The Gift of Jordan Peele’s Us

Is there such a thing as being crushed by the need to write something yet not entirely knowing what that something is? If that’s the case then I’ve been carrying that weight since Sunday night. No exaggeration. One of the rewards of running your own website is that it gives you the platform to talk about the things you want to discuss. Sometimes it draws in an audience and other times it’s like screaming into the abyss. Every time it helps to clear my head and brings with it a sense of self-accomplishment/relief that I was able to add to the sea of voices talking about a particular subject. There have been a number of times throughout the three years of I Am Geek where I have felt that compulsive need to write about a topic. A need that distracts me from my actual day job or keeps me from being fully present when around friends. There’s an itch that comes with writing and it often feels as if I don’t get my thoughts to screen that I’ll explode. Or at the very least curse in frustration. Not to be dramatic but it’s the truth. Ask the Adorable Creature how my mood shifts when I want to write something but can’t. Sometimes waiting helps to better formulate ideas and other times waiting makes the topic less relevant or dissolves the passion on the subject. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had to wait to write a column and watch as this something just evaporates from my mind. That’s a shitty feeling when you watch a writing idea die or become forgotten.

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Sunday night, Alyson and I walked out of our local movie theater and I knew immediately that I needed to write about Jordan Peele’s Us. There was no question about it. The electricity that comes from experiencing powerful storytelling was coursing through my body. As we discussed the film on our walk home my mind was already attempting to formulate an avenue into a column. I couldn’t watch something like Us and not write anything. That would be criminal. I needed to participate in the discussion not only to be a part of the social commentary but for my own mental state. From the moment it started to the very ending, and now days afterward, Us burrowed itself into my brain and tethered itself to my consciences. It has been four days since my viewing and I have yet to stop thinking about it. I hear the “I Got 5 On It (Tethered Mix)” by Luniz haunting the back of my brain as I start to recall the brilliant, yet haunting, laced throughout the film. I’m reading theories on the internet and listening to podcasts that either make me shake my head in disagreement or have me drop everything in those “oh shit” discoveries as I try to delve deeper and build on what I’m reading/hearing. I can’t shake Us… but I’m also not sure how to write about it.

When it comes to writing about Us there are a plethora of choices that it becomes slightly overwhelming. Focusing on the ending and what it means is the easiest fruit to pick off the tree, and not where my mind went initially although the impact of the twist can’t be ignored. There’s something within this ending that doesn’t feel cheap but more of an introspective social commentary. We’re trained to think one way and at the absolute last minute, Peele hits a buzzer beater that forces us to question our entire thought process for the last two hours. The credits begin to roll and you’re left with this new feeling, that you haven’t had time to process, and walk out of the theater wearing the heaviness of it. Questioning the implications. It’s brilliant and daring but I couldn’t focus on just that. There was something more here that was connected to the ending.

Us 1It’s funny, the word connected is of great importance to Us. The Tethered are a horrifying concept, not in the way that they act, but in their very existence. I’m not entirely sure if I’ve given a great deal of thought to the idea of doppelgängers in the past. The idea has fascinated me and outside of college where I had an underclassmen look alike, I haven’t given it much thought. There was a dream I once had where I was driving and someone suddenly appeared in my backseat. I immediately pulled the car over and ripped open the car door to see myself staring forward. It was surreal and even thinking about it makes my stomach drop. Since then the idea of a doppelganger gives me the spine shivers which is probably one of the reasons I choose not to think about them much. The idea of randomly bumping into someone who looks exactly like you… nope. I’m not mentally strong enough to withstand something like that.

The Tethered are fascinating because there is no real explanation given to their existence. Are they clones? Are they a physical manifestation of both the good and bad in people? Are they even bad in the first place or have they been suppressed for so long that they rise up? This bleeds into some of the bigger themes of the film (like social structure and wealth), but it’s a question we should be asking. Perhaps the Tethered are a lost part of our soul regulated to wonder abandon underground tunnels of the United States? There’s no clear definition to what the Tethered are and instead of hindering the film and its narrative, it only makes it stronger.

It’s safe to say that from a societal perspective we live in a we need the answers now culture, and I hate that. Answers are a killing field for imagination. Part of the beauty of art is being able to see/hear something and allowing your mind to interrupt it in a way that resonates with you. That’s one of the things I’ve always loved about Pearl Jam. All of their music videos, when people still made music videos, were live performances because they didn’t want to take away what the song represented to the listener. Once definitive answers are out there then art isn’t ours any more it’s theirs, and you lose that connection with it. Jordan Peele understands that and he has purposefully given us a film that is, for lack of a better term, for us.

My interpretation of Us can differ from yours and vice versa. That’s the beauty of the movie because it’s a breeding ground for discussion. Two people can see the film and perceive it incredibly different. Then the two talk and suddenly the interpretations and perceptions change the way you feel about the film. It opens up the idea for a different response and a need to re-watch to see if you view things differently. Us is most definitely a movie that demands a number of re-watching’s and not just because Lupita Nyong’o is absolutely spellbinding or because Winston Duke is one of the all-time movie dads. No. You re-watch Us to see how it changes. To see how you change as you’re watching it. Is there sympathy to be found with the Tethered or are they just scissor carrying horror movie monsters? What is this story trying to tell us? Like any good piece of art that answer will differ with time which promises a long shelf life for Us.

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Far too often we want logic to explain the stories we receive. Logic makes things easier to understand and, in a lot of ways, is a cheat for a film like Us. I believe in a healthy suspension of logic under the right circumstances. Fiction is an escape from reality and not everything should be explained away. Sometimes you have to believe in a story because the author believes in it, and Jordan Peele’s conviction to the Tethered and their existence is strong. Sure we can spend the majority of our time talking about who put the Tethered in the tunnels or what happens when their counterparts leave the country or where the hell are the bunnies coming from?! Those are fun conversations to be had but shouldn’t ruin the film for anyone. Those aren’t the important questions you should be asking. Allow yourself to be swallowed by this fictional universe and try and grasp what the larger message is. To do anything else would be trivial.

Us is a powerful movie, perhaps not in the same way that Get Out was, but I imagine it’ll stay within the pop culture conscience for some time. The Tethered can be just as big a concept as the Sunken Place and the longer that a film stays on that pop culture radar the more impactful it becomes. There’s an addictive quality to this movie and I felt it calling me back as soon as the credits started rolling. I could have sat in my seat for another two hours and watched the entire film over again trying to make heads and tails of it all. Instead, I’ve tried to digest the film over the course of four days, and the one conclusion I’ve reached is that my journey with Us isn’t over yet. I need to spend a great deal more time within this universe as my brain forms, tears down, and re-forms new ideas and concepts to pull out. Jordan Peele has given us a gift with this story. A gift that defies logic, avoids clear answers, makes a solid/heavy social commentary, and leads to discussion. That’s the beauty of Us… it’s the gift that keeps on giving tethering itself to our subconscious silently screaming not to be forgotten.  And how could it be?

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