Dissecting Jordan Peele’s ‘Us’: A Comprehensive Review and Theory Exploration

By Mavis Heasley

**SPOILERS AHEAD.

If there is one thing to know about me, it is that I love horror films. Anyone who knows me also knows of this obsession that I’ve had since I was a kid. There isn’t another film genre that can get me more hyped than one that promises increasing heart rates, jumping in seats, slow-burning tension and everything in-between. Following the success of ‘Get Out’ (2017), writer and director Jordan Peele announced he was creating another horror film titled ‘Us’ (2019). Of course, I began counting down the months, weeks, and days to its release, then I beelined for the theaters this past weekend. I had high expectations for Peele’s sophomore film, considering how much I, and many others, loved his directorial debut (ahem, Oscar winner, 98% Rotten Tomatoes score, regarded as a cultural phenomenon… I digress).  After seeing, digesting and researching ‘Us,’ I now have a concrete analysis, review, and theories to ponder: let’s discuss.

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Before getting into the review and analysis of ‘Us,’ I will give a brief synopsis of the film. It’s the year 1986: While at the beach in Santa Cruz, Cali., with her parents, a young Adelaide Wilson wanders off into a secluded funhouse--a hall of mirrors, to be precise. While in the hall of mirrors, Adelaide comes face-to-face with her doppelgänger. Though eventually reuniting with her parents, Adelaide becomes traumatized and is unable to speak about the event. Flash-forward to present day, Adelaide Wilson returns to the Santa Cruz beach with her husband Gabe and their two children, Jason and Zora. Overwhelmed by increasing worry, Adelaide feels as though something bad is going to happen on this trip. Adelaide’s fears are confirmed when four masked strangers circle and eventually break into their home. Upon removal of the masks, the Wilsons are confronted with their doppelgängers, who refer to themselves as “the tethered,” including the one Adelaide had met so many years ago. Though the Wilsons are not the only family being attacked by ‘the tethered’: the rest of America is, too, and Adelaide’s doppelgänger, known as Red, is the ringleader of it all.

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You may be wondering where all of the doppelgängers come from? They lived (and are alluded to have been created by the government) in unexplored underground tunnels, where they plotted “the untethering” from their above-ground doubles. The viewers are obviously intended to root for the Wilsons, Adelaide specifically, as these unknown, creepy forces are attacking them for seemingly no reason--then the big twist is revealed. After managing to kill the rest of the Wilson and other attacking doppelgängers, Adelaide and Red have their final showdown. In this showdown, Adelaide finally kills Red and the audience rejoices. But, the audience soon finds out that nothing is what it seems. After Adelaide has defeated the villain of the film, a flashback plays: Adelaide is not who she says she is--in fact, she is the doppelgänger the real Adelaide, now known as Red, encountered in 1986. It is revealed that Red orchestrated the nationwide attack to reclaim her life after her doppelgänger imprisoned her in the underground tunnels and took her identity. The viewers are then informed that the reason Adelaide did not speak after her ‘traumatic’ experience was not that she was traumatized, but because she did not know how to speak. The ending of the film hints that Adelaide’s son is aware of her being the doppelgänger, but the closing scene shows the Wilsons driving away from Santa Cruz unaware of who Adelaide really is.

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Other than watching the actual film, my favorite part about seeing a film as information-packed as ‘Us,’ is deep-diving into theories. There’s one theory from ‘Us’ that had me and the rest of the internet absolutely shook, and that is the Jason theory.

