Jordan Peele’s Us is full of twists and shocking reveals, which can be a bit confusing and hard to follow. Here’s what happens and what it means.
- “Us” is a psychological horror film that explores the rot in modern American society through a family’s encounter with their warped doppelgängers called the Tethered.
- The Tethered are perfect copies of people created by the government to control the population, but due to a fault in their development, they became puppets living in the underground tunnels.
- The Tethered’s ultimate goal is to hold hands and form a line across the country, evoking the charity initiative Hands Across America, symbolizing their arrival and desire for a place among those living above ground.
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Jordan Peele’s Us has some shocking reveals and twists in its third act, and here’s what happens and what the movie really means. Two years after his directorial debut, Get Out, Jordan Peele returned to the horror genre with Us, a psychological horror film with a more ambitious exploration of the rot in modern American society. Us introduces viewers to the Wilson family – Adelaide (Lupita Nyong’o), Gabe (Winston Duke), Zora (Shahadi Wright Joseph) and Jason (Evan Alex) – who go on vacation to Santa Cruz.
On their first night, the Wilsons are invaded by a family of warped doppelgängers who attempt to kill them at their own house. Known as the Tethered, Adelaide had a run-in with these shadows as a child in 1986, which left her traumatized but also gave her the strength to lead her family through the horror. Us ends with a shocking twist and big reveals about the Tethered and their place in society, giving the movie a much deeper meaning.
Us’ Tethered Origin & Plans Explained
The Tethered are perfect copies (or shadows) created by the U.S. government as a means of controlling the population, and are stored in the labyrinth of deserted tunnels underneath the country (a reference to the Mole People urban myth). Each Tethered is connected to their above-ground counterpart through a psychic connection, with all aspects of their life recreated meticulously.
The initial purpose of the Tethered in Us was to literally turn the population into puppets: from underground, the Tethered would dictate everybody’s life, removing free will and leaving leaders in complete control. This sort of government-sanctioned control is a popular conspiracy theory, one teased earlier in Us when Zora suggests fluoride is added to the water to make people more docile.
However, due to some fault in the development of the Tethered, the connection didn’t imbue control, and so the government left their science experiment to its own devices. Either as part of the fault or a result of their discarding, the Tethered became the puppets and were forced to live out a shadow existence, mimicking their original constantly in the drab tunnels. Starved of sunlight and living off rabbits, they become warped, mute versions of their original.
A lot of the Tethered’s origins are left unexplored in Us, instead focusing more on their bigger plan. When the Tethered emerge from their underground prison, they first go after their doubles to kill them, along with anyone who stands in their way. Although their ways are violent, the Tethered’s ultimate goal is less aggressive: hold hands, forming a long, uninterrupted line from coast to coast. The Tethered’s aim isn’t to overthrow those living above but to find a place among them, with the line a striking announcement of their arrival.
The protest explicitly evokes Hands Across America, an audacious and successful charity initiative in 1986 where, across the continental United States, people held hands for homelessness charities (there was a $10 donation per place in line). Organized by music manager Ken Kragen and featuring celebrities Michael Jackson, Michael J. Fox, Kathleen Turner, and even President Reagan, it was a striking fundraiser. Of course, the chain didn’t exist uninterrupted due to the landscape of America, but did include enough people for it to occur in theory.
In Us, the Tethered’s line appears to genuinely stretch across the country regardless of what mountains stand in their way. This was all kickstarted when Red, Adelaide’s double, broke free from her connection and rallied the Tethered after a dance recital. Regarded as something of a messiah figure, she rallied all of the Tethered and began preparing them for war – but there was something darker going on in Red and Adelaide’s connection.
Us’ Adelaide/Red Twist Ending Explained
In 1986, Adelaide went to Santa Cruz Pier with her parents. Adelaide walked off and found herself in a hall of mirrors attraction, but as she tried to find her way out, she was first creeped out by an extra person whistling, then came across her Tether. For much of the movie, Us makes the audience believe that this experience irreversibly scarred Adelaide and this connection is how the Tether broke free, and the trauma is why she’s so driven to fight back.
However, the final moments of Us reveal something much darker: the Tether attacked Adelaide, chained her up in the tunnels, took her clothes, and returned to her parents, taking on a life above land. Adelaide, then, was her own Tether all along, and the real Adelaide was Red, which is why she was the only Tether who could talk.
After the switch, which is when the Tether between the two broke, Red assumed Adelaide’s life, learning to live above ground in a mostly normal manner, although still haunted by her early years. She originally dealt with ill-diagnosed PTSD, and upon returning to Santa Cruz, Adelaide showed an aversion to going near the beach, which was actually a fear of returning to her origin.
Red, on the other hand, suffered considerably more after being trapped underground. While at first Red is presented as having broken free during a dance recital, the twist suggests that the girl actually used this as a way to rally the Tethered, showing her uniqueness. From there, her ability to speak allowed her to organize the uprising, an event rooted in her last memories of above: she saw Hands Across America on TV hours before the switch.
At the end of Us, Adelaide killed Red following a tense mirrored showdown (where she choked her just as she did in the hall of mirrors all those years ago) and escaped with her family. Jason suspected the truth, with Adelaide simply turning to him and smiling.
What Jeremiah 11:11 Means In Us
One recurring aspect of Us that is left unexplained is the repeated reference to the Bible passage Jeremiah 11:11. It’s seen multiple times on a cardboard sign held by a drifter in Santa Cruz and one of the first to be killed by his Tethered. The movie doesn’t provide the quote, but it reads as follows:
“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.”
Obliquely, it represents the brutality of the Tethered in their uprising and how unrelenting they are, with the command of the Lord being that of Adelaide, the only one who can speak. However, coming from a surface human and one murder early on, this represents the misguided view of what the Tethered are trying to achieve, a skewed propaganda take on what is meant to be a leveling of the playing field. Considering that religious rhetoric is synonymous with the far-right media, there’s a further crass statement to be made.
Us’ Real Meaning Explained
While Us isn’t as directly targeted as Get Out, there’s no avoiding what its core discussion is: Us is about fear of “the other” when “the other” is literally just us. The Tethered are the embodiment of outsiders that society was told to resent by the people who created them. Immediately, that’s the homeless and underprivileged that Hands Across America was built to help while involving a President who made steps to worsen the social gap in a decade of opulence. However, the Tethered can represent more, such as Black slaves brought to America against their will and resented post-abolition, and even Native Americans whose land was taken and the people discarded.
Us shows how these injustices remain to this day, regardless of when they were created. The Tethered were a product of a time before Adelaide’s parents but, as easy as it is to bury, modern America must address it. The film is a plea for humanity, as though the Tethered may act differently, they are intrinsically the same as those above ground, making Us a movie about basic human rights.
What Jordan Peele Has Said About Us’ Ending
In one of Us’ digital release special features, Jordan Peele explained (via AV Club) that Us is about American privilege, and how society can “do a good job of ignoring the ramifications of privilege”. Peele explained it’s the idea that what one thinks they deserve comes at the expense of someone else’s freedom or joy, so for one to have their privilege, another one has to suffer. This is exemplified through the Tethered, as they are the ones who suffer while their doubles above ground thrive.
In an interview with The Empire Film Podcast, Peele explained that Us is about the monster being you, and that the real bad guys had been the audience through Adelaide. However, Us also raises questions of who is the villain and who is the good one, as both sides – the Tethered and the Untethered – have been on the side of good and evil at different points.
Sources: AV Club, The Empire Film Podcast.
Key Release Dates
- Us Release Date: 2019-03-22