Breaking down the twists and ending of Jordan Peele's Us
If you’ve seen Jordan Peele‘s hit monster horror Us already, chances are you probably have a few — or a ton! — of questions (and if you haven’t seen the movie, STOP READING NOW because spoilers galore ahead!). Since the movie’s Mar. 22 release, which opened to a record-breaking $70.3 million at the box office, fans have been dissecting, disseminating, and theorizing the ideas, images, and nuances of Peele’s twisted nightmare.
To recap: Us sees the all-American Wilson family — Lupita Nyong’o (Adelaide), Winston Duke (Gabe), Shahadi Wright Joseph (Zora), and Evan Alex (Jason) — retreat to Adelaide’s idyllic childhood home on the California coastal town of Santa Cruz. Their journey is peppered with flashbacks that show a young Adelaide go through a traumatic experience at the beachside fairground when she entered a house of mirrors and comes face-to-face with her doppelgänger, an incident that still haunts her as an adult. As night falls, the family see four shadowy figures standing in their driveway, holding hands. The figures suddenly attack and terrorize the Wilsons, revealing themselves to be their doppelgänger called The Tethered, an underground-dwelling faction that now seeks justice from their above-ground counterparts.
EW breaks down some of the theories and explanations of the biggest twists and surprises in Us.
Who are the Tethered? As Adelaide’s doppelgänger Red answers in a disjointed, chilling voice, “We’re Americans.” Peele doesn’t spend much time explaining who the Tethered are or the world they live in, other than they are the product of a failed government cloning experiment that hoped to control humans. This notion is echoed unknowingly by Zora as the Wilsons head to the beach, when she says the government has tainted the water to control minds.
Red tells Adelaide a story about a girl with a shadow. The two were connected, tethered to each other, but the Shadow had to eat rabbit raw while the girl ate warm cooked turkey at Thanksgiving. At Christmas, the Shadow watched as the girl was given soft stuffed toys while underground, she had to play with “cold, sharp toys.”
Are the Tethered shadows, mirrors, or clones of their above-ground counterparts? What we know is that they’re non-speaking for the most part, instead, communicating via grunts and growls. When young Adelaide enters the house of mirrors, she whistles “Itsy Bitsy Spider” — a nursery rhyme about a spider dwelling in the gutters that “crawls up the waterspout” again and again as he is washed back down by the rain — and she hears someone whistle it back.
All of this comes full circle as we learn, when the Wilsons escape the doppelgänger death and destruction in Santa Cruz at the end, that Adelaide is really Red, who switched places with her above-ground counterpart when they came face-to-face as children all those years ago. Adelaide has literally been wearing a mask her entire life, living a stolen existence.
If you look closely, Peele didn’t really hide the Adelaide/Red swap. Peele layers it in, early on in the beach house, when Adelaide has the flashback of coming face to face with her doppelgänger in the house of mirrors and her doppelgänger reaching out to grab her. As the camera cuts back to adult Adelaide, there’s an uneasy sense that she may indeed be the doppelgänger.
At the beach when Elisabeth Moss‘ Kitty attempts to strike up a conversation with Adelaide, she’s met with Adelaide’s reserved response, “I have a hard time talking,” a hint at the Tethered’s inability to speak.
Just before the Wilsons are attacked by the Tethered, Adelaide’s spidey senses are tingling. “I feel like there’s this black cloud hanging over me and I don’t feel like myself,” she tells Gabe as he’s sprawled out on a small bed, trying to flirt with his wife. “I think you look like yourself,” he replies to her. As Adelaide recounts her traumatic childhood experience on the beach to Gabe, she says, “My whole life, I’ve felt like she is still coming for me.” And that is because she knows that she’s in the place she’s not meant to be. “I feel the girl is getting closer,” she says…
There’s also a strong indication with Red’s speaking ability — she’s the only one of the Tethered that speaks, albeit her voice is discordant, distorted, and haunting from the lack of use. And that would be the impact of Adelaide being locked underground and not speaking for years. It’s also part of what makes Red the leader of the Tethered, her ability to speak elevates her in the underworld, just as Adelaide’s hesitation to communicate perhaps makes her more passive and seem meeker on the surface world.
Who is Jason?
