Us is the type of film that rewards those who keep their eyes Peeled.
Like Get Out, the 2017 Oscar winner that established writer-director Jordan Peele as a visionary in the realm of genre filmmaking with something to say, his sophomore effort Us is brimming — no, overflowing — with foreshadowing, visual cues, Easter eggs, references, symbolism, callbacks and hidden meanings.
It also leaves us with plenty of questions. Like does Us, which follows a family of four to their beach house where they terrorized by their red-clad doppelgängers (aka the Tethered), share “the same universe” as Get Out? There are clues that it might.
Here’s what we’ve spotted so far.
Warning: Major, MAJOR spoilers ahead.
1. There’s a double meaning right there in the title.
There’s the literal sense: “It’s us,” Gabe Wilson (Winston Duke) says when he first recognizes the strangers to be doppelgängers of themselves. Add periods to the title, though, and it becomes “U.S.” As Peele told Yahoo Entertainment (see interview below), “There’s a double meaning to everything… This movie’s about duality.” He also revealed the story was heavily inspired by the state of the country, apparent in the film’s dialogue when Adelaide’s twin Red (Lupita Nyong’o) tells her, “We’re Americans.”
2. About that VHS collection.
Peele doesn’t waste a single frame before dropping some Easter eggs. In the opening shot, Young Adelaide (Madison Curry) watches a “Hands Across America” commercial on a television set in a classic ’80s console. It’s 1986, we learn. Adjacent to the television are a few VHS tapes, including The Goonies (1985) and C.H.U.D. (1984), two films about, well, undesirables living underground. (As Peele told Polygon, C.H.U.D. was actually directed by his first girlfriend’s father, Douglas Cheek). Goonie Mikey is later quoted when one of the doppelgängers proclaims, “It’s our time now!,” one of three Corey Feldman connections in the film. Another tape is The Man With Two Brains (1983), which Peele told Uproxx sets up a thematic connection: “The idea of two intelligences sharing a soul in a way.” It also works as a wink to Get Out.
3. Why “Hands Across America”? (And the movie’s hand-holding motif.)
Peele has been straightforward about why a cheesy, only moderately successful ’80s charity campaign would serve as such a main thematic thrust for his new horror film. He came across the commercial on YouTube, and it creeped him out. “I just had this feeling of dread watching the amusing, bright optimism on display,” he told Polygon. Beyond the commercial and T-shirt Young Addie wears, there’s plenty of other hand-locking on display in the movie. Several pictures in the beach house show happy people holding hands. Later, when Addie is being held down by her doppelgänger, her head is next to a jar of chestnuts with a nutcrackers-holding-hands design.
There’s also the political symbolism of human chains, which have long been used in protests — like Martin Luther King Jr.’s march in Selma, which at one point we see a photo of in the film.
4. The meaning and reappearance of 11:11.
When Young Addie passes what appears to be a homeless man on the boardwalk, he holds up a cardboard sign scrawled with “Jeremiah 11:11” on it. For those who skipped Sunday school, the King James Bible verse 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.” The prophet is essentially admonishing people for worshipping false gods and warning that they will be punished for it. Clearly a tease of the chaos to come. Later that night, grown-up Adelaide looks at the clock and it’s 11:11 — just before the doppelgängers are spotted outside their beach house. (Related: Doppelgänger Addie believes she is being tested by God, and refers to “finding her faith” the night she hatches her plan). The numbers are also mirrored in a Black Flag T-shirt in the form of four vertical blocks that resemble the numbers.
Also of note, according to the film’s credits (or at least IMDb), the actor who played the homeless man is Alan Frazier. His “normal” character is credited as “Alan,” while his doppelgänger is “Jeremiah.”
5. The stranger on the beach.
Speaking of our old friend Jeremiah, the man creepily hanging out on the beach with blood dripping from his glove in broad daylight had to be the homeless man’s (Alan’s) doppelgänger, who’s just murdered him and thus why we see the man being carted out on a stretcher bloodied and dead as the family arrives at the boardwalk. The reason why Peele hones in on that hand? (Besides the creepy blood droplet?) He’s ready to join some others in Hands Across America.
6. The spider-verse.
Young Addie whistles “Itsy Bitsy Spider” to herself as she’s walking around the carnival. Later, in the beach house, we see a real spider crawling by a plastic toy spider.
7. “Find yourself.”
That’s the tagline on both the past and present versions of the beach funhouse, even as the names change. Young Addie enters and literally does that.
