Wait, what just happened?
In our review, we called out Us’s horror pedigree. “If Get Out was a victim of the ‘is it really horror?’ question, Jordan Peele made sure Us wouldn’t fall for the same trick. This is a horror movie through and through, full of references to everything from Friday the 13th and Night of the Living Dead to more recent fare like Black Swan.”
But for all that Jordan Peele’s latest movie straddles horror genre lines, it’s also arguably a pretty intense mystery. It’s full of puzzling questions and riddles drenched in symbolism laid out for audiences to work through. It’s definitely the sort of movie you’ll need to process a little once you’ve seen it–and we think that’s a great thing
So naturally, that means we also we left the theater with some burning questions–everything from just what the movie is really about, to who the villains actually are. We did our best to find all the answers we could–though some required a little more thinking than others.
Obviously, major Us spoilers from here on out, so please, watch yourself.
Why the rabbits?
Us is a movie full of symbolism and its cute, fluffy set dressing is no exception. The rabbits that populate the Tethered’s subterranean world have a two-fold meaning that can be tricky to pick up on. First, there’s the obvious “rabbit hole” theme, evoking a sort of sinister Alice in Wonderland. The Tethered live in a hidden world that Adelaide uncovers by literally following a white rabbit underground, just like Alice. Plus, rabbits–like other elements in the movie–symbolize duality in their signature ears.
The second is a bit more esoteric, and a lot more historical. There’s an island off the coast of Japan nicknamed “Usagi Jima” or “Rabbit Island” that is famous for being, well, overrun with rabbits. It’s all pretty cute, until you look at how and why they all got there. The island used to be a chemical weapons manufacturing plant back in World War II, which kept rabbits as test subjects for deadly toxins like mustard gas. When the Americans took the island, they thought they killed the remaining rabbits, but some survived the cull and went on to breed and overtake the island with an otherwise completely unchecked population. An experimental group, left abandoned and forgotten, growing in numbers in an isolated area is a pretty clear thematic link to the story of the Tethered.
Why the red jumpsuits?
There are a few possibilities when it comes to the Tethered and their jumpsuits–aside from just looking spooky. In the real world, we use both uniform and color to differentiate ourselves into groups both positively and negatively, from schools to prisons. The fact that the Tethered are all beholden to a specific uniform gives them a clear differentiation, and alienation, from the people on the topside.
Of course, we do know that Red picked the jumpsuits as part of her coup, so depending on your reading of just who the Tethered are supposed to symbolize, the uniform could either be a mark of pride or shame.
Why the scissors?
In a movie that’s all about duality, what better weapon than one that’s basically two identical knives bolted together?
Sometimes it really is just that easy.
What are the Tethered, really?
Red explains this pretty ambiguously during a monologue, so here’s our best theory as to just what she meant. The Tethered were an abandoned cloning project that, apparently, first figured out how to clone animals before moving on to humans. The project was successful in re-creating a human body, but it couldn’t duplicate a human “soul,” meaning the Tethered were, essentially, bound to the people they were copied from.
Of course, this is where we have to accept that Us is not only a horror thriller, it’s also a sci-fi story. The first real life clone of a mammal was Dolly the sheep back in 1996, but we know that whatever project birthed the Tethered had to have been both established and completely abandoned before 1986–meaning it probably went back as far as a conflict like Vietnam, to give us some idea of just how many generations of Tethered have been living underground, and for how long.
Interestingly, there seems to be some amount of variation between just how linked the Tethered are to their doubles. Pluto seems to copy all of Jason’s movements, even when those movements are potentially fatal to him, but other Tethered seem considerably more independent. This could be because Pluto and Jason are the youngest set of doubles in the bunch–maybe the link lessens over time. Or maybe Pluto and Jason are just special.
Did Adelaide and Red remember their childhoods?
The simple answer is yes. Adelaide’s shock and confusion at the Tethered’s arrival has nothing to do with the fact she didn’t know they were there–she remembers switching places with Red, the same way Red remembers being kidnapped. Adelaide isn’t the victim in a home invasion movie, she’s the villain of Red’s revenge story–and she knows it. That’s why we see so much of Adelaide’s mounting anxiety and willingness to kill, as well as what could be seen as remorse when she kills the Tethered children. This is a secret she’s been keeping from her family for a long, long time.
Red, similarly, knows exactly what was taken from her. That’s why she was the one to organize the Tethered in the first place.
Why can Red talk when the other Tethered can’t?
When Red and Adelaide switched places, each of them acclimated to their new environments. We know the Tethered don’t naturally speak English–Adelaide couldn’t speak when she first arrived on the surface–but communicate in a series of grunts and growls. Overtime, Red retained the English she knew but learned to speak the language of the Tethered (albeit with difficulty, since the choking during the switch apparently did permanent damage), the same way Adelaide learned English but retained some of her more feral instincts. Remember when she murders the remaining twin? Did you catch the sounds she was making? Jason sure did–and they were strange enough to scare him.
Why Hands Across America?
In the narrative itself, the Hands Across America commercial is one of the last things Red experiences in the surface world before she’s taken by Adelaide, so it makes sense that it remains something of a fixation for her.
Historically, Hands Across America was a demonstration meant to bring attention to poverty and homelessness in the country that eventually netted about $15 million dollars worth of charitable donations in 1986. It obviously didn’t end poverty or homelessness, but it certainly did make a statement–which, really, is exactly what the Tethered are trying to do. Their goal is simply to be noticed in a way that no one can ignore.
What did Red mean by “you could have taken me with you”?
There was some confusion here at GameSpot when it came to just how Red and Adelaide’s switch worked–Red tells Adelaide that she “could have taken her” when Adelaide left, which at first seems to imply that Red doesn’t remember ever living on the surface. But upon further reflection, we’ve realized that this line is actually a bit more complex than that.
Red resents Adelaide for leaving her behind with the Tethered when, in her mind, they both could have easily left the fun house together as children. There was no real reason that Adelaide and Red had to switch places, other than fear and a knee-jerk reaction. In fact, the entire conflict of the movie could have been circumvented if Adelaide and Red would have just teamed up as children, rather than fought one another–which is a major part of the message.
What is Jeremiah 11:11?
There’s a man with a sign saying “Jeremiah 11:11” on the boardwalk during Adelaide’s childhood–a motif we later see repeated a few times, eventually culminating in the drifter’s Tethered doppleganger with “11:11” carved into his forehead.
The actual Bible verse doesn’t need much explanation. It goes like this: “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.”
Basically, it’s the Biblical version of Rorschach’s “and I’ll whisper ‘no'” monologue from Watchmen, which could really double as Red’s Tethered manifesto. Symbolism!