“One of the central themes in ‘Us’ is that we can do a good job collectively of ignoring the ramifications of privilege.” This is a quote by director and writer Jordan Peele, who wrote the horror movie “Us.” It is a movie about a woman named Addy Wilson and her family, who discover that they have evil doppelgangers with an insidious agenda after them. The plot alludes to issues of classism and privilege in the United States.
When analyzing this movie in terms of classism and privilege, it is important to look into the historical context that inspired it. The movie opens up with a commercial of an old-fashioned television talking about how “there are thousands of miles of tunnels beneath the continental U.S.” The audience learns that this is a commercial for a public fundraising event called Hands Across America, which was a real event that occurred in the 1980’s where people joined hands and created a continuous chain that went for 4,125 miles to protest hunger and poverty in the United States. The movement became very widely received and even caught the attention of a few celebrities. Since it became so widespread, the organizers of the event expected to raise between $50 million and $100 million to fight poverty. Despite the attention and the 6 million participants, they only raised about $15 million, which with taxes, is a lot less than they hoped for. This showed that people support activism and change in theory, but when it comes down to actually donating and acting on that change, nobody seems to care (especially the wealthy celebrities who used the event merely for good publicity).
The film moves away from the Hands Across America ad and shows young Addy at the beach with her parents in the 1980’s. She strays away from her parents and finds herself enticed to enter a funhouse with a fake forest and distorting mirrors. The lights suddenly go out and when they come back on she is face to face with what seems to be her reflection. She continues to stare at it and then it smiles at her and the lights go out again. The movie switches to present day, where Addy is in her thirties and she is returning to that same beach now with her husband Gabe and her children, Zora and Jason. Addy is still dealing with trauma from the funhouse incident and believes her fears are getting to her, until one night when her son Jason informs her that there is a family in their driveway. After the intruders break in and hold the family hostage, we see that they are an exact replica of the family, just a little freakier. The replicated family, who are called the “Tethered,” explain to the family that there are actually replicas of everyone in the United States, not just that family. They are essentially a failed government experiment who got pushed to the underground tunnels because the government no longer knew what to do with them.
Each “Tether” is an inverse to their above ground counterpart and therefore lives a much more miserable existence. An example from the film is when the character Red, who is Addy’s counterpart in the film, tells a story about a girl and her Shadow and how the Shadow ate “rabbit raw” while the girl “ate warm cooked turkey on Thanksgiving,” and the “shadow watched as the girl was given soft stuffed toys” while underground she had to play with sharp toys. The Tethered in the film are a metaphor for those who are not as fortunate as others and who suffer while others get to thrive. While there are not actually evil doppelgangers living in tunnels beneath us (that we know of), there are people who suffer greatly for our privilege. At the end of the movie, everyone’s Tether surfaces and begins to join hands as a direct reference to Hands Across America, creating an apocalyptic atmosphere.
The audience learns that the trauma Addy experienced in the beginning of the film was actually her Tether switching her, and therefore Addy grew up underground and her counterpart was able to pose as her. Since Addy came from a normal life and got to experience both privilege and poverty, she was able to start the revolution for the Tethered.
The film has no satisfying conclusion, which nails in the idea that these issues are still ongoing and prevalent. The entire plot symbolizes the destruction of the class gap in the United States and uses the characters to make the audience think about who they would be without the privilege they were born into. This film allows people to see that there is great suffering that we choose to ignore through their portrayal of the Tethered and the Hands Across America background gives its audience a real-life example of that ignorance. Peele’s hope for this film is not only for people to be entertained, but to also take a look at their own life and be aware of the poverty issues that are still very prevalent.
Haley Master is a second-year English major with minors in Law, Politics, & Society and Civic & Professional Leadership. HM948534@wcupa.edu