Movie Analysis: Us

From theories to simple little details being pointed out by other viewers of the film, I felt a giddiness at seeing my thoughts connected with others’ speculations while at the same time I slapped my forehead at something I hadn’t noticed before.

Being one to mentally break down a story to its molecular core and values, I found that my thoughts on Jordan Peele’s, Us, were so intertwining with much speculation that it needed to be put to words. From theories to simple little details being pointed out by other viewers of the film, I felt a giddiness at seeing my thoughts connected with others’ speculations while at the same time I slapped my forehead at something I hadn’t noticed before but did now after being told. Four years of Media Studies in college has prepare for this moment. 
I don’t have a real format or set outline for this analysis, this is, simply put, my thoughts being put into words, I have no idea which way I am going with this but I am hoping it will make sense in the end. 

Adelaide and Red

For the sake of my writing, I will refer to Adelaide as Adelaide despite knowing that she is not the real Adelaide. Red will also remain as Red throughout the piece.

The big question that popped into my mind after the film was if Adelaide had been aware of her being the underground copy or if she was somehow under the assumption that she was the true Adelaide the entire time? Adelaide remembered the maze of mirrors as a traumatic experience and as she and her family get closer to visiting the same beach in Santa Cruz, she has these nightmares in which she is in the maze of mirrors and sees another version of herself. She feels fear of this other person and somehow feels that she is getting closer to her, a fear come true when Jason informs her and Gabe that there is a family in their driveway. The fear is true for Adelaide, but there is still the question if she feared Red in response for forcing her to switch places with her, or if she is truly confused as to why there is another being with her face. I side with the theory of her being traumatize into forgetting or perhaps she was aware of the other girl and simply made herself believe she had been the original one in the first place. They did, after all, have a connection in which they experienced the same things; Red was at the fair physically, but Adelaide was in the underground experiencing it too. 
Red is introduced right after forcing her way into Adelaide’s living room where she begins to tell the story of the Shadow Girl living a life of terror while the girl on the surface experienced joy under a bright blue sky. She is the only one capable of speech, which we realize is due to her being the real Adelaide, but after Adelaide crushed Red’s neck in their first encounter, she is incapable of proper speech and thus sounds raspy and unpracticed in communication. During this encounter in the living room, Red forces Adelaide to cuff herself to the coffee table which reflects what Adelaide did to her when she forced her underground and handcuffed her to her bed before taking her place. There is a heavy awareness from Red and despite having lived in the underground for a long time, she lacks the animalistic instincts that the other Tethered possess and verbally notes that she remembers their first moment and desired revenge. 
Determined to survive and protect her family, Adelaide is quick to fight back and when it comes down to it, murders the Tethered of the Tylers. During these moments of aggression Adelaide releases a series of snarls and heavy breathing, seeming to lose herself for a few seconds before snapping back to reality. It is no coincidence that during the two major moments when Adelaide loses herself, her son Jason is the one to witness it, silently looking at her with a mix of uneasiness and concern. It makes you wonder if Adelaide is the innocent one in the situation. She expresses herself as a loving mother of two children, happily married to Gabe, and is living a better than average life that allows her to take trips with her family. But in order for her to be where she is, she first had to drag an innocent girl into the underground, subjecting her to the very things Adelaide wanted to leave behind in the first place. They were children, but one had been forced to live a scripted existence and when it came to it, she was filled with hate for the other girl with her face and didn’t hesitate to make the switch. There is deep battle over identity in the underground and when Adelaide takes down Red, the two engage in this form of communication through whistling, Red struggling to release the air past her pursed lips as blood comes from her mouth. Adelaide humors her as though she pitied Red in the end and is acknowledging her as being the original identity before stripping her away of it and returning to the surface with her son. 
Is Adelaide a good person? Well, is any human being a wholly good person? When society seems to so determined to create conflict whether it be by class, race, or education, we all have experienced moments that we considered ourselves as a bad person. I’d like to believe that Adelaide is the loving mother we see in the beginning but when she seems to remember her past wholly, she seems to almost smirk at recalling it, as though she remembered and now held this feeling of smugness for still having won in the end. 

