Warning – spoilers below! I started writing this 3 months ago, but it’s the type of thing that had to ruminate in my mind for a while.
I watched Jordan Peele’s Us the weekend after it came out in theaters. I had a lot of fun watching it with Carleen in Mountain View and I probably squeezed her hand too hard during the tense scenes (there were many).
For me personally, the most important question the film raises is this – who is your personal shadow? In the zero-sum universe created by Peele, as one person enjoys life in the world above, another person (person A’s tethered shadow) suffers in an underground world below. The same actions that create enjoyment for the person above, cause terrible physical suffering and psychological harm to the person below. In US, the above-ground people are wholly oblivious to the existence of the parallel underworld. In today’s world, I’m not so sure if anyone can feign ignorance.
There are definitely arguments out there for why this type of zero-sum paradigm may be flawed. But at the same time I’m hesitant to deny that I’m presented decisions every single day that influence the quality of life of others. Many decisions are consumption choices such as buying fast-fashion clothes, cheap electronics, and supermarket food. There are also opportunities limited by scarcity: the open seat on the train, a job opportunity, a university admissions offer.
The effects are largely out of sight. Rarely do we ever see the consequences of those types of actions on others – unless we stumble upon those videos about sweatshops, migrant farmers, the down-on-their luck person on the streets of San Francisco. This allows us to maintain a certain ethical insulation and indifference. And besides, when the video is too hard to watch, the latest sports highlights are just a click away.
I’m not sure who my shadow is. But as Peele so effectively portrays in US, it may be a terrifying thing to finally meet and look into the eyes of the people that could have been us. How painful will it be to admit that though we knew what we were doing to them, we chose to turn our faces away from their suffering?
Score: ✂️✂️✂️✂️ / 5. Not as good as Peele’s breakout film Get Out but then again, that’s an impossibly high standard. Us kept me on the edge of my seat and there’s a decent dose of campy violence and impromptu weapon wielding. Its excellent twist forced me to totally reexamine my feelings toward the protagonist and made a good ending into a truly special sendoff. Just don’t think too hard about the universe of “Us”. I felt asked to suspend my disbelief a bit too much and the unexplained plot holes became bigger as soon as I started discussing the film with friends.