This review may contain spoilers. I can handle the truth.
Tom Cruise Jr.’s review published on Letterboxd:
This review may contain spoilers.
Us: Decoding the Metaphor
I left the theater with one question, one burning inquiry which I seek to resolve right here and right now: what the fuck did any of this mean. Get Out wore its ideological message blatantly, but Us seeks to obfuscate it to the point of absurdity. I'm going to lay out my personal theories and the evidence for them before selecting one as headcanon.
Theory One: Apocalypse
There's an underground facility hosting evil individuals who wear red, obviously that's Hell. One member of Hell rises and tricks the world into thinking they're a good guy - that's the Anti-Christ. Then we've got somebody sent from above to the below realm. They end up leading their people as a savior figure - a Christ figure. Jeremiah 11:11, which is seen on a cardboard sign many times in the film, states "Thus saith the Lord - I will bring evil upon them, which they shall not be able to escape." We've got a guy named Gabriel, and his counter-part Tethered is named Abraham. In the Bible, Gabriel is one of three angels who informs the mortal Abraham that he must sacrifice his son Isaac to appease God. The Christ figure is telling her shadow-husband Abraham and the rest of the Tethered that sacrificing their counterparts is required as a part of their collective faith. The Anti-Christ then kills Christ and ruins her plan to cleanse the world from its impurities via rapture. The End. It's far too simple and obvious, but it's undoubtedly there.
Theory Two: Class Struggles
There's a lower class of people who are forced to live a mockery of life due to the circumstances of their birth. They can't eat anything but rabbit and have access to no real material goods. One member of this lower class rises up by pulling somebody else down and generally abandoning their people. Then we've got a singular fallen elite who realizes how fucked the system is and leads a group of red-clad proletariat into rebellion against the bourgeois. After winning, the workers stand hand-in-hand together as a sign of equality and unity. Communism! There's also the scene where Gabriel gets jealous of his friend's new car and the scene where Elisabeth Moss advocates for plastic surgery - two unfortunate consequences of our hyper-modern capitalist society. The daughter character is "tethered" to her phone. Explains a lot, but we can do better can't we?
Theory Three: Political Upheaval in America
Us. US. United States. In the U.S, there's a group of red-identifying people. Republicans. Due to being scorned and pushed underground, they decide to mount a retaliation. After all, they're Americans, it's how they identify! These people are filled with hate and are okay with making immoral sacrifices to get what they want. They stand together and pull America into the flames (by voting for Donald Trump of course). They're fundamentally no different biologically than the Democrats since political belief is fluid - we see this when our protagonist and her Tethered turn out to be swapped. Our willingness to push political lines as hard as we do results in the creation of an enemy. The Shaman's Forest becomes Merlin's Crystal Ball... but at the end it reverts back. We're regressing in our politically correct ways.
Theory Four: The Cost of Dreaming
Everybody has the capacity for greatness. The pursuit of your dreams can unfortunately cause evil to win out. When our protagonist Adelaide is young, her dad is seen pitching at a carnival game. "I could have gone pro" he says. He never did try, so he will never know. We see this scene several times. Adelaide tells her daughter that she can do anything she sets her mind to, even becoming an Olympic runner. The Tethered version of the daughter is fantastic at running, but at the expense of a soul. The twins suck at gymnastics on the beach but the evil pair are highly skilled. Adelaide herself at one time pursued dancing and was very good at it, but her Tethered version was less coordinated as we are shown. Why? Because they are swapped. The Tethered versions are uniformly BETTER at what the surface-versions pursue. Fire Jason can make the trick work where normal Jason cannot. Gabriel cannot protect his family as efficiently as Abraham. Americans are so focused on being the best that they lose sight of their morality. Who's out there again? OJ, the man who shows how the American dream can become an American nightmare.
Theory Five: Slavery
I know Peele has said it's not a film about race, but come on. The first thing I thought of after the opening text crawl was the underground railroad. A black woman (Harriet Tubman) leads a group of oppressed people through tunnels and facilitates their freedom. It's certainly a tale central to American history. Maybe he's using the story of the underground railroad but in a different context. A separate type of slavery if you will, like slavery to the government or to capitalism.
SO WHAT'S THE TRUE ANSWER?
Sorry to provide a copout, but all of them. They are all the answer. It was meant to mean all of these different threads at once because Jordan Peele is an ambitious mother fucker who wants to make a work of art capable of being analyzed fifty different ways front and back.
Bonus: Did You Miss It?
- Fuck the police, COMING STRAIGHT FROM THE UNDERGROUND!
- The Goonies and C.H.U.D. are both shown on a shelf, two properties with evil subterranean monsters.
- When Gabe tried to defend "I've Got 5 On It" from his kids, he says that it's not about drugs, it's just a dope song. Peele is playing with double meanings. There's the surface level, where the song is just music and you can ignore the meaning. Then there's the lyrical essence. It's literally a dope song because it's a song about dope. Not just that, but about going halfsies on some dope. Half of a whole!
- Jason uses a toy ambulance to keep the closet door open in the house and that’s the final vehicle the family drives away in at the end.
- Speaking about Jason, his name is almost certainly a reference to a different masked child with a protective mother: Jason Voorhees.
- The real Adelaide was always wanting to handcuff impostor Adelaide like she had done to her when they first switched.
- Off-beat finger snapping hints at our Adelaide being the fake.