Gabe and Abraham

Gabe is a man determined to be your typical cringe-worthy father figure that rakes in the dad-jokes and dabbing skills. He is clearly educated and well off financially as he is close friends with the Tyler family as well as able to take his family on trips, has a summer beach house, and even goes and purchases a boat that he eagerly shows to his family before mayhem ensues. 
His Tethered is named Abraham is a towering figure that despite seeming more animal in nature than man, presents himself as extremely curious of his surroundings and his surface dweller as he proceeds to snatch Gabe’s glasses and put them on his own face. It a show of curiosity but can also be seen as a deliberate action of stealing a key feature of Gabe’s identity and taking it for his own. Now I am not too familiar with all parts of the Bible, but I did take note in recalling that in the Bible Abraham is a character that is asked by God to leave his land. The name could be for a different reason, but after the 11:11 references in the film, I feel that this connection is likely. 
There is almost palpable sense of privilege from Gabe and the Tethered, especially when Gabe’s first instinct is to offer his captors his wallet and his newly purchased boat that Zora is quick to identify is a piece of crap. It’s also important to point out that when the Tethered appeared on their driveway, Gabe failed to ask to leave once and steps outside a second time with metal bat and seems to try and take on a different tone and try to intimidate these strangers. The attempt was obviously a failure but we see that Gabe not only seemed nervous, but more intimidated over the fact that he must now try to stay his ground despite Adelaide’s fair warning to not approach them. 
Out of all the Tethered in the film, Abraham is the most vague and is quick to be killed when he drags Gabe to the boat. It’s as if Abraham was simply there for the ride when Red led the others to the surface. He was obedient to Red, making me think back to my reference to the Abraham in the Bible, meaning that in this case, Red would be God informing him to abandon the tunnels. During Red’s fireplace story time, she explains that when Adelaide met her prince (Gabe), it meant she had to get busy with Abraham despite having no feelings for the guy, Abraham doesn’t seem too happy with their relationship either but seems obedient of Red nonetheless. 
Eventually realizing the situation (but not really), Gabe finally begins to listen to Adelaide’s warning. So now Gabe is following Adelaide, hmm, sound familiar? Gabe is now listening to Adelaide’s instructions on how to survive, making her the leader and in that moment, becoming Adelaide to Gabe as Red is to Abraham. 

Zora and Umbrae

Since I am interested in the significance of the names of the film, I’d like to point out that Zora means ‘dawn’ and that Umbrae is the latin term for ‘shadow’, meaning that Zora and Umbrae are literally identified as light and shadow. 
Zora is a track runner that doubts she will be able to make it to Olympics, though her mother is quick to inform her that anything can be done if you have enough belief in it. Which, now that I think about it, is foreshadowing the fact that she was able to switch places with Red because she wanted it enough. Zora is pretty much your typical teenage girl that gets annoyed by her little brother as immediately in distress when the wifi password isn’t presented to her fast enough. 
Now Umbrae is interesting in that she seems to be blood-thirsty from the very start and appears to enjoy hunting down Zora by giving her a head start run and then following after her at what begins as a casual walk. It is already known that Zora is a runner, but her father also informs her that she needs to run on different terrain if she wished to be a better runner; Umbrae has been running in the tunnels so she is able to catch up to Zora easily, though the wind shield wipers on the car Zora is driving seems to be new to her. Her hair is loose unlike Zora who keeps it up in a very neat bun, and her eyes have a dark shadow to them, making them seem sunken in. She is honestly the creepier one of the Tethered and even as she is dying, she is seen giggling and grinning. 

