The Quick Explanation
Narratively, the dynamic between Addy and Red is a tragic one. Addy is an underdog story, rising from the world of the tethered into the upper echelons. It’s heroic in the same way of entrepreneurs who come from nothing and ascend to billionaire status. Yet it was at the expense of Red. There was a legitimate human cost. Red is someone who had more than she realized, lost it, then rallied herself and the Tethered into rebellion. She gave voice to the voiceless, even if, at the end, she lost to Addy. But there was also a human cost to her revolution. That formal act of “untethering”.
Thematically, Us is a pretty bleak statement on American culture, class system, and government. There’s an emphasis on identity and duality via the dynamic between “normal” people and their shadow versions. As well as a theme of materialism and the idea of the haves vs the have nots. Lastly, the overall story takes inspiration from the Hopi legend of The Spider Woman and The Twins. That story is about twins working together to shape the world, while Us is about twins divided and the fall of a nation.
Table of contents
- Why it’s Called Us?
- The themes and meanings
- The end of Us explained
- The timeline of events
- What do the bunnies mean?
- Why did Red whistle?
- What do the scissors mean?
- Why does Kitty cut her face?
- Does Jason know his mom is a Tethered?
- Why do the Tethered make a human chain?
- What do the shadows in Us represent?
- Did Adelaide know she was Red?
- Does the family in Us survive?
- Why is Red’s voice weird
- What does Jeremiah 11:11 mean?
Addy/Red – Lupita Nyong’o
Young Addy – Madison Curry
Gabe/Abraham – Winston Duke
Zora/Umbrae – Shahadi Wright Joseph
Jason/Pluto – Evan Alex
Kitty/Dahlia – Elisabeth Moss
Josh/Tex – Tim Heidecker
Becca/Io – Cali Sheldon
Noelle/Nix – Lindsey Tyler
Director/Writer – Jordan Peele
Why it’s called Us?
The word “us” implies the inclusion of both the self and the other. As opposed to, say, a collective “you” that separates the self from another. “You are Yankees fans, but I’m a Dodgers fan.” Compared to “All of us are Dodgers fans.” This concept of inclusion is at the core of the movie Us but explored through its antithesis: exclusion. You have the tethered who want recognition after spending decades locked underground. They want to be seen and heard. They want to be known and acknowledged. They want to be part of the whole rather than divided from the rest. Part of the “us” rather than a separated group.
Their statement comes in the form of accomplishing the idea of Hands Across America. Each shadow comes to the surface, “untethers”, then joins the human chain of other successful untethered. The emphasis on the idea of Hands Across America asks the viewer to reconsider the film’s title. To think of it as US. Or U.S. As in: United States. With that in mind, there’s an unavoidable comparison between the people who live above ground and those below ground. It’s a legitimate class system that dramatizes the growing economic divisions within America.
And, then, of course, you have Addy and Red. They’re Us’s main characters. A single soul split between two bodies. The movie isn’t about one of them. It’s about both. The idea of “us” gets at the duality within a single identity. Not “I”. Not “Me”. Not “You”. The only option besides “Us” would be “Them”. But that goes against the spirit of the title and the film. It’s a film about division that longs for unification. “Us” is unifying and multidimensional as the self-inclusive nature of it tells the viewer that they’re also involved. “This is about us. All of us.” Rather than “Them”. Which would work if you were only talking about Addy and Red or the others. But there’s a distance. “This isn’t about me. This is about them. I don’t have to put myself into the story at all.” There are some nice subtle, psychological aspects to the title.
The themes, meaning, and symbolism of Us
This will be two main sections: The Hopi Legend and Duality & Classism.
The Hopi Legend
When little original Addy goes into the Vision Quest fun house, there’s audio within that tells a story. It says: Then Sótuknang went to Taiowa and said, “I want you to see what I have done. And I have done well.” And Taiowa looked and said, “It is very good. But you are not done with it. Now, you must create life of all kinds and set it in motion according to my plan.” [inaudible but something about universal planning] and went into the endless space and gathered substance to create his helper, the Spider Woman. “Look all about you, Spider Woman,” said Sótuknang. Here now is endless space, but in the world there is no joyful movement. The world needs…”
The Hopi are one of the many indigenous tribes of America and located primarily in Colorado and Arizona. The legend referenced by Jordan Peele in Vision Quest is a creation story called The Spider Woman and The Twins. Sótuknang helped create the Earth but it wasn’t yet inhabitable. Which is what Taiowa is referring to when saying, “It is very good. But you are not done with it.” Sótuknang, like a good manager, decides to delegate the work, so creates The Spider Woman, Kótyangwúti.
