During the “Into the Lungs of Hell” section in Big Machine, protagonist Ricky Rice is assigned by the Dean of Washburn Library to complete a mission in Garland, California. With the Gray Lady as his accomplice, Ricky was the chosen Unlikely Scholar to kill Solomon Clay, a former Scholar gone rogue. The Gray Lady informed Ricky that Solomon’s plan included assembling the homeless population to commit mayhem in society. I found it interesting that a Scholar picked a social class that is often disregarded in society to be his vengeful army to wreak havoc onto others. After reading this section, a light bulb went off for me, and that is how my theory of Jordan Peele’s Us relating to Big Machine came to be.
***Spoiler Alert: I will try my best not to spoil the movie for those of you who haven’t had the chance to see this movie yet. I will merely provide information from the film that relates to the book as an attempt to prevent revealing the ending.
In Jordan Peele’s horror film, a family of four revisit the mother’s, Adelaide, summer house. Adelaide has never informed her family of an incident that occurred to her in her youth, but as the movie goes on and the family encounters their evil twins, she has no other choice but to admit the truth. Adelaide’s twin, Red, has waited her whole life not only to seek revenge on Adelaide for living a happy life, but also to make a statement for the rest of the world to see. It is important to note that Red has been plotting her plan in a sewer system in California where the homeless and mentally ill (who are referred to as the Tethered) population resides. Years living in these inhumane conditions has incited Red to plot an uprising of the forgotten Tethered community against their well-off clones above ground.
The light bulb moment I theorized from both of these stories is the idea of society failing to acknowledge the dissonance and lack of equal opportunities between different groups. More specifically, those of a lower social class tend to be ignored and cast away, unless something significant happens that can draw the rest of society’s attention. In Big Machine, Ricky and the Gray Lady explore the sewer system in hopes of finding Solomon and clues that lead to his army of homeless people. Especially since Solomon is suspected of conducting bombings against those who may be oblivious to their privilege. In Us, Adelaide discovers that Red and the Tethered have been trapped underground and forced to adapt to the conditions of her environment due to no one willing to lend a helping hand. What bridged these two fictional moments together for me is the realistic concept of institutions failing to provide necessary aid to those who need it most. Sad that it has to be this way, but in these instances, it is up to the target population in question to make a statement and let the rest of society know that they matter, even if it means causing a fatal scene. “The success of any society must be judged by the life of its worst off” (LaValle, 169).
Peele’s films tend to address current social issues that are subtly underlying in the plots. In Us, he focuses on America (hence Us = U.S.) and how our government seems to let more people become financially unstable instead of providing easier and more accessible economic assistance. We as a society may say that we’re generally good citizens by participating in politics or lending a helping hand, but when it comes to community services that work, we fall back on the capitalist ‘every person for themselves’ narrative. I have no idea where Big Machine‘s storyline will end up, but I have a good feeling that it’ll resonate with an issue that is prevalent not only in these fictional worlds, but in the U.S. as well.