After seeing the film upon release, Reddit user hoopsterben posted in the /r/fantheories forum the following: “I believe the summer before the movie takes place, the boy and his ‘tethered’ also switched places … At the end, he has realized that his mother, at one point, has also switched bodies. She gives him a look almost like ‘I also know what you know’ and then he puts on his mask, as a symbol of the masks they will now wear for the rest of their lives.” Yes, it’s a lot to take in, but after looking at the evidence, the claim is fairly irrefutable. Here are some examples of evidence pertaining to the Jason theory:

-He Stopped Speaking: Towards the beginning of the film, whenever Adelaide is beginning to express worry to Gabe that something feels off, Gabe tells her that Jason needs this beach trip. Gabe has Adelaide recall the past summer at the same beach house when Jason stopped speaking after his grandmother passed away. Sure, the silence could be due to the trauma one may experience upon losing a loved one… but doesn’t that sound familiar? Adelaide seemingly stopped speaking after her traumatic experience in the funhouse as a child, though, as previously discussed, we know that’s not the reason. Could Jason’s tethered Pluto have done what Adelaide’s tethered had back in 1986?

-Tunnels: While the Wilsons are at the beach with their friends, Jason is seen digging in the sand. Though, he is not building a sand castle--he is attempting to dig tunnels. This could be because he has unique interests… or, it is reminiscent of the tunnels he, a tethered, was raised in.

 

-The Masks and the Magic Trick: A key trait of Jason’s character is the werewolf mask he adorns throughout the film, so it is fitting that Pluto, his tethered, would have one as well. While Jason’s mask is a nice, plastic Halloween mask of a werewolf face, Pluto’s mask is simply a white sack with eye cutouts. Considering the tethered behave underground as their counterparts do above ground, it makes sense that Pluto would also wear a mask--but that is not it's only relevancy. When the film introduced audiences to Jason, he was seen flicking a lighter; this was supposedly part of a magic trick he had “forgotten” how to do, as the lighter would not light. Once the tethered are brought into the storyline, Pluto is introduced as Jason’s tethered; when confronted by the tethered, Jason puts his mask on. A scene during the initial tethered invasion of the Wilsons’ home depicts Red instructing Pluto and Jason to go into a closet and play. While Jason and Pluto are in the closet, Jason discovers that Pluto mirrors what he does. It is at this point Jason begins flicking the lighter, and, after discovering Pluto has one as well, Pluto’s lighter actually ignites. Since Jason discovered that Pluto mirrors his actions, he pulls his mask off, and Pluto does the same. It is at this point Pluto is revealed to have burn scars all over the lower half of his face. Could this be due to Jason’s real lighter being left underground when his tethered switched places with him since his magic trick lighter hadn’t been working since the past summer?

-Adelaide’s Reaction to Pluto’s Death: At this point, it is well-established that Adelaide was actually her tethered all along. Other than the car scene at the end of the film mentioned in the quote by Redditor hoopsterben, there was one more specific scene shared between Adelaide and Jason that seemed to confirm the theory. Recalling how Jason discovered his tethered Pluto mirrors his actions, in a moment where Pluto is attempting to kill the Wilsons via lighting a trail of gasoline that goes towards the vehicle they were in, Jason uses the mirroring to save his family. There is a fiery explosion behind Pluto from another car, so Jason gets out of the car and walks backward, which Pluto mimics, sending him into the fire behind him. The audience is made to feel relieved since one of the tethered who had been attacking the main characters throughout the film is finally dealt with--but Adelaide is not relieved. Adelaide’s reaction is one of horror, and, if the theory is correct, it is because she just saw her son burn alive.

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Now, for the review.

Rating: 5/5

I feel it wouldn’t come as a shock to you that, after writing this lengthy article, I absolutely loved this film. I could be biased because I am such a horror fanatic and an unofficial Jordan Peele stan, but it really is just that good. My favorite types of films are the ones where you leave with more questions than answers which inherently leads you down a theory rabbit hole, and ‘Us’ did just that. All of the actors did a great job instilling fear and suspense into the audience, but Lupita Nyong’o’s performance, in particular, was absolutely stunning. Considering this was Nyong’o’s first venture into the world of horror, her portrayal of Adelaide/Red went above-and-beyond anything I could have anticipated; if she doesn’t get nominated for an Oscar for this, I’m suing the Academy. Not only is the film’s base storyline presented fully entertaining, but the Jason theory you could spend hours researching afterward adds another layer to its greatness.  If you haven’t seen it, I would highly recommend doing so.