After she asks why she’s there, according to a First People website, Sótuknang says, “Here is the earth that we have created. It has shape and substance, direction and time, a beginning and an end. But there is no life upon it. We see no joyful movement. We hear no joyful sound. What is life without sound and movement? So you have been given the power to help us create this life. You have been given the knowledge, the wisdom, and the love to bless all the beings you create. That is why you are here.”
So the Spider Woman creates two beings, twins, who then ask, “Who are we? Why are we here?” I quote: To the one on the right, Spider Woman said, “You are Pöqánghoya. You are here to help keep this world in order when life is put upon it. Go now around all the world and put your hands upon the earth so that it will become solidified. This is your duty.” To the one on the left, Spider Woman said, “You are Palöngawhoya. You are here to help keep this world in order when life is put upon it. This is your duty now: go about all the world and send out sound so that it may be heard throughout all of the land. When this is heard, you will also be known as ‘Echo,’ for all sound echoes the Creator.”
The twins then go about shaping the world and readying it for life. It’s their joint effort that makes the land habitable. Afterwards, one ends up at the North Pole, the other at the South Pole, and they “keep the world properly rotating.” The totality of the work between The Twins and The Spider Woman forms the Earth as we know it. The story ends with: Sótuknang was happy, seeing how beautiful it all was: the land, the plants, the birds and the animals, and the power working through them all. Joyfully, he said to Taiowa, “Come see what our world looks like now!” “It is very good,” said Taiowa. “It is now ready for human life, the final touch to complete my plan.”
(Of note, right after we hear the Vision Quest audio, when original Addy’s in the hall of mirrors, she begins to whistle “Itsy Bitsy Spider”. Later, just before the Shadow version of the Wilson family appears for the first time, adult, imposter Addy sees a spider walk across the glass coffee table. Also on the table, just behind the spider, is a toy spider. So you have that nice bit of duality. “Its Bitsy Spider” preempts both kid Addys meeting for the first time. Then the spiders on the table preempt adult Addys reuniting. So Peele found a way to incorporate at least a couple more references to the Hopi legend.)
This whole story points toward harmony, unison, teamwork. All concepts embodied by the idea of “us”. In that way, it greatly contrasts the story of Us. The twins do not get along. They do not team up. Their division brings about what’s probably a complete overthrow of the United States of America as we know it. So one is a creation story. The other a destruction story. Us being a narrative and thematic antithesis to The Spider Woman and The Twins opens up a lot of avenues for conversation. What caused things to go wrong? Why did the Twins fight? What should we take away from this?
Duality & Classism
It’s hard to talk about the duality of Us without talking about classism. Classically, classism refers to prejudice related to someone’s socioeconomic standing in society, usually divided between upper, middle, and lower. The wealthy vs the average household vs those in need of help. While the Twins in The Spider Woman and The Twins begin on equal footing and enjoy being part of the same goal, the twins of Us do not share such level beginnings. Instead, one is born into an above ground life that’s full of freedom and potential. The other is below ground in a limited world that’s merely a pale imitation of a better one. This humongous disparity demands one Addy envy the other. When the two meet in Vision Quest, it’s not as equals. It’s the Princess vs the Pauper. The upper class vs the lower class. The haves vs the have nots.
This socioeconomic envy is reinforced by the dynamic between the Wilsons and Tylers. The Wilsons are living a nice middle class life. While their family friends, the Tylers, have an upper class life. Over and over, Peele finds ways to point out the different standings. Sometimes it’s dialogue in the form of Gabe coveting Josh’s possessions. Or Josh saying something a bit superior. Or the vapidness of Kitty’s conversation with Addy. Other times it’s through visual juxtaposition. Like having the Wilsons take possession of the Tyler home. Or Gabe fighting Tethered Gabe on Gabe’s boat and Tethered Josh on Josh’s boat.
This idea of “Keeping up with the Joneses” might strike some viewers as being out of place or nothing more than a bit of superficial comedic relief. But it’s actually a reinforcing extension of Us’s primary theme and points to the psychology of why “Addy” replaced Addy rather than asking her for help. “Addy” wasn’t interested in becoming friends with Addy. She wanted to be Addy. To live the life she had spent years emulating. So instead of asking Addy for help, “Addy” did a far more cruel thing. She seized ownership.
This desire to climb the socioeconomic ladder repeats on multiple levels. First, between the Addys. Then, between Gabe and Josh. Finally, between the Tethered and the Untethered. Each version is a little different in terms of wants and scope. But they all come back to the same thing. You can begin to see a statement being made about how all of us can feel a little tethered by jealousies. There’s always someone with more. And we always want more. This can cause pretty major issues for not only individuals but entire cultures.