8. The candy apple.
There has to be something about that candy apple Young Addie takes into the carnival funhouse, right? Or somethings, like a throwback to Snow White’s poisonous apple just as she’s about to go all “Mirror Mirror.” It also very well could be another biblical reference, with Eve eating from the Tree of the knowledge of good and evil and thus getting expelled from the Garden of Eden (life as she knows it).
9. Everybody wants to be somebody else.
This is another theme that’s prevalent, particularly in the first act. Gabe wants to be more like his more successful or at least wealthier friend, Josh (Tim Heidecker). Addie laments that she could have been a dancer. Kitty (Elisabeth Moss) got plastic surgery and says she could’ve been a movie star. Zora (Shahidi Wright Joseph) doesn’t want to be a track star. And Jason (Evan Alex) wants to be a magician. Or maybe Chewbacca. He also wants to be a dog owner, asking for a pet in the film’s first act. And his doppelgänger acts like a feral dog.
10. Our very first look at the “shadows.”
In what might be the most perfectly executed foreshadowing imagery the film has to offer, we get an overhead shot of our family of four on the beach… their shadows looming adjacent to them in the sand. Of course we have no idea at this point that they mirror the four doppelgängers directly beneath them. As Peele told Fox’s Kevin McCarthy, the shot was captured entirely practical thanks to “good old-fashioned sunlight.”
11. The early line of dialogue that gives it all away.
“Being here, I don’t feel like myself,” a stressed-out Addie tells Gabe when they arrive at the beach house. BECAUSE SHE’S NOT.
12. Why “I Got 5 On It” is so important.
First off, it’s one of the best raps songs and weed anthems of the ’90s, but that’s neither here nor there. But you knew it had to be important the second Peele opened the film’s first trailer with the Luniz hit. And turns out the car scene provides a huge clue. Notice the moment where Adelaide turns to her son and snaps, telling him to “Get in rhythm”… yet is completely off the beat. Knowing what we eventually find out about Adelaide, was this because she literally has no soul? (Props to this Twitter user for sniffing out the fact that this was a clue the day the trailer was released.)
Peele’s composer Michael Abels then brilliantly flips the song into a full-blown horror score when it’s reprised in the third act with Adelaide and Red underground, a cue to make us think back to that moment in the car.
Another interesting theory that’s been floated out there: Peele may have chosen “I Got 5 On It” because it’s about only being able to pay for half of a dime bag, or as @RemyLeBarr noted, “So he’s got ‘five on it’ and his friend has the other half. An Easter egg to the dichotomy of their doppelgängers?” Remember what Peele said about duality.
— Kevin Polowy (@djkevlar) March 16, 2019
13. The Frisbee landing.
Addie is a ball of stress when she returns to the beach where “the incident” took place when she was a girl, and there’s one moment in particular that freaks her out. A Frisbee flies into their orbit and lands on a beach towel next to them. Not only does the disc land perfectly onto one of the circles on the towel’s pattern (likely a misdirection with Peele distracting you from the real coincidence), it’s also emblazoned with the emblem from the Michael Jackson “Thriller” T-shirt she wore that night as a girl.
14. About that “Thriller” T-shirt.
It’s probably not a great time for a Michael Jackson tribute. If you’ve braved Leaving Neverland, it’s hard to believe you could ever listen to MJ again given what the film reveals about an alleged pattern of child sex abuse. But the fact that Young Addie wears a shirt from the singer’s seminal Halloween pop classic is another way of Peele telling us, “Us is a horror movie.” It’s also Feldman connection No. 2, given how close the actor was to the singer. Peele, meanwhile, has called Jackson “the patron saint of duality.” And underground, the Tethered move around like zombies.
15. The Lost Boys connection.
Babies from the ’70s and ’80s surely know what the Santa Cruz boardwalk is most famous for in movie lore: It’s the setting of The Lost Boys, the 1987 teen vampire thriller starring Kiefer Sutherland, Jason Patric and The Coreys (here’s your third Feldman connect). But did you notice it’s actually being filmed there during the early scenes of Us? As Peele confirmed to Uproxx, when Adelaide’s mother Rayne (Anna Diop) says, “They’re shooting a movie over there by the carousel,” it’s meant to be The Lost Boys, considering the flashback sequence is set in 1986.
16. The Friday the 13th character name.
This one is pretty on-the-nose: The son’s name is Jason, and both he and his doppelgänger Pluto wear masks like that murderous hockey goalie Jason Voorhees (Jason a Chewbacca mask, and Pluto that creepy white compression mask).
