REVIEW: Us [2019]

Score: 8/10 | ★ ★ ★


Rating: R | Runtime: 116 minutes | Release Date: March 22nd, 2019 (USA)
Studio: Universal Pictures
Director(s): Jordan Peele
Writer(s): Jordan Peele

“We’re Americans”

If you’ve never questioned whether you’re a good person, chances are you’re not. That second-guessing of our actions and motivations is what makes us human—fallible creatures striving to be better and do right. Nobody wants to believe he/she is the villain in another’s story, so we generally find a way to learn and change upon discovering when we are. Some, however, don’t. Some discover the spoils of greed, lust, vanity, and the other seven deadly sins as too great to abandon. They spin a new yarn of self-sufficiency to insulate them from the truth of the collateral damage wrought on the back of their success. They become charitable to augment their lifestyle and assuage guilt rather than save the less fortunate. And they smile in the process.

This was true of slave owners treating human beings as property. It’s true of big business greasing palms to help their bottom-line while citizens die from the result of their shortcuts and the climate changes to cause the clock for life on Earth to quicken towards oblivion. They smile in the face of others’ pain, only stopping when the law dictates they must. Then they work to uncover loopholes, incite the public, and ultimately end up picking right back up where they stopped in a fashion that somehow glorifies them for doing the same thing they were vilified for mere days prior. And we watch it happen in silence. Some of us even jump aboard their bandwagon despite being the very ones they’re stepping on.

So we pray—the poor for change and the rich for more. What nobody has yet realized, however, is that God no longer hears us. His experiment has failed. We have failed to live up to our potential as wars continue to wage and despots continue to rule. The disaster our collective Gods have thus thrust upon us is exactly that: us. By walking away, He knows we’ll simply destroy ourselves. We will play God, weaponize our advancements, and walk with eyes open straight towards extinction and we’ll have no one to blame but ourselves. So don’t bother crying for forgiveness or repenting at the eleventh hour because He will not be listening. This is our cleansing. We’re the exterminators of our future and there’s no turning back.

This notion is at the center of Jordan Peele‘s resonant horror Us. By pitting doppelgängers against each other, he depicts our collective internal struggle. And by tethering them together he forces them to witness the ramifications of their decisions. When one moves, so too does the other. When one finds love, the other must connect with that love’s double. They become shadows—one forever in control as the other is silently tortured by being trapped in the first’s life without escape. Who chooses which is which? The powerful, of course. It’s the white Europeans putting Black Africans in chains. It’s the patriarchy dictating what a woman can or can’t do with her body. And it’s the rich stealing from the poor and calling them ungrateful for the opportunity.

Who should we champion: the Wilson family (Lupita Nyong’o‘s Adelaide, Winston Duke‘s Gabe, Shahadi Wright Joseph‘s Zora, and Evan Alex‘s Jason) or their inexplicable copies (Red, Abraham, Umbrae, and Pluto played by the same actors in tunics of blood)? The easy answer is the former because they’re “human.” They’re the fun-loving group on vacation with histories, memories, and desires that laugh, cry, and protect one another from harm. But their ability to do and be those things comes at the price of their mirrors. They’re the unwitting oppressors of an unknown copy seemingly as real as them. The difference is choice. Because Red and Abraham didn’t have a voice in Adelaide and Gabe’s decisions, shouldn’t they earn our sympathy? Don’t they deserve the chance to break their chains?

Think about that disparity. Think about the invisible cost of our actions that we so easily turn a blind eye towards. That’s not to say Adelaide and Gabe should sacrifice themselves to let Red and Abraham take their place, just that you should consider the nuance of every battle you confront instead of simply declaring yourself the default hero via ignorance. Because beyond whether or not you survive also exists the uncertainty of what awaits you afterwards. Peele opens his film with a commercial advertising the Hands Across America campaign wherein six and a half million Americans held each other’s hands for fifteen minutes to stand as one. It raised thirty-four million dollars (an estimated fifteen actually went to charities) and participants simply went back to their lives. Nothing changed.

Why? Because gestures are merely that: gestures. They make us feel better about us and the harm we’re doing, but rarely if ever stop us from actually doing that harm. Racism still exists. Poverty still exists. Bigotry in the very name of the Gods we pray to for salvation still exists. So you know what? Maybe Red and Abraham do deserve their shot. An uprising of the marginalized could be the only thing left at their disposal to be heard and be seen because this is a fight for existence. While Adelaide and Gabe squander their gifts of autonomy to compete with friends Kitty (Elisabeth Moss) and Josh (Tim Heidecker) for materialistic gain, Red and Abraham are made to watch. They don’t want cars. They want the sun.

There’s a lot more going on in Us that would be considered spoilers, but it all orbits this central tenet of America’s unfailing ability to take its bountiful advantages for granted. This fight between two Lupita Nyong’os is such a small piece of the whole and yet it exemplifies it with an impressive level of conciseness. One has love, a summer home, vapid friends, and nary a care in the world while the other is forced to live with people it didn’t choose upon a dark stage while someone else pulls the strings. How Peele portrays their separation and collision is a large part of what should be discovered on your own. Just know it’s meant to go deep within your soul so you can acknowledge your truth.

The result is creepy with Nyong’o likely entering your nightmares as a hoarse-voiced monster with nothing to lose and every right to riot. It’s also surprisingly quite funny too. This comedy is precisely manufactured, however, to help alleviate anxiety and reinforce how entitled we are to live our lives no matter the consequences befalling others. Some of it is in the fact that these doppelgängers only know motion. They’re shadows and thus possess a janky physical cadence complete with vaudevillian effect. The rest, though, comes from the Wilson family and its entrenched sarcasm, optimism, and opportunism. Bodies fall and yet morale never wavers. But rather than appreciate their strength, they’ve been colored in the light of privilege this scenario dismantles. Either the old ways die or you do.


photography:
[1] Lupita Nyong’o as Adelaide Wilson in “Us,” written, produced and directed by Jordan Peele. Photo Credit: Claudette Barius/Universal Pictures © 2019 Universal Studios. All Rights Reserved.
[2] Madison Curry as young Adelaide in “Us,” written, produced and directed by Jordan Peele. Photo Credit: Universal Pictures © 2019 Universal Studios. All Rights Reserved.
[3] Gabe Wilson (Winston Duke) and Adelaide Wilson (Lupita Nyong’o) in “Us,” written, produced and directed by Jordan Peele. Photo Credit: Claudette Barius/Universal Pictures © 2019 Universal Studios. All Rights Reserved.

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