Us examines this idea of want in both the sense of self and the other. As in, we all think about what we want that others have. But we don’t often think about what we have that others may want. Peele doesn’t just emphasize the have nots—he personalizes them by saying “Hey, these people are literally you.” In reality, of course, they aren’t. But it’s highlighting the dual nature of people envying and being envied. And also, I think, the very real possibility of going from someone who has to someone who wants. It’s easier than it seems to suddenly end up in debt or jobless and eventually homeless and in dire need of fundamentals that had, for decades, seemed everlasting.
Ultimately, Us wants the audience to think about what it means to live in privilege and what it means to covet. And how does that extend into not only our day to day lives but the very fabric of the culture of the United States? As fantastic as it seems for the neglected Tethered to rise up, it’s quite common throughout history. Revolution is often an overthrow of the upper class by the lower class. While it’s incredibly unlikely millions of doppelgangers will ascend from underground tunnels, you can’t deny a building strain between Americans and Corporate America. By that, I mean regular people living less than upper class lives vs the extremely wealthy. Things were already stressful before COVID. In the aftermath? You can hear the kettle boiling. See the steam rising. Feel the heat.
So Us’s crazy story isn’t just for entertainment value. It’s a parable. A warning about economic disparity and what happens when that disparity becomes too great. People who should be united, who could do amazing things if they were united, end up falling into strife. The potential spoils. And something finally gives.
Which is a very interesting take on duality. In Fight Club, the duality is about a loss of individuality through the commercialization of identity. So it’s the true self vs the constructed self. In Black Swan, the duality is about the way greater influences restrain us and the path to learning to let ourselves feel and be true to our feelings. In Perfect Blue, it’s about transition from who you were to who you want to be and how some forces stand in the way of such progress. In Nocturnal Animals, it’s about coming to terms with the loss of life you could have lived. It’s cool that all of these narratives can use duality to explore very specific aspects of the human experience.
It’s also worth noting the role of government in Us. It was the government who created the shadow program as a means of spying on and manipulating political targets. They created an entire secondary population. And it seems at first the government felt some degree of responsibility in the care of this population. But, eventually, they gave up. And instead of doing what’s in the best interest of the group, the government abandoned them. That abdication of morality and ethics didn’t have an immediate consequence. It took decades and a leader like Red to emerge. But the consequence arrived. And the result was gruesome.
As much as we focused on the flaws of human nature as it relates to desire, cravings, and resentment, the only reason the dichotomy between the Tethered and Untethered existed was because of government. That’s not a minor thing. Government always determines the state of social classes. For better and for worse. Unfortunately, Us doesn’t explore the government narrative. There’s some backstory exposition but that’s it. As opposed to something like The Cabin in the Woods that has a whole government agency subplot and eventual comeuppance. Us lacks a government figurehead who feels the sense of consequence over the Tethered uprising. Maybe that choice is as simple as wanting to limit characters and subplots. Or maybe there’s something to the idea of government staying anonymous and unaccountable. It’s the people who pay the price of the government’s negligence, not the politicians.
That may explain the symbolism of the rabbits. As in: to the government, people are nothing more than bunnies to use in experiments. People are useful in their quick reproduction and seeming docileness (under the right circumstances). The title scene where we see the word US is over top of the shot of the rabbit in the cage. If that’s not outright enough for you, we have more. When we’re shown flashbacks to the young “Addy” living as a Tethered, the hallways are full of people. Later, when Addy chases Red to those same hallways to find Jason, there are no people, only rabbits. It might be a coincidence that Peele emphasized the rabbit during the title sequence and again in the climax, but when analyzing text the way we are, and with Peele’s track record of symbolism, you assume it’s not a coincidence. Given the emphasis on duality and government and the treatment of people by the government, I can see Peele viewing the rabbit as a double for the American population and the way in which we’re caged by various forces—policy, culture, our own jealousy, etc.
What do the character names mean?
Gabriel/Abraham: Both are Biblical figures. Gabriel is an archangel known as a guardian angel. The name translates to “Strength of God”. Then Abraham is the first Jew and most famously known for the story where God tests Abraham by asking him to sacrifice his only son, Isaac, as proof of loyalty. Just before Abraham goes through with it, God tells him it’s okay, he passed. So there’s something to the idea of being a defender and a father.