17. The Jaws T-shirt.
This one is less so an Easter egg or reference than it is a tribute to one of Peele’s heroes, Steven Spielberg. After the release of Get Out, Peele told me that of all the people raving about his directorial debut, the one that geeked him out the most was Spielberg, who sent Peele an email complimenting the film. Peele tapped into his new Mutual Appreciation Society to ask Spielberg for permission to use the Jaws T-shirt in Us.
The fact that Jason wears a Jaws tee to the beach and in a horror movie is also a bit ironic in a wear-the-band-shirt-to-the-concert sort of way. That battle between Gabe and his doppelgänger Abraham in the lake, however, feels very much like a man vs. shark Jaws-like showdown.
18. The Shining twins.
The decision to give Kitty and Josh Tyler twin girls (Becca and Lindsey, played by actual twins Cali and Noelle Sheldon) has to be a wink to Stanley Kubrick’s pair of scary-ass sisters in The Shining, especially considering that was one of 10 movies Peele asked his cast to watch in preparation (along with Dead Again, The Babadook, It Follows, A Tale of Two Sisters, The Birds, Funny Games, Martyrs, Let the Right One In and The Sixth Sense) so that they would have a “shared language” while filming Us.
How deep is Peele’s love for The Shining? He cosplayed as Jack Torrance for a recent round of interviews.
Jordan Peele out here literally dressed as Jack Torrance. pic.twitter.com/TD5D9J2n3E
— a common dog name (@MaxCorn) March 20, 2019
19. The Twilight Zone inspiration.
Peele told Rolling Stone that the general idea for having doppelgängers terrorize their counterparts came from a 1960 episode of The Twilight Zone called “Mirror Image,” in which a woman spots her twin at a train station and becomes convinced that she’s arrived from another dimension to kill her. One of Peele’s (many) next projects: Rebooting The Twilight Zone for CBS All Access next month.
20. The film isn’t just littered with horror movie and television references.
One of the board games you can spot in the closet of the beach house is Monster Trap.
21. There’s also a Star Wars reference beyond the Chewbacca mask.
At one point Jason — wearing said Chewbacca mask — yells, “It’s a trap!” You probably already know this, but that is a famous line from the coolest Mon Calamarian in the galaxy, Admiral Ackbar, during the Battle of Endor in Return of the Jedi.
22. The reappearance of the ambulance.
When Jason escapes into the beach house closet to practice his “magic trick,” he uses a small toy ambulance as a doorstopper to avoid getting locked in (which means you know he’s getting locked in at some point). In the film’s climax, the family escapes… in an ambulance. (If we want to cut really deep, Peele’s first notable movie appearance was as an EMT in the sequel Little Fockers.)
23. The runner.
Zora competes in track and field, which she complains is a useless skill. But of course she’ll need it once the doppelgängers show up. It also explains why her shadow (Umbrae) is so fast. That might be obvious, but the more interesting connection might be the motif it forms with Get Out: Remember the grandfather who took over the gardener’s body? He was a track and field star who lost to Jesse Owens at the Olympics.
24. The “outranet.”
Peele’s real-life son (born 2017) is likely too young to be consumed by technology yet, but the writer-director is clearly commenting on The Touch-Screen Generation when Zora complains about the fact that there’s no internet service at the beach house and Gabe tells her she experience the “outranet” instead. She’s still plugged into her device when the others arrive, and only then, unplugged, does she experience “living.”
25. How did Jason’s twin’s face get burnt?
This is likely because the “real” son keeps playing with that lighter in his attempt to pull off a magic trick that never quite works for him. But it worked all too well for the mirror image kid. Whoops.
26. Why Gabe is wearing a Howard University sweatshirt.
Duke says it was a deliberate choice to have the family’s dad represent the historically black college he attended. “We wanted an HBCU to represent the family’s attachment to Blackness,” Duke told Essence. “So it’s definitely a thoughtful choice that [says] this is a Black family, but their attachments aren’t.” Peele and cast brought the film to HU for an early screening.
27. The murder weapons.
The upper-middle-class family’s “attachments” are more materialistic. Gabe fawns over Josh’s new car, then goes out and buys himself a boat. The weapons the family uses to kill doppelgängers — an iron, geode art, golf club, luxury car, boat — are all upper middle class status symbols. (At one point, meanwhile, the blood of one victim splatters all over an Alexa-like device, “Ophelia”. Perfect.) The only exception? The handcuffs Addie uses to break her doppelgänger’s neck.
28. Why the Tethered wear red.
Are the Tethered’s red jumpsuits meant to imply “the demon within us,” as Fashionista has theorized? They’re also the same color as Michael Jackson’s get-up in “Thriller,” a connection further driven home by the fact that the Tethered each wear a single glove. “The jumpsuits are a very impressionistic kind of realization of [Adelaide’s childhood memories],” costume designer Kym Barrett said. “Also, that particular song and the visuals it brings back.”
