The deeper meaning of Jordan Peele’s ‘Us’

"Us" cinematic movie poster.
Photo Courtesy of Universal Picture.

Jordan Peele’s new film “Us” has solidified him as a master of detail. The movie has been out for almost three weeks and people are still spotting new symbols, making new connections and debating the movie’s cryptic message. This latest cinematic nightmare is an overthinker’s paradise, and every detail points to the film’s more sinister meaning.

Peele’s attention to detail is present even in the names he gave the characters. IMDB shows that every single tethered character has a name. Zora’s tethered doppelganger as “Umbrae,” meaning shadow, which is fitting since the tethered are the literal human shadows of their above-ground hosts. Similarly, Jason’s tethered is named Pluto. This is the alternate name of Hades, god of the underworld, which makes sense because the tethered are kept underground.

However, the biggest hint to the meaning is in Adelade’s name, derived from a German name meaning noble natured. This is interesting because Adelade was originally presented to the audience as being noble natured. However, by the end of the movie she is revealed as being anything but.

Red, Adelade’s tethered, is also a clue, but not because of her name’s color-theory meaning. Red’s name is a nod to a fictional secret society that Peele has acknowledged as being responsible for the horrors in both “Us” and his 2017 film “Get Out.”

On the “Get Out” Blu-Ray disc, Peele reveals that the white family from “Get Out” is part of The Red Alchemist society. These are imaginary descendants of the real Knights of Templar, a Christian military order founded in 1119. In fact, during the abduction scene that opens “Get Out,” Jeremy wears a Knights of Templar helmet.

The theme of red continues in the dinner party scene where nearly everyone who was there to bid on Chris’ body was wearing some form of red. So it is not a stretch to infer that the tethered are the result of a Red Alchemist Society experiment and that is why they had so many uniformed red jumpsuits on hand.

The final clue is in the film’s twist.

Through the names and actions of the characters and their tethered, we are led to view the humans as inherently good-hearted victims and the tethered as inherently deranged predators. However, when the twist is revealed, we learn that most of our main “heroes” possess tethered DNA while their underground counterparts actually possess human DNA.

This means that the experiment worked, but the deranged traits of the tethered are not a matter of their inherent nature more than it is their systematic nurture. That is why when asked who they are, Red responds, “We’re Americans.”

In that moment, the entire audience felt a shared and familiar terror. It is the same terror that drives Trump to speak derogatorily about immigrants. It is the same terror that drives the continued oppression of poor and minority populations.

It is the terror of hearing someone you view as “other” assert that they are no different than you.

“Us” is an exploration of our society, which places human beings in systematically oppressive, inhumane and insurmountable situations and then demonizes the kinds of “monsters” these systems often create.

This is what makes Peele’s movies most terrifying; the fact that there is no abstract monster out to destroy the human race. Instead, he shows people preying on people in unfathomable ways, then having those actions come back and ultimately destroy them.

Peele said it best in a 2017 interview with Business Insider: “The best and scariest monsters in the world are human beings and what we’re capable of, especially when we get together."

So if there is anything to take away from this movie, it is to pay attention to the systems of injustice that shape people. Because whether you are a contributor or not, they have the power to come back and bite us all.

Simply put,  “Watch yourself.”