Zora/Umbrae: Zora is a Slavic word for “sunrise”. While umbrae is the plural form of the word “umbra”. The most basic meaning of umbra is shadow or the characteristics of shadow. Also an astronomy term that refers to the full shadow cast by a celestial body. A partial shadow is known as the penumbra. So you get opposites between light and dark.
Jason/Pluto: There’s a Jason in the Bible but he’s a minor figure who helps Paul the Apostle. In Greek mythology, there’s Jason, leader of the Argonauts, most famously known for an adventure involving the Golden Fleece. At one point in the story, Jason plows a field with fire-breathing rams but fire isn’t a defining character trait or anything. Maybe the movie character’s mask is his version of the Golden Fleece? Of course, the Us version of Jason having his monster mask could bring comparisons to Jason from the Friday the 13th series. But that doesn’t necessarily feel meaningful. Pluto has the duality of being (sometimes but not currently) a planet and a reference to the Greek god of the underworld. The main Plutonian myth involves the god’s abduction of Persephone to be his wife. That could be why Jordan Peele had his character end the movie by bringing one of the rabbits with him from the “underworld” back to the above world. A slight twist on the classic story.
Kitty/Dahlia: There are a couple layers here. Both Kitty and Dahlia are light, pretty, feminine names. And the character is beauty-obsessed and very girly. Specifically, Kitty is a derivative of kitten, a young cat, while Dahlia refers to a flower. But there’s a flip side to this. Kitty Genovese and the Black Dahlia are two popular figures in the world of true crime. Kitty is known for the legend of being chased down a New York City street in broad daylight and stabbed dozens of times. The story goes that all these people saw her but none called the police. It’s one of the most commonly cited examples of the bystander effect, where everyone thinks someone else will do something so they do nothing. There’s a whole documentary that debunks the story and explains the facts of what happened. The reality is much sadder than the legend. But people did call the police. The Black Dahlia is another victim, Elizabeth Short. So we get the duality of the general meaning of these names versus some really tragic stories attached to them.
Josh/Tex: I don’t think there’s anything definitive enough to say here. There’s a Joshua in the Bible who led the Israelites after Moses. That feels hugely disconnected from the movie character. And Tex could refer to dozens of random people. At the very least, Tex is a nickname for someone from Texas. Given Josh’s wealth, you could maybe start to argue he’s like an oil-rich Texan? Or because Texas is a southern State and Tex comes from a “southern” region? I don’t think any particular answer here will ever be satisfying or all that defensible, unless Peele or someone who worked on the movie says something.
Becca/Io and Lindsey/Nix: Becca and Lindsey have no special meaning, as far as I’m aware. There’s no Biblical Io. But in Greek mythology she’s someone Zeus turns into a cow. Also, Io is a moon of Jupiter. Which calls back to the astronomy aspects of Umbrae and Pluto. Nix typically means a rejection or stopping. As in “Nix that.” There’s also a “moon” of Pluto called Nix. In Greek mythology, Nyx is the goddess of darkness and night.
Adelaide/Red: I saved this one for last so we could establish all the astronomy and mythology references.. Adelaide has French origins by way of Germanic roots. Adal means “noble family”. While heit means “state, rank”. Adalheit became Adalhaid became Adélaide became Adelaide. A similar name is Adeline. Adelaide is the name of a city in Australia, the “land down under”. So there’s maybe a similar pun going on there as with Pluto (underworld) and Tex (southern state). No major Biblical or mythological associations. Nor astronomy. Red, on the other hand, I’m going to make a bit of a reach and say is a derivative of Mars. Mars is nicknamed the Red Planet due to the hue of its soil. So you have the astronomy association. Mars is also the Roman god of war, the equivalent of the Greek god Ares. Given Red’s waging a war against the upper world, it seemed somewhat fitting/relevant? She’s the general of the Tethered. Also could be a reference to another revolutionary figure, Malcolm X, who was known, for a time, as Detroit Red.
The end of Us explained
Us has two final scenes.
The first takes place after Addy defeats Red in the underground rooms of the Tethered and recovers her son, Jason. There’s special emphasis placed on the reunion of Addy and Jason. Addy tries to tell Jason no one can hurt him anymore, that “They’re all gone now”—in reference to the Tethered. When she asks him if he understands, he shakes his head and says, “Uh-uh.” Addy then holds up her hand and waits for Jason to hold her hand. When he doesn’t take it, she uses her free hand to move his to hers. We go from there to Gabe and Zora in an ambulance. After Jason and Addy arrive, the whole family drives away. While driving, Addy reflects on her childhood and the events that led to her switching places with the original Addy. We realize she’s kind of the villain. Or at least a villain. Who got away with ruining someone else’s life. When she finishes reflecting, she