Explain The Meaning of 'Us' the Movie: Jordan Peele's Nightmare

the meaning of Us movie
What's the meaning of the movie Us? I think Us is about looking at the problems you have hidden and how those problems reflect the issues society hides as well. But is it? 

If you walked out of the theater having seen Us, unsure quite what to make of it, we're here to help. We want to explain the Us movie and talk about how it applies to the world we see day to day. 

In this post I'm going to go over the possible meaning of Us. From the hidden meaning of Us, to the overt meanings, and everything in between. 

After a few weeks of unprecedented success at the box office it seemed like many of us (ha) were looking for the answers behind the compelling and unique movie. have scoured Google, consulted Reddit, and tried to compile all of the most compelling explanations of Us.  

There will be spoilers in this post, so if you haven't seen the movie or want to avoid them, try to stay away. If you're excited to talk about the meaning of Us the movie, then keep reading and hit the comments later with your analysis and theories.  

I want to preface this analysis with the fact that film is a subjective medium. That means your interpreted meaning might differ from mine. It probably should! Leave a comment at the end with your own interpretations!

What is the Us movie meaning? 

Let's get into some analysis, shall we? First up, I want to talk about...

The Duality of Man: a possible explanation of Us 

Early on in Us, we see a little girl lost in a funhouse. The place is supposed to be themed after some sort of Native American culture. When she enters, she finds a mirror image of herself wandering around. This scars her as a person, and when we catch up with her as an adult, we see that this trauma still shakes her to her core, though she tries to hide it. 

This duality of a person, good and evil, is thematic of everything that follows in the movie. If we all have a double of ourselves, we bury deep in the tunnels, then what makes it come out? Can we say it's gone if we bury it? 

As the saying goes, out of sight out of mind, but how do those hidden traumas and darker thoughts and feelings influence our day to day? 

If Us truly is about the duality living within mankind, then we need to look at it on two levels: the individual and the societal. 

The Individual Analysis of Us the movie

Let's take our main family in Us, the Wilsons. Each one of them has a distinctive personality and character development. When their mirror images come from the tunnels and attack the home, they are emblematic of the character's flaws. In fact, these mirror images call themselves "the tethered," and they are directly linked to our thoughts and actions. 

The father works unilaterally, buying a boat to keep up with the Joneses. His mirror image is lumbering and relentless, just like his jealousy that slips into everyday conversation.

The daughter, who likes to zone out and wants to quit track, is chased by a girl who is focused and loves to run. The son, a kid who wanders, gets himself into trouble, and has trouble using a magic trick, is confronted by a boy covered in burns who plays with fire. 

That leaves us with the mother, a woman defined by the trauma of her childhood, having to face off with the girl she left behind all those years ago — the girl who took her place in the basement. While the movie is built around the individual bad acts, we bury as a family. This switcheroo makes me think Peele is telling us that no matter how deep we hide it, these versions of ourselves will always exist. 

This individual duality is even in some of the Us movie meaning easter eggs. 

For example, in the opening, the little girl is dying to get a "Thriller" tee shirt. That 1980's version of Michael Jackson is very different than what we know today. And when the mirror images of people rise and wear that leather glove and the red Thriller jumpsuit, it feels like Peele letting us know that even the most beloved artists of all time have these horrific mirror images buried deep below. Thanks to Leaving Neverland, we know the darkness that was hiding within Michael.  And Peele even confirmed this fact

But how does this work on the macro level? 

The Us movie meaning within society

That same trauma reflected in the Wilsons is reflected in the changing beach town. It's no longer a place for carnies and poorer families; now it's a yuppie destination for the affluent and people trying to flex past their tax bracket. As the Wilsons arrive and hang with their yuppie friends, we make observations about how much the town has shaped anew. The fun house is now an innocuous and more politically correct "wizard" theme. Most of the community looks rebuilt, refreshed, and refurbished. Santa Cruz has never looked better. 

But there's still the same homeless man waving his sign. You can't pave over the people. You can't pave over the past. Because no matter how deep you bury something, it will always rise again. 

Racial symbolism in Us

Peele emphasized that Us is not about race in the way that Get Out is about race, but  the Wilsons' blackness in a genre that tends to center white as the default is a strong symbol of the changing times. New, diverse directors can help us see stories that were never able to make it to the big screen.

There's a sense that jumping class, from the dwellers under to the people above can be associated with the rise of African Americans in the United States. We clearly see the idea of the imposter syndrome, feeling like you don't belong, as associated within the twist of theis movie and the Wilson family juxtaposed against the white yuppies that surround them. 

The Big Twist in Us 

The big twist in Us happens when we realize the trauma with mirrors is happening all over America. The tunnels under every part of society are erupting and spewing out the worst of us.  

This interpretation of the movie Us places a burden on society to change. 

So what is Peele saying about society with the Us?

I think it's pretty easy to look at the gentrification of Santa Cruz, the political correctness washing of the carnival, and the irony of "Fuck the Police" blasting in a white person's house while they're being attacked and to understand Peele is addressing contemporary race relations in the United States. It's about how we, as a country, try just to rename, reclaim, and wash out the stains of the past, as if that will just make everything better. 

