Once again Jordan Peele has crafted an excellently made horror film that perfectly explores the ideas that he wants to use to shape the public conversation about contentious issues
Warning: Spoilers ahead
In the opening minutes of Jordan Peele’s Us, we see a depiction of a seashore carnival being attended by a large group of diverse and wealthy people circa 1986. It’s an idyllic, colorful and exciting vision of comforting and happiness in American life. A young family and their daughter win a Michael Jackson T-Shirt in a game, buy candy apples and explore the various rides the park has to offer. Yet there is something churning under this beautiful wonderland of lights and prizes.
In one moment though, this park opens up to a new reality. Merely by taking a wrong right turn, the daughter finds herself descending a staircase to a dark rainy beach with only a single ride called “Shamen’s Quest”, peppered in overt and moderately racist references to Native Americans. There she encounters a house of mirrors, deep inside which she finds herself face to face with something she cannot understand: another version of her.
This is the overt duality at the heart of Jordan Peele’s Us. Beautiful, rich and happy peoples sitting right on top of something demonic and inexplicable.
Complex Themes in Service to a Difficult Message
There’s a bit of contention online amongst film critics and movie fans so far in what the actual meaning of the film is. Is the movie primarily commenting on the internal forces in our lives we fear to let get unleashed on the world or does the message skew further into the same progressive satire?
Maybe the direct allusions to pseudo-progressive movements like “Hands Across America” are jabs at progressive issues like gentrification or neo-liberal corporatism that seeks to put progressive looking band-aids over major societal problems. I’d be hard pressed to assume that there aren’t some direct political allusions being made given Jordan Peele’s previous success with political messaging.
That ultimately begs the question. What is Us about specifically? It’s peppered with clues and allusions to topical political issues like cultural appropriation and redlining. At the same time, it comes off as far more vague and complex than its predecessor.
Jordan Peele’s Vision of America
In an interview with the Los Angeles Times, Peele said “I think (Us) is more than a political movie… but in the post-Trump era, the finger-pointing in this country was turned up to a whole different notch… The feeling that we all feel we are the good guy in our own story prevents us from facing our demons… I wanted to make a movie that allows everybody to face their demons, in whatever faction you want to put this movie through the prism of. ”
It’s clear in context with his intent that Us is fundamentally about the core of society beneath the artifice. It posits that once the bandaid is ripped off the ugliness of humans will pour out. He’s not pulling punches. Like Get Out, he’s filtering this interesting idea through a progressive lens.
The implicit assumption of the film is that American culture has a problem with complicity and being honest about its failures. This is hardly a new notion. John Ford was making movies about the mistakes of America’s founding mythos as early as the 1940s with movies like Fort Apache, The Searchers, and The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance.
The Consequences of Get Out
As much as Us deserves commendation for its spectacular craft and thematic complexity, it’s worth considering what kind of conversation it’s lending itself to. Get Out’s success went far beyond critics supporting the technical craft. Most horror films never get Oscar nominations and yet here this one won one. Critics loved it because it fundamentally reinforced their beliefs about identity politics, cultural appropriation, black fetishization, and microaggressions. One prominent film critic even went as far as to call it the movie of the decade. Us is ultimately going to drive the conversations on contentious issues in much the same way.
Once again Jordan Peele has crafted an excellently made horror film that perfectly explores the ideas that he wants to use to shape the public conversation about contentious issues. It’s unfortunate that so far his movies have come to the same conclusions. Considering how much flak rare critics of his movies were berated with, maybe Peele might due for some additional thought about where the power in society lies.DONATE
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