may even place this movie in my top three. Which, should explain the perfect 5.0 score I am giving this movie. There is so much goodness here.
But I’m also aware that some of you walked out of the theater and said – wait, what the HECK just happened? And because I love talking about amazing movies like this one with my new best friends I find hither and yon across the interwebs, I figure we’ll walk through the movie – and then discuss that crazy WTF ending. But, for those of you who haven’t seen this movie yet – you know what, read the post…I tired of warning you guys. Just read it…and go ahead and ruin what might be the best movie going experience you will ever have. Go ahead…read away. Please do. Because if you don’t have enough respect for yourself as to not have AN OUNCE OF SELF RESTRAINT, I can’t help you. (So, yes, go see the movie, then come back and read the rest of this post.)
Let’s Get Down To It – Us Walkthrough
OK, so I am going to blitz you through the movie’s timeline, because I plan to redo the timeline, but with the insights and reveals included. So buckle up…
The movie starts with two concurrent storylines. The first is set back in 1986, and the second one is a current day set of events. Adelaide Wilson , the young girl, goes with her family to the beach. And, as a child, she accidentally gets lost, and heads into a hall of mirrors where she stumbles into a girl that looks exactly like herself. And in our modern day timeline Adelaide (played by the brilliant Lupita Nyong’o) now has a family, and two children. And her youngest, Jason (played by Evan Alex), has an almost identical experience as his mother did over thirty years ago. He wanders into a hall of mirrors experience, and discovers an identical to himself, just like his mother did.
OK? So far, so good? No one hyperventilating or having trouble keeping up? Maybe we should double up, and grab a partner from here on out, OK? So hold the hand of the person next to you, and if they are having trouble, let me know so I can slow this train down a bit.
Right, well, the Wilson’s say good by to their friends at the beach after the traumatic experience of Jason, and they head back to their rental vacation home. But at about the 30 minute mark Jason announces that there is a family standing in the driveway. And soon after that, their entire family is in a battle for their lives. Adelaide, and her shadow (we shall hence forth call Red) are locked in mortal combat in the living room while Adelaide is “tethered” to the table. The father of the imperiled Wilson family is Gabe (played by Winston Duke) and he and his double, named Abraham, are conducting their struggle in the boat on a lake. While Zora (played by Shahadi Wright Joseph) is running for her life from her double, Umbrae. While Jason gets the crap scared out of him by the burnt face double Pluto. But THANKFULLY, the entire family makes it out alive, and they eventually escape on the boat, with dad at the helm.
But over at their friends the Tyler’s house – their doubles arrive with zero fanfare, and immediately hack down her husband and two daughters. Kitty Tyler (played by Elisabeth Moss – and alum of The One I Love I mentioned up top), stabbed to death by her double, named Dahlia, didn’t stand a chance. So when the Wilson’s boat their way over to the Tyler’s home, they have their work cut out for them…not because of their Wilson shadow family, but because of the Tyler’s shadow family which is hellbent on hacking their new visitors to pieces. Fast forward to Zora wielding her way through the house with a nine iron, and the family kills the Tyler family shadows.
OK – stop there for a breather. You good? Need to hydrate a little before we continue? OK, good.
But obviously we, as the audience, know that the big fight will come from the Wilson’s doubles. Before that happens though, we learn that this isn’t just a localized event. It’s a global pandemic that is happening right here. And as the family leaves, Zora decimates Umbrae, by impaling her on a tree. When the Wilson’s finally make it to Santa Cruz they encounter Pluto – and something interesting happens, which we’ll talk about later – but then Jason is stolen by Red. Which means that Adelaide obviously needs to head back into the hall of mirrors in order to find her son. AND THEN ALL MANNER OF CRAZY HAPPENS! But I’ll leave all of that to the Us Primer below. OK? Good, thanks for that.
Us Movie Explainer
At first, when the movie really started uncorking, I was assuming that this movie was going to mainly be about our inner demons as Americans. Our duplicitousness. The ways in which we hide our true selves from others. And how we live inauthentic lives. But then I saw the right hook coming and, oh holy night! Sure, it might still be about inauthenticity, and all of those other things. But wow, we gotta get through this ending first before we can even start thinking about the meta-explanations for what this movie is all about.
