Be warned: this piece contains spoilers for Us.
Us is the film everyone is talking about right now, not just because of its impressive cast and unsettling premise, but also because of the countless recurring symbols and easter eggs that are scattered throughout.
This was already the case with Jordan Peele’s directorial debut, Get Out, but with his sophomore effort he’s upped the ante and filled practically every scene with tiny details and subliminal themes to be picked apart.
Here are some of the images and themes that crop up throughout the film, and a bit about why they ended up there...
After the attention-grabbing Get Out, we’ll admit that we were a little underwhelmed when we found out that Jordan Peele was calling his second big screen effort simply Us, but after watching it, it does make sense.
One of the key themes of the film is the idea of “other”-ism, and the way that we can distance ourselves from certain societal injustices by suggesting that there are two groups, an “us” and a “them”.
What the Wilson family discover, though, is that this isn’t the case, and when the Tethered come to greet them, Jason sums it up best, uttering: “It’s us.”
Us is also an allegory for American culture and the American dream, so the name Us (or U.S.) has a double-meaning.
So first of all, let’s have the quote from the King James Bible, the citation for which crops up repeatedly throughout Us:
“Therefore thus saith the Lord, Behold, I will bring evil upon them, which they shall not be able to escape; and though they shall cry unto me, I will not hearken unto them.”
While obviously these themes of unleashing evil and not listening to cries for help are pretty pertinent within the story of Us, it was also fortuitous for Jordan Peele that this particular passage had a pleasingly symmetrical verse number.
The number 11 also crops up throughout the film, most notably when Jason points out that it’s 11:11pm, right before the Tethered first arrive at the family’s holiday home. And even the underground “Tethered” version of the man carrying the “Jeremiah 11:11” is seen with four 1s written on his face when he appears towards the end of the film.
Hands Across America
For those who weren’t familiar with the Hands Across America stunt, it took place in 1986, and was supposed to be a demonstration intended to show solidarity across the US, while also raising money to fight poverty and help end homelessness.
Things didn’t quite play out that way, though, and of the $34 million that was raised, only $15 million actually ended up going to charity, a fraction of the hefty target that Hands Across America set.
It’s not hard to imagine that this well-intentioned but ultimately mark-missing protest – endorsed by several celebrities at that time – might have been in Jordan Peele’s mind when putting together the story of Us, it’s also fitting for the time period when young Adelaide and Red first came face to face with one another.
The constant presence of rabbits is one of the most striking and surprisingly eerie things about Us, and their significance seems to stem from the fact that Jordan Peele is quite simply unnerved by them.
“I’m not afraid of them but I do find them scary,” he told the BBC. “They’re very cuddly but they also have a sociopathic expression, and they kind of look past you in a creepy kind of way.”
Of course, the director has said that nothing in Us is there by accident, and there’s certainly a lot you can read into the rabbits being there. For one thing, when the Us poster was first unveiled last year, many couldn’t agree whether the optical illusion present was supposed to be a pair of scissors or a rabbit’s ears (two images that both get prominent place in Us, and which both play into the theme of duality).
Winston Duke told HuffPost UK around Us’ release that “the bunnies” were the aspect of the film he was most shocked by, admitting: “ I did not know how impactful the imagery of them would be until I watched the film, and then I was like ‘oh, wow, woah. Oooh’.”
Strangely enough, rabbits seem to be cropping up everywhere in Jordan Peele’s work. He’s set to voice a bunny in the new Toy Story film, while Get Out famously opens with the sound of… Run Rabbit Run.
As we just mentioned, the fact that scissors are the “Tethered” characters’ weapon of choice is certainly no accident, with Jordan Peele telling Entertainment Weekly: “There’s a duality to scissors — a whole made up of two parts but also they lie in this territory between the mundane and the absolutely terrifying.”
Interestingly, Winston Duke also explained to us that the fact the scissors are made of brass is significant too, with the metal symbolising ignorance and indifference. So when the “Tethered” come up and begin using their scissors to kill, they’re quite literally killing people with their own ignorance, which is a very nice detail.
We must admit, when we saw the image of young Adelaide sporting a Thriller t-shirt just days after we watched Leaving Neverland, our first thought was that it was poor timing.
However, it’s actually a pretty smart inclusion.
“Michael Jackson is probably the patron saint of duality,” Jordan Peele told Mashable, on the decision to evoke Michael Jackson so early in the film. “The movie starts in the ’80s — the duality with which I experienced [Michael Jackson] in that time was both as the guy that presented this outward positivity, but also the Thriller video which scared me to death.”
Referring to Leaving Neverland, he added: “The irony and relevance is not lost on me now that the discussion has evolved to one of true horror.”
Jordan has since revealed that Michael Jackson was also on his mind when he came up with the idea for the costumes worn by the “Tethered”, with their red robes and one glove deliberately intended to mirror some of his most famous costumes.
He also told Uproxxx that there are three very deliberate callbacks to Corey Feldman in the film, a former friend of Michael Jackson’s, who the director described as “a very important figure for [the 1980s]” and another “story of great duality”.
You know the old adage “out of sight, out of mind”? Well, the “Tethered” have spent their entire existences totally out of sight, suffering in silence.
“This movie doesn’t let anyone off the hook… it begs you to wonder who you render invisible,” Winston Duke told us. “And who you render speechless, and who bears the weight of your actions.”
Throughout Us, there are small details referencing this idea of being, from the prominence of rabbits, who burrow underground, and Adelaide’s father playing Whack-A-Mole, a game literally devoted to knocking a small rodent back in its underground hole in order to win.
The song choices in Us are one of the film’s cleverest aspects, and might represent more than you think.
Obviously I Got 5 On It is the stand-out offering from the Us soundtrack, and while it might seem like it was simply included as a 90s throwback, TheWrap has noted that the song’s back story, involving various people claiming they didn’t get the credit they deserve for its success, mirrors some of the film’s key themes.
Over the closing credits is Minnie Riperton’s Les Fleurs, which Universal’s president of film music Mike Knobloch said was intended as a “palate cleanser”.
He told Variety: “[None of the other potential songs] that we talked about or tried did not hold a candle to how well Minnie Riperton worked, in putting a really pretty song against a not-totally-neat-and-tidy ending.”
The hilarious inclusion of Fuck Tha Police obviously serves as a slap in the face to Elisabeth Moss’ character, and a reminder that law enforcement can’t save her from her horrific fate, while the preceding tune, Good Vibrations, was something Jordan Peele set his mind on early on.
Mike explained: “Between the attitude of the song playing against type for the visual, there were clearly very deliberate intentions from Jordan’s perspective about why that was a great creative choice for that sequence.”
Nods to other horror films
Jordan Peele is a self-professed horror obsessor, so it’s no surprise Us is positively littered with references to other films from the genre.
Among them are the A Nightmare On Elm Street VHS tape at the beginning of the film, parallels with A Clockwork Orange and The Shining, and Jason’s Jaws t-shirt – not to mention his name and penchant for wearing a mask putting us in mind of the Halloween series.
The early line about “movie being shot by the carousel” in the 80s flashback has been widely interpreted as a reference to The Lost Boys, which starred Corey Feldman, while many picked up on the fact that to promote the film, Jordan Peele gave interviews wearing an outfit almost identical to Jack Nicholson in The Shining.
We’re also big fans of this Babadook t-shirt he wore on set.
Us is in UK cinemas now.