What does Us mean to Jordan Peele?
Us is Jordan Peele’s follow up to Get Out, and in a similar fashion it plays with genre, pushes boundaries, and takes chances with metaphor and meaning that few mainstream movies would even dare consider.
We got to hear Peele speak about the film both before and after the world premiere, his insights were funny, and enlightening both to his process and to the meaning behind the movie itself.
Peele’s roots are in comedy, and comedy is present in Us, perhaps to a lesser extent than it was in Get Out, but present none-the-less. It lends a humanizing grounded quality to the darkly violent proceedings.
Us stars Lupita Nyong’o and Winston Duke but perhaps most incredible of all elements in the film is that fact that everyone plays multiple roles. The terrorized family and the terrors chasing them.
It’s so well done that it’s easy to forget that every actor had to play scenes against themselves. The monster version of the family seems so distinct, each with their own characterization, that you never doubt for a moment that they are all in the same space together.
It’s also interesting and valuable to note that Us stars a woman of color in the leading role, and yet her ethnicity and gender have nothing to do with the plot or the themes within the story.
When was the last time that happened?
Us is about a family vacation gone terribly wrong when evil doppelgangers arrive and being to torment our main characters. There are twists and turns abound (no spoilers).
Standing before the audience just after the world premiere, Peele said his stories are “a conversation between my brain and my gut…” He starts with a spark of inspiration, sometimes a dream, and digs from there.
Us is, in a word, complicated. When Peele took the stage after the premiere he commented on all the faces looking back at him as if to say “what the fuck…?”
When asked about the theme, or themes, he said “My favorite thing is the idea that people will leave ready to have a conversation. This is a film I designed to both have a clear meaning as well as a commentary… but I wanted a film [that was] personal for every individual”
"My favorite thing is the idea that people will leave ready to have a conversation. This is a film I designed to both have a clear meaning as well as a commentary"
Peele would eventually illuminate the inner meaning of Us in his mind, “this movie is about this country.”
While much of Us seems open to interpretation, there is no mistaking that fact. In one chilling moment the main characters ask their doppelgangers who they are and they answer, “We are Americans."
Peele continued, “...we are in a time now where we fear the other. The mysterious invader to take our jobs. Or the faction that we don’t live near that voted differently. We are all about pointing the finger. Maybe the monster we need to look at has our face. Maybe the evil is us.”
Despite prior successes, Get Out elevated Jordan Peele to Oscar winner, and boundary-pushing auteur. His next work would be highly anticipated, his ability to mix entertainment with savvy cultural commentary would be an expectation, no longer a welcome surprise.
"We are all about pointing the finger. Maybe the monster we need to look at has our face. Maybe the evil is us."
There will be hot takes, reactions, anger, and praise abound. In some ways, it’s all by design. Jordan Peele wants to make movies that start conversations and inspire some amount of introspection.
With Us, he does that by holding up a mirror.
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No Film School's podcast and editorial coverage of the 2019 SXSW Film Festival is sponsored by Blackmagic Design.