by Hans A. Carpenter
Release Date: March 22, 2019
MPAA: R Director: Jordan Peele
Starring: Lupita Nyong’o, Winston Duke, and Elisabeth Moss
Mister Marquee Says: LEGENDARY
Adelaide (Lupita Nyong’o) is on vacation with her husband (Winston Duke) and two kids when she starts seeing reminders of a traumatic incident from when she was younger. Adelaide’s fears are realized when one night the family is taken prisoner in their vacation home by…themselves; nightmarish doppelgängers of each member of the family in red jumpsuits carrying golden scissors. If you like direct literal answers to questions, Us will drive you absolutely insane. It’s ambiguous on a literal plot level, what happened, why, to whom, and ambiguous on a deeper level. It asks more questions than it answers. There’s class overtones, racial overtones, religious overtones, existential overtones, psychological overtones, and all of it could mean something, and all of it could mean nothing.
I honestly have no idea what this movie is about. I’m not talking about on a superficial plot level, although I’m still piecing that together, but on a deeper level. Is there a deeper meaning to Us? It could be that Jordan Peele has a central message. It could be that there is none, and he is leaving a bunch of symbols and clues to make people guess. It could be that Peele created a movie specifically for the fan theory generation for whom ascribing meaning and pouring over details of fiction has become an addiction. Is Us designed to generate Youtube video blogs, think pieces, and Reddit posts taking a stance on the movie’s allegorical threads, or attempting to explain the phenomenon around which the plot centers on a literal level? Honestly, we will probably see all of these as well as vicious comment section fights for the foreseeable future. It could be that there are many different messages and ideas layered on top of each other. It’s also entirely possible that Us means something different to Peele, to each member of the cast, and to each member of the audience, and there is no right or wrong answer. Trying to attribute one, simple message may be as fruitless as trying to piece together the X’s and O’s of what happened plot wise.
This sort of mental gymnastics dodge is for anyone who likes David Lynch movies; they mean everything and nothing all at once. Like Lynch’s works (think Mullholand Drive), Us feels like a dream, with dream logic. It plays like a nightmare: familiar but alien, vivid and clouded. There’s also a bit of a dark folklore feel. Beyond the broader questions, Us works on a lot of practical levels. The cinematography is stunning. The imagery is utterly surreal and terrifying. The acting is superb by all involved, especially Nyong’o who knocks both roles out of the park. Peele ratchets up the tension from the opening minutes and never lets up. Even the “safe” scenes in horror movies used for contrast from the intense scenes feel tense, as we can feel Adelaide’s increasing apprehension as signs and coincidences start to pile up. Peele’s typical sense of humor is present too, as there are some genuinely funny scenes between the family members who all have excellent chemistry. The dialogue is picture perfect and feels so natural, set against a surreal nightmare. This is one movie I would love to see again.
I’m 24 hours removed writing this, and it’s a lot to process. I’m sure I could write article after article about Us, and that may have been by design. Us is great on a technical level, and any issues aside, it’s hard to say that anything that could hold my attention this hard and make me think so much could be anything less than a masterpiece.