Jason and Pluto

Jason throughout the film is seen wearing a mask over his face either in moments of unease or when he simply needs to prevent any direct facial communication with others. I assume that Jason’s name and mask is a reference to the mask-wearing Jason from the classic Friday the 13th films. Jason is quiet and is considered strange, an example being when the Tyler twins straight up informed Zora that they thought Jason was weird. 
Pluto (honestly made me think of Mickey Mouse’s very own) is also seen wearing a mask though his is more of a rag stitched together and he wears it due to fire injuries covering the majority of his face. He, like the rest of the Tethered, communicate through snarls and growls, but Pluto also seems more animal than the others, acting more like Red’s pet. Red describes that when Adelaide gives birth to beautiful children, that she is forced the give birth to monsters, one needing to be cut out of her body by her own hands. 
Now a theory is that Jason and Pluto were actually switched before the contents of the film, but I feel that I can’t find any thread leading to that idea. I am however, still wondering about that scene in which Jason and Pluto mimic their actions, leading Pluto into a flaming death. Was there some significance to it? Was there something I missed since I did, after all, only see this film once so far? Most likely. But! I am going with one of my theories from my first viewing and say that Pluto is more of an animal that gets curious when it sees its own reflection in the mirror. You know the one, when your cat or dog takes a peek at their reflection, they spend long moments staring at it curiously. That scene with the burning car may just be Pluto feeling he has to do as his reflection does, ultimately backing up into a burning car. 
This still doesn’t answer the question as to why Adelaide seemed concerned when Pluto backed up into the fire, she even yelled at him to stop. The same when she watched Umbrae die, when she fully intended to kill her. It could have been her motherly instinct not wanting to watch these beings that look like her children die, or it may be that if Adelaide recalled her past, then she knows what life must have been like for Pluto and Umbrae in the underground. 
There is also the magic referenced throughout the film, from Jason’s shirt, his sparking magic trick, and the fact that the Tethered consume white rabbits in the underground, which is often associated with magic trick such as the pulling of the rabbit from the hat. 

Scattered Thoughts and Questions

These are just a random list of thoughts and questions from the film that I have to expand on.

-If the Tethered were clones that were created without possession of their own souls, does this mean that Zora and Jason are born with only half a soul? 

-Red is seen wearing a Thriller shirt in the beginning of the film, the red jumpsuit and one handed glove the Tethered wear can also be a referenced to the song as well as comparing the Tethered attack as a zombie outbreak. 

-The “We are Americans” line can mean a number of things, the first being a call out to privilege. 

-I am not too familiar Native history and culture, but I do know that there are tribes that are against whistling in the night as they believe it attracts evil spirits. Red is whistling in the maze of mirrors in the beginning of the film as she walks in the darkness and lo and behold, she encounters Adelaide. 

-Is every person in the U.S. cloned? Or is it possible only certain individuals were cloned, and if so, was there some factors to determine who would be cloned, such as class or race?

-Some moments that I now realize foreshadowed that Adelaide was actually the clone.
1. She told Zora you can achieve anything if dedicated enough
2. She killed one of the Tyler family clones and started snarling
3. She said that the family needed to go to Mexico, meaning she may.
have known that the tunnels were only under the U.S.
4. Her survival instinct kicked in faster than everyone else. Was it
because she knew what was coming and decided she’d rather die
fighting than be forced back into the tunnels?

-When driving the ambulence, Adelaide remembers when she first met Red in the mirrors. Did breaking Red’s neck trigger the memory of when she had crushed her throat during that first encounter? If so, that grin at the end was not simply joy to be alive. 

Black Kirby’s, “Uncaged”

An exhibition dedicated to the analysis of Marvel’s Luke Cage from the original comics to the Netflix adaptation. The show features the art of Black Kirby, a single entity created by John Jennings and Stacey Robinson. The exhibition observes Luke Cage and is deconstructed down to how black masculinity is being represented with the historical impact of the black body in today’s society. 

