Us ★★★½

Those savages of whom it is recounted that they have no other longing than to die, or rather, they no longer have even that longing, but death has a longing for them, and they abandon themselves to it, or rather, they do not even abandon themselves, but fall into the sand on the shore and never get up again--those savages I much resemble, and indeed I have fellow clansmen round about, but the confusion in these territories is so great, the tumult is like waves rising and falling by day and by night, and the brothers let themselves be borne upon it. That is what, in this country, is called "giving someone a leg up"; everyone here is always ready with such help. Anyone who might collapse without cause and remain lying on the ground is dreaded as though he were the Devil, it is because of the example, it is because of the stench of truth that would emanate from him. Granted, nothing would happen; one, ten, a whole nation might very well remain lying on the ground and nothing would happen; life in all its might would go on just the same; the attics are still chockablock with flags that were never unfurled; this barrel organ can play only one tune, but it is eternity in person that turns the handle. And yet the fear! How people do always carry their own enemy, however powerless he is, within themselves.
-- Franz Kafka

I'm reminded of Kafka when thinking about Jordan Peele's latest entry because it stretches its metaphor to the point of abstraction the way so many of Kafka's stories do. They are not so much a one to one comparison, but they convey the feeling the author wishes to invoke. Where Get Out had a very clear and barely abstracted metaphor at its core, Us has no easy arithmetic in its real world analogs. There are obvious nods to the idea of human duality, but rather than examining inner conflict the way something like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde might, Us externalizes the conflict. The mirror images of all the dark impulses of the characters become a kind of underclass finally breaking free to wreak havoc upon the earth.

What is most striking about the film is that it finds a way to make the large "Hands Across America" campaign, something ostensibly altruistic, but with very little in the way of tangible meaning or message, seem very sinister. Where is all the money for this event really going? Do the good vibes actually help anyone? Is it all just a kind of mass hypnosis? That dark, intangible uncertainty of the event mirrors the massive empty tunnel network beneath the US. They have no real tangible purpose or aim. We are never let in on that information. The characters certainly never know how or why they have murderous doppelgangers suddenly rising to the surface to "untether" themselves.

In the end, how can the characters even know themselves? Who is the actual doppelganger and who is the original? Which version wins in the end? Which is really evil in the first place? I don't feel like I'm finished thinking about this movie in the slightest, but I have more questions than I can give answers to right now. I'll just leave it with the same placeholder I left Get Out with after I saw it. If nothing else, this film is the very definition of "an honest mess".

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