Nyong’o said that Adelaide has a particularly strong connection with her youngest child Jason, who wears a plastic werewolf mask. “She has a soft spot for her son in particular, who is a little eccentric, he’s obsessed with magic, and he’s both highly observant and easily distractible, so she finds herself being a little more protective of him for these reasons,” she told EW.
The twist that Adelaide was really Red all along might not have been the biggest surprise at the end — and it’s a sense that perhaps Jason has had for a while, that his mother isn’t exactly who she says she is.
But who exactly is Jason? A Reddit fan theory thread implies that Jason has also been switched with his Tethered self, Pluto, pointing to Jason’s inability to strike up a fire during his magic tricks while Pluto is “born of fire” and adept with setting off flames. So when his mother gives him an unsettling, knowing smile revealing her Tethered identity at the end of the movie as the Wilsons careen out of Santa Cruz in an ambulance, there’s a debate over whether Jason is suspicious of her or whether he’s relieved that he knows who she really is. Either way, Adelaide/Red wants to keep him close. “Stick with me, I’ll keep you safe,” she tells him before he goes to bed.
The House of Mirrors
When young Adelaide enters the abandoned house of mirrors on the Santa Cruz beachside in 1986, the attraction is named Shaman’s Vision Quest, with a light bulb-lit sign saying “Find Yourself.” A shamanic vision quest is an age-old method of elevating one’s spiritual connection, specifically connecting to the spirit world, or the underworld.
In present day, the attraction is renamed “Merlin’s Forest.” In the Welsh mythology of King Arthur, Merlin is, of course, a great wizard and is said to have been buried in the magical forest of Brocéliande. The name of the attraction could be interpreted as the place where young Adelaide’s doppelgänger literally “buried” Adelaide underground, switching places with her to live her life in the sunny surface world.
The image of 11:11 appears in many forms throughout Us, speaking to the constant theme of duality and twins. But it’s also a rather foreshadowing Biblical passage: from the King James Bible, the verse Jeremiah 11:11 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.”
As EW broke down, the verse speaks to impending chaos and destruction, but it also could speak to Peele’s exploration of duality and finding “true horror” in idyllic perfection. Read more about Jeremiah 11:11 here.
Hands Across America
When the Wilsons see four figures holding hands and standing silently, little do they realize what that stance means. Indeed, when the Tethered take over the town of Santa Cruz and beyond, they are seen silently holding hands across the beachside and town. The May 25, 1986 charity stunt Hands Across America is a recurring image throughout Us. The original stunt was staged to link some 6.5 million Americans together across the country to raise money and awareness for local charities for hunger, homelessness, and poverty. So what does it mean when the Tethered adopt it? Perhaps it is Peele’s commentary on how hunger, homelessness, and poverty still pervade the “underclasses” of America, an issue often buried in politics with no real resolution.
A New Dawn
There’s also something to be gleaned from the names of the Wilsons’ doppelgängers. Gabe’s Tethered self is called Abraham, a Biblical patriarch known for his devotion and loyalty to God. In the same sense, Abraham in Us is also devoutly loyal to Red, striking on her orders and sacrificing his life for her cause. Red’s children also have intriguing names. Zora’s doppelgänger is Umbrae, the Latin term for shadow or darkness, while Jason’s doppelgänger Pluto is named for the mythological god of the underworld.
It is interesting that Jason’s doppelgänger is given such a prestigious name. While Pluto is deemed the god of the underworld, he is also known as the god of the wealth of the deep Earth, such as soil and minerals, and was worshipped by farmers wanting a bountiful harvest. This ties to the song that Peele picked at the end of Us, “Les Fleur” by Minnie Riperton, a surprisingly upbeat song that contrasts the dark, eerie, distorted sounds of Club Nouveau’s “Why You Treat Me So Bad?,” the melody famously sampled on Luniz’s “I Got 5 On It.”
The lyrics of Les Fleur are particularly telling, speaking of the birth of a flower that “blooms to spread love and joy, faith and hope to people forlorn.”
“Inside every man lives the seed of a flower
If he looks within he finds beauty and power
Ring all the bells, sing and tell the people everywhere that the flower has come
Light up the sky with your prayers of gladness and rejoice for the darkness is gone
Throw off your fears, let your heart beat freely at the sign that a new time is born.”
Is Jason, a.k.a. Pluto, the sign of a new dawn? If there is an Us sequel to come, we might be looking at Jason/Pluto as the leader of a new world order.
Us (2019 movie)