by Christy Yao
Jordan Peele is a master of statement-making, thought-provoking horror. Following his 2017 debut Get Out, Peele gave us another masterpiece: Us. There are many different angles to interpret Us from race to class to gender, but the message I took away from the movie is a concept that anyone who has ever been to a Rehumanize conference will be familiar with: sonder.
Sonder, from the Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows is “the realization that any passerby is living a life as vivid and complex as your own — populated with their own ambitions, friends, worries, and inherited craziness — an epic story that continues invisibly around you like an anthill sprawling deep underground, with elaborate passageways to thousands of lives that you’ll never know existed.”
At one very tense moment in the movie, the supposed antagonist, Red, says, “We’re human too.” Earlier in the movie, when the supposed protagonist, Adelaide, asks Red and her family who they are, Red simply answers, “We’re Americans.”
Red’s family is part of an underground group of humans called “the tethered.” In this universe, every American has a “tethered” counterpart — someone exactly like them who is forced to spend their lives underground, mimicking their above-ground doppleganger’s every move. Everything in the underground is worse than above ground — the most notable example being the food. All that the tethered have to eat are raw rabbits, no matter what the people above ground are eating.
The main conflict in Us is Adelaide protecting her family from their counterparts, who seek to kill them. Adelaide is already on edge because her family is on vacation in California and going to Santa Cruz beach, where she had a traumatic experience meeting her tethered counterpart as a young girl. When a tethered family comes to her door, Adelaide assumes that they are violent and reacts with fear. It seems that all the tethered family knows is violence — especially the youngest of the family, who is obsessed with setting things on fire, and when presented with a stuffed rabbit, cuts off its head.
The final twist comes at the end of Us, when it is revealed that Adelaide was originally born as a tethered until she forced Red, originally Adelaide, to take her place. For this reason, Red is the only tethered who can talk. The rest are literally voiceless, unable to communicate their dissatisfaction with life other than with screams and grunts. Instead of using her voice to negotiate, Red turns her pain into anger by coordinating a plan for the “untethering,” which includes the mass murder of above-ground humans.
Us shows an example of how those who are more and less privileged need to work together to create a peaceful world. Everyone is “us,” in a way. All people have the same human rights and deserve the same freedoms. When there is injustice in the world, there is injustice to us all. We must work with all our human brothers and sisters to stand up for the underprivileged, who have as complex and meaningful lives as us.