Jordan Peele’s Us Shocks and Reads its Viewers (for filth)

Over spring break I had the privilege of seeing the latest production of Jordan Peele, Us. After Get Out I was expecting to be impressed.  Us generated $70 million in sales during its opening weekend.  I think a lot of people were expecting similar themes compared to Get Out, myself included and after Get Out’s success, it only makes sense that people showed up in troves to support Peele’s second film.  If you haven’t yet seen Get Out, and obviously if you haven’t seen Us, this blog post isn’t for you as it will contain spoilers from here on out.

Something I realised after having seen Us, and subsequently scouring the internet for information explaining the shocker twist ending, was that people on twitter and in professional articles, were grasping at straws attempting to make it about race.  Clearly Get Out was about race and the legacy of the “sunken place” has breached the american lexicon and entered everyday speech as a means of describing both “brain washing” and marginalization.   The public’s desperate theorizing about race made me think of one of our class epigraphs: “Black literature is taught as sociology, as tolerance, not as a serious, rigorous art form.”–Toni Morrison, from a 1989 interview with Bonnie Angelo.  It seems as though black art is almost always interrogated in terms of race and blackness.  Jordan Peele makes race important in his films as he’s recently said he will never cast a white man or woman as a lead because he’s “seen that movie.”  This conversation is reminiscent of an older interview done with Toni Morrison where she is critiqued for writing stories only about black people, she counters with the claim that that critique is “powerfully racist.”

Peele attempts to dispel the rumours about the films major twist ending: “This movie’s about maybe the monster is you.  It’s about us, looking at ourselves as individuals and as a group.” This is obviously in reference to the point in the end of the film where the viewer learns that the shadow Adelaide took the real Adelaide during their run-in in the Fun House.  Throughout the film the viewer roots for Adelaide, the shadow Adelaide, and her family as we don’t yet know that she’s the actual bad guy. The moral implications of the film are handled with expertise.  

After viewing the film, of course I had to do some theorizing of my own.  I was struggling to figure the significance and patterns of certain features of the film.  I came to conclude that the film was about homelessness and class in a certain way. I pointed to the significance of the Human Chain which was a literal representation of the Hands Across America campaign of the 80s, which set it’s goal at $50-100 “million dollars for hungry and homeless americans.”  This coupled with the eerie first victim of the mass murder of regular americans by shadow americans, a homeless man, made it clear to me that one of the “morals” had to concern America’s homeless population.  I’d like to apply this analysis of Us to a scene within Big Machine by Victor LaValle.  I wasn’t expecting any overlap between these two texts, and I had already planned on writing a post about Us before reading this particular section.  This coincidence is especially eerie given the nature of both texts.

In chapter 43 of Big Machine, Ricky stumbles upon a sermon of sorts, in which the makeshift preacher is discussing homelessness and the treatment of the homeless by local Garland government.  The preacher stresses the ways in which the homeless population of Garland has neglected to be counted by Garland public officials in the census. While this doesn’t match up perfectly to the shadow people of Us, the parallel is interpretable.  The shadow people in Us were created by the government to keep society under control and when this pursuit failed they were forgotten and left uncounted.

Another important thing to reference is the course epigraph: “My job is to notice…and to notice that you can notice,” by Dionne Brand.  This epigraph applies because of the way in which Red, or the real Adelaide who was switched without her consent, relays the everyday actions and lives of the shadow people.  The shadow people for years were mirroring the actions of their doubles on the earth above them, in a sense noticing their actions and mirroring them in a twisted fashion. Red was superior to the other shadow people because she was once a regular person, she had abilities that the others did not.  She noticed the ways that the other shadow people acted and figured that they noticed her too, that is they noticed her abilities, to speak and to dance. The shadow people chose her to lead the revolution.

Us was an incredible film that explored many ills within society as a whole, and within individuals as well.  As Peele succinctly put it, sometimes “the monster is you.”

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