When Adelaide heads down into the underground halls of the fun house, Adelaide and Red square off. Red tells about the link between their world and our world and how it was intended to control us like puppets. But the enormous reveal, is that we finally see what happened to Adelaide all those years ago. Which was, that young Red, abducted Adelaide, and chained her to a bed. She then took her Thriller shirt Adelaide had just been given by her father, and then Red heads up to join Adelaide’s parents. Got it? And we know that it isn’t Adelaide that returns to her family because when her parents take her to counseling, she doesn’t talk. So that is the big trick of this entire movie – our assumed Adelaide, is actually Red. And Red? Is Adelaide. Better yet, Jason, when he went over to the hall of mirrors, was replaced by Pluto, just like Adelaide was replaced years ago. Too much, I hear a bunch of you breathing into paper bags. Maybe we should do a quick timeline walking through the events with the players all sorted out and in their right places.
1986 – Adelaide is taken hostage by Red
Red replaces Adelaide in her family
Red learns to dance in order to express the angst of her life
Red grows up and learns to adapt and to cope
Red gets married and has two children
Red takes her family back to Santa Cruz with the Tylers
Jason wanders into the same hall of mirrors
Jason is abducted and replaced by Pluto
Red, Gabe, Zora and Pluto go home
Adelaide releases everyone from the Shadow World
Red and Adelaide talk about what Red has stolen from her
Adelaide is enraged and determined to get her revenge from Red
Red and family fight all the way to Santa Cruz
Adelaide abducts Pluto and Red confronts Red to get him back
They dance their tango, and Red impales Adelaide
Red drives the ambulance away, and realizes something
That Jason isn’t Jason after all, but rather Pluto
But she’s fine with that, because she’s Red after all
Maybe that helps a little bit? Possibly it makes a little more sense? At least the basic flow of the what anyway. Maybe not the symbolism, et al. Speaking of which, why don’t we have a bit of a meta-conversation about what it all means?
African American Actors, What Does That Mean?
Please. People. Can we not get past this? Yes, Jordan Peele’s previous film, Get Out, had a lot to say about slavery, and race relations in America. But not every movie, with an African American lead is a commentary on slavery. I mean, look at these two families. The Wilson’s and the Tyler’s… about as stereotypical as one can get. All American in their desires, problems, and goals. They can’t talk to their kids because nothing impresses them. They have the boat, and the VRBO on the water. Peele has gone so far out of his way to dump every single potential racial stereotype it isn’t even funny. These two families just are Americans. They want what any American might want. They act like any American might. This movie has zero to do with race. I promise you.
Except for the fact that it proves that a black cast can kick ass in a fantastic horror movie that can appeal to anyone. I mean, Lupita Nyong’o anyone? Dang. I loved the way she played both characters so passionately.
But Rabbits? The Rabbits!
Here’s a free movie tip. Anytime the director shoes you something iconic early, and then shows you a million of them during the opening credits, and then throws hundreds more of them at you as the movie winds down, you need to pay attention to what it is that they are showing to you. And in this particular case, the iconic items that we are being showered with, are rabbits. Lots, and lots, of rabbits.
Well, I personally think that the Tethered, only got one thing to eat. And that is those rabbits that permeate the numerous cages throughout the shadow world. But rabbits in cages also are reminiscent of lab test animals, which the Tethered probably feel akin to. But the rabbits are also a reference to a trip down a rabbit hole. You know, like Alice in Wonderland. Which is in turn a reference to madness, the psyche, and travels through one’s dreamworld.
And The Spiders?All the Spiders!
We see a number of spiders here and there throughout the entirety of the movie Us. Spiders are evil. Awful and terrible creatures. They unleash all kinds of nope. Red and Adelaide whistle the “Itsy Bitsy Spider” at various parts of the movie, including the very end. And actual spiders make a couple different showings before the Tethered arrive, which basically are just a leitmotif indicating the coming of the Tethered. Or the coming of evil.
But the lyrics of the Itsy Bitsy Spider are actually very relevant in that it’s exactly what Red is. She’s a spider, crawling up a waterspout, in order to take her place in the world above.