It’s also a color often worn by Buddhist monks, and the sequence with Jason’s doppelgänger engulfed in flames in front of a burning car recalls the famous photo from 1963 in which Buddhist monk Thich Quang Duc set himself on fire in protest of the Vietnam War, right down to the car in the background.
29. Why all the shadows carry scissors.
To untether themselves, reports Captain Obvious.
30. “What are you people?”
Emphasis on you people, and this line from Gabe directed at the doppelgängers could be a play on the oft-used line (cliché?) in comedy where a white character makes a generalization re: “you people,” and a black character pointedly replies, “What do you mean, you people?!” (It was so common for a while it was even lampooned in Tropic Thunder.)
31. The use of NWA.
In the Jordan Peele-o-sphere, “F**k Tha Police” (which Ophelia hilariously dials up when Kitty pleas for her to call the police) was previously used to comedic effect in Keanu, his comedy alongside Key & Peele partner-in-crime Keegan Michael Key. That film also co-starred Jason Mitchell, who played Eazy-E in the NWA biopic Straight Outta Compton and once told Yahoo Entertainment Peele originally offered him the lead in Get Out. Whoa. But the more thematic connection, here, is that you notice in both Get Out and Us, the cops never actually ever show up.
32. The use of The Beach Boys.
“Good Vibrations” is a hilariously upbeat song to contrast with murderous mayhem at the Tyler household, but one possible explanation is that frontman Brian Wilson has said over the years that the track was inspired by his mother, who told him dogs would bark at people who gave off bad vibrations. Jason’s doppelgänger acts like a dog, right down to the barking, LITERALLY MAKING Pet Sounds, the Beach Boys album from which the song was an outtake. People also mistakenly think that a theremin is used in the song, when Wilson actually used the Electro-theremin — a slightly tweaked copy of the original thing. (Pet Sounds also signified a big shift in how pop music was made, marking the end of one era and the beginning of a new one.)
What do The Luniz, NWA and The Beach Boys all have common? As TIME points out, they’re all groups that hailed from California. So it’s a Cali soundtrack for a Cali-set movie.
33. What do the rabbits mean?
This will probably be one of the most heavily debated sources of imagery. We know that they were the food source for the Tethered. We also know they’re a symbol of rebirth, which makes sense. They’ve also long been used as test subjects in labs, and the United States has a history of doing medical tests and experiments without consent on poor populations, particularly poor black populations (i.e. the Tuskegee syphilis experiment, etc). For even more historical context, Nazis bred rabbits for their fur, and at the Ravensbruck concentration camp, the human experiment subjects were referred to as “rabbits.”
We also know that Peele used a song called “Run Rabbit Run” by Noel Gay and Ralph Butler in Get Out (h/t Josef Martin). Is that a clue that these films are set in the same universe?
34. The cry shot.
Both Get Out and Us feature closeups of their lead black characters shedding tears. The artist Faithe perfectly captured the connection on Twitter:
Hi! I couldn’t get @JordanPeele attention on ig with my painting, so I’m trying on Twitter! A simple RT helps!
“Get (Us) Out” (2019) pic.twitter.com/0OfetzDZUo
— Faithe ♥︎ (@_faithebey) March 10, 2019
35. “Get out!”
You hear someone yell that exact phrase. Enough said.
36. What the twist reveals about characters speaking.
These are all probably obvious, but ICYMI: The reason Adelaide’s shadow is the only one that talks is because she was the only human underground. It’s why Addie says to Kitty on the beach, “I’m not good at talking.” It’s also why in flashbacks Addie’s mother laments that she just wants her daughter back. After Young Adelaide’s doppelgänger replaced her, she has to learn how to speak. It’s also why Red’s voice is so unsettling: She hasn’t spoken since she was a little girl. (Nyong’o told Yahoo Entertainment she based the sound of Red’s voice on people with spasmodic dysphonia, a neurological disorder that affects the larynx. The voice was also apparently inspired by Robert F. Kennedy.)
37. About those helicopters.
It’s hard to say definitively what those choppers are doing in the film’s final frame. Covering the end of the world? But haven’t most people been killed by the doppelgängers at that point? Either way, the shot feels very much like an homage to Karyn Kusama’s 2015 thriller The Invitation, which also ended with helicopters hovering above mass chaos.
That’s it. Thanks for taking two minutes to read our 37 theories. Add yours in the comments section below.
Additional reporting by Ethan Alter, Adam Garcia, and Gwynne Watkins. Story updated March 26.
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