It would take all the hands in America to unpack every reference and Easter egg in Jordan Peele’s new meta-horror opus Us, but one in particular begs for an explanation: the Bible verse that young Adelaide (Madison Curry) first notices in the clutch of a handsome but possibly disturbed young man in the movie’s opening — and then again as grown Adelaide (Lupita Nyong’o) returns to the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk in a pivotal later scene.
What is Jeremiah 11:11 exactly? From the King James Bible, it reads:
“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.”
In some ways, it sounds like fairly standard fire-and-brimstone stuff — and not totally unrelated to Samuel L. Jackson’s famous “and I will strike down upon thee with furious anger” promise in 1995’s Pulp Fiction before he mows down a roomful of misstepping college kids.
But with Peele, there’s always another layer. As he recently explained to NPR, “I tried to apply this idea of duality to everything in the film…. My favorite horror images are the beautiful ones that are subverted. This is why I was drawn to The Stepford Wives, and movies like Jaws and The Shining appeal to me, is that when you have something idyllic and beautiful and sort of perfect, that’s where true horror lies.”
So — stop here if you haven’t seen the movie yet — who is the real inescapable evil in Us; is it the lurching doppelgängers trapped in their underground lair yearning to break free, or the privileged, oblivious humans who have wrought them, unconsciously or not?
There may not be a definitive answer, but according to Nyong’o, it might be as simple as looking in the mirror: “Jordan’s exploring this notion that right now we’re preoccupied globally with the other,” she told EW. “The monster that is the other: the other culture, the other country, the other political faction, the other religion, the other gender.
“And what about the monster that sometimes comes in the shape of the man in the mirror and the darkness that we humans are prone to and quite naturally inhabit?” she continued. “Sometimes that darkness goes unattended to, unrecognized, ignored. And it is when that happens that we project it out externally and it becomes the destruction that we then have to contend with.”
If the warning of Jeremiah 11:11 is true, God isn’t coming to deliver humankind from evil; we’ll have to pick up the scissors and save ourselves.