The movie opens on Hands Across America, a statement of unity that was supposed to be the "we are all one, racism is over" moment of the '80s. But in 2019, we know that's not the case. Just like in Get Out, the Obama presidency line stings so much, because people thought when he took office, they could declare the end of racism, but while watching Us, and seeing the themes, we know that's empirically false. 

As the tethered join hands at the end of the movie, it reads as if it's an acknowledgment that this dirty and racist past exists all over our country. We can paint the houses, pretend to be politically correct, and even make friends with a wide array of people. But the past won't go away. 

So what are we supposed to do about it? 

How should we confront what the explanation of Us the movie says about...us? 

It's my reading that Peele's overall message is that we shouldn't try to bury and sanitize these images. We should be openly talking about them. From the misconceptions and horrible things, we have on the individual level to the big scars on society like slavery in America, economic inequality, and the steamrolling of cultural centers to make places more palatable for rich people. 

How can I deal with this Us interpretation? 

If we acknowledge what we put in the tunnels, we could foster change and understanding within our duality. 

If we continue to bury these thoughts and feelings, they'll continue to try to kill us. If we talk about the good and bad tethered, confront it on an individual and societal level, then maybe the world we all pretend to have, the euphoric and propagandist utopias built over the landscapes of yesteryear may actually be a possibility. 

The awesome people at Wisecrack put this video together summing up some theories and analysis - I think it's the best one on the internet. So check it out. 

What does Us mean if you're not an American?

I wanted to post a photo of the best comment on this article so far. It's from filmmaker Vincent Galiano

Us interpretation
This Us interpretation is great!

I LOVE this analysis. It really digs into an outside critique and gives a perspective that no American citizen could see without coming at the story from 10,000 feet. 

It's so hard for me to step back from my own personal ideas and process to analyze this movie. Lucky for me, Jordan Peele has spoken a lot about the meaning of Us

What is the Jordan Peele analysis of Us

The Jordan Peele analysis of his own movie is pretty great. I'm sure he's ecstatic we're all talking about the film and debating its dimensions. One of the biggest questions I had was the use of rabbits in the movie. They appeared to be part of a motif, like the bird in Hitchcock's The Birds

But Peele has never really addressed the rabbits head on, “They’re an animal of duality. They’re adorable, but they terrify me at the same time," he told The Guardian. "And they got those scissor-like ears that creep me out.”

Still, in an interview with Empire, Peele gave us this explanation for Us:

"This movie’s about maybe the monster is you. It’s about us, looking at ourselves as individuals and as a group. The protagonist in the movie is the surrogate for the audience, so it felt like at the end of the day, I wasn’t doing my core theme any justice if I wasn’t revealing that we have been the bad guy in this movie. We’ve been following the villain. I say 'villain' lightly because I think there are many experiences of the film, and I think a lot of people go through a question of what is good and evil? Does that even exist? Both characters are lovable and terrifying, based on the lives they’ve led they’ve just sort of inverted the paths."

When asked about the ending of Us, Peele addresses the wink and nod in that same podcast interview: 

"Adelaide and Jason sharing that moment at the end, I’m purposefully leaving it a bit vague as to what exactly he knows or how far he’s come in figuring out what, if anything, he’s figured out. I think the little smile she gives him is a lot of things. I think it’s a connection to the evil smile she once had as a little girl, but also a sort of understanding that her family unit was stronger from this experience.

Perhaps the way to read this is that the family unit can only be strong if it addresses the monsters within it. When we admit our own faults, we can grow as people. We can grow past our nature and learn to nurture the people who make up our unit. 

There are lots of theories out there, so keep reading and keep commenting. I'm excited to see what you come up with as we go. 

I want to her your Us interpretations! 

What's next? Dig into Film Theory

Now that we've dissected Us, let's jump into some other analyses of film and television. It’s important to have a baseline of Film Theory so you can properly analyze what’s in front of you. To dissect a film and understand the context can take years of training. But you've been training without knowing it. Every time you watch a new show or movie, you're building an internal database. You have something to base your reactions on and, over time, your tastes grow.

If you want to work in Hollywood as a creative or even critique film and television for a living, Film Theory is extremely important. In this post, we're going to learn how to put that training of consuming media into action by learning about Film Theory.

Click the link to find out more!      

Your Comment

5 Comments

Th movie is a metaphor about the Trump cult.

April 3, 2019 at 10:05PM

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Interesting how, as a non-american, I see the film differently. For me, it's 100% a critic of how most poor people leaving in the poorest states were left out of the so-called american dream and then turned against the rich by voting for Trump (who is very rich, poor conservative people are also a little bit dumb). The tunnels are not a metaphor for deep feelings or whatever they are a metaphor of american politics that have, especially since Regan and the 80's, tried to hide and compress the poorest and most isolated people. Nothing in the film suggests something about racism or slavery (things happen to both white and black people).

April 5, 2019 at 9:13AM

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Vincent Galiano
Filmmaker / Screenwriter / Photographer
584

I like this reading too - lots to dissect within the movie.

April 6, 2019 at 9:59PM

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Jason Hellerman
Copywriter
Writer

Wow, did not think in this way.

July 23, 2019 at 1:47AM

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Chris
Photographer
145

In this post I'm going to go over the possible meaning of Us. From the hidden meaning of Us, to the overt meanings, and everything in between.

April 19, 2020 at 3:55AM

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