I had the honor of seeing this show in person as well as getting to sit down and listen to the two halves of Black Kirby as they discussed their art, writing, and purpose behind the exhibition as well as their intentions in past, present and future projects. 

John Jennings

John Ira Jennings is a professor of Media and Cultural Studies at the University of California, Riverside. 
He is a scholar that focuses on the the visual culture of race across different mediums. 
Jennings currently is part of the editorial advisory board for  The Black Scholar and the new Ohio State Press imprint New Suns: Race, Gender and Sexuality in the Speculative.

Stacey Robinson

Stacey Robinson is an assistant professor of graphic design and illustration at the University of Illinois.
His works focus on Black Utopias as peaceful spaces that are away from the affects of colonialism by identifying past and current Black protest movements. 

Being a hardcore geek, I absolutely had to go see this exhibition in person. As a current student of Jennings, it was amazing being able to see this professionally put together display, already having been able to participate in conversation with the curators. I personally have Luke Cage listed under my mental tally of least favorite comic book characters, so I was interested in seeing if the show would either change my thoughts about the character or put into words the things I find problematic in the comics. The exhibition featured art and commentary on the original Luke Cage comics, but the primary focus did seem to lay on the Netflix adaptation of the character, which is important as the show does present problems with today’s society still presenting problematic representation of minority bodies across all mediums, comic books being no exception. 

My two favorite pieces of the exhibition were some of the larger displays that featured a light in the back to create these beautiful bright neon images that absolutely stood out. Being a single identity, Jennings and Robinson collaborate their unique styles of art to create these interesting combinations of digital art and collages that seem to flow together. The image to the left compared to the right caught my attention, especially later in the Experiencing Comics panel when Jennings points out the problematic images presented in the Netflix adaptation of the character. 

“How do you show that he’s bulletproof? You have to shoot him. You have to have a black man during the Black Lives Matter movement shot every episode to prove that he’s bulletproof. And that’s problematic.”

New Riverside Art Exhibit Explores Impact of Black Super Hero Luke Cage. Press Enterprise, Press Enterprise, 23 Nov. 2018.

This quote is extremely important in my interpretation of the entire exhibition as I was able to once again return to the Culver Center of the Arts and see the artwork for its message rather than just its art-style. I agreed immediately with the quote and couldn’t stop thinking of the response of others having to see a black body shot at so many times to prove something about a character that it eventually became normal seeing this character being shot at, and that is terrifying. Luke Cage is a powerful character in the Marvel universe, he is literally impenetrable, but we, the audience, know this because we watched as every episode proved this by showing him being shot at constantly and despite the bullets being incapable of doing harm to him physically, there is emotional reaction we the viewers get as we see this black man constantly shot at. 

Uncaged: Hero for Higher hosted a discussion about the show and its impact, moderated by UC Riverside lecturer, Rachelle Cruz, and featured the two halves of Jack Kirby, Stacey Robinson and John Jennings, and speculative fiction writer, Nalo Hopkinson. 

The panel provided a deeper perspective into the creators of the entire displayed art pieces and being able to look around and be able to communicate with Black Kirby at the same time was an enriching experience as a comic book nerd and a student. Each piece also featured blocks of text that altogether created the basis for an entire class to be dedicated into the teachings of what Luke Cage is and does for the representation of the male black body with deep historical context. The display is also a demonstration of how specific parts of pop culture can be broken down to their core issues and be used as a basis to analyze society’s impact on fictional settings and characters. 

The exhibition is a complete recommendation on my part and is an excellent experience whether or not you are a fan or have even heard of who Luke Cage is. This is something everyone needs to experience for themselves. 

Uncaged: Hero for Higher is available to see at the Culver Center of the Arts and will be open from Nov. 17-March 31. 

You can check out the Culver Center’s site to check for updates. 

Make sure to check out Jennings’ and Robinson’s social media for updates on their amazing projects!

Jennings Twitter
Robinson Twitter