OK, But Jeremiah 11:11 Anyone?
So, if it isn’t a movie about race relations, then what does that guy with the sign that said, “Jeremiah 11:11” have to do with anything? Well, Jeremiah was told by God to speak to the people of Judah, and Israel, and to let them know that they needed to abide by the covenant that was established between God and Israel after they left Egypt. You remember, that whole Moses and the Ten Commandments business? Well, in Jeremiah 11:11, it says:
“Therefore thus says the Lord, “Behold I am bringing disaster on them which they will not be able to escape; though they will cry to Me, yet I will not listen to them.”
God had promised the people of Israel a land full of milk and honey. But, as they were not abiding by the covenant, God was informing them of what would happen to them and their nation if they don’t walk closely with him. Some translations prefer the word calamity as opposed to disaster, and this movie shows us what real disasters and calamities look like. You can be clear, when you find yourself hiding in your closet, hoping your shadow self won’t find you, you are living a real life calamity.
Think about it, the Jeremiah 11:11 sign guy could be warning the people of the coming shadow war. That we, instead of walking closely with God – caring for the widow, the orphan, and the impoverished – we are chasing the desires of our darkened hearts. There is our Jeremiah 11:11 guy in 1986, warning us to not go our own way. But we don’t listen. And over 30 years later he is being carried away in an ambulance, having done his best to warn of the coming calamity. We though, didn’t listen. And now, our shadow selves, are delivering the disaster that he was prophesying would come. This is, only slightly, metaphorical.
And Hands Across America Means?
Little known trivia fact, I actually stood in the Hands Across America line back in 1986, which basically went through my neighborhood in Los Angeles. And I was mortally wounded when I found out that it didn’t even come close to crossing America. But what is this all about? Why, in Adelaide’s plan to release the Tethereds, was this Hands Across America a thing?
The Symbolism and Meaning of the movie Us
The seminal moment that explains this movie happened while Red and Adelaide were talking – Red was trying to figure out what this was all about, and why it was happening. And I was kind enough to capture the entirety of that conversation for your mastication and consideration:
Adelaide – “There was a girl, who had a shadow, and when the girl ate, the food was given to her warm and tasty. But the shadow had to eat rabbit, raw, and bloody. At Christmas, the girl received wonderful gifts, soft and squishy. The shadow received gifts that were sharp and cold, that sliced through her fingers when she tried to play with them. And then one day the shadow realized that she was being tested by God.”
Red – “What are you?”
Adelaide – “We are Americans.”
We are Americans?!? This conversation gets triply confusing when we realize that Adelaide isn’t Adelaide, but rather a conformed shadow. But regardless, what does that mean, “We are Americans”? Well, as I said a minute ago, I do think there is a significant commentary happening here about our honesty with ourselves, and our intrinsic desire to hide our true selves from everyone else.
Think about it this way – you, sitting there, near that guy with the Ferrari. If you had your druthers, you’d smack him in the head with a monkey wrench, and take that red rocket for yourself. That guy (or gal, yes, I know that plenty of you lady readers would love to have that Ferrari as well – GRACIOUS.) has a shadow self, you know, the one with the monkey wrench. But the guy that ultimately doesn’t crank him in the head, he’s being good, in spite of his desire to take it and run. Two selves.
But US? Why US? Well, us could be you, and me. You know, you + me = us. All of us. Everyone. But, what if it is also the abbreviation for the United States? Could it be that Jordan Peele is our prophet? The United State’s prophet, a prophet that is calling us out for our wandering ways? Is he calling us out for our selfishness and our most base impulses? Both the ones that are bubbling to the surface, but also the ones we keep locked up below ground as well? I mean, after all, as the movie ends, we realize that the woman we have been cheering for from day one is the wrong one after all. WE’VE LITERALLY BEEN CHEERING FOR THE EVIL HELL SPAWN FROM THE BEGINNING OF THE MOVIE!!!
So yes, I believe that the Tethereds are our baser impulses. The impulses that seem to be storming to our surfaces more as a culture and a society. And the impact of these other selves ruining us personally and collectively. And it’s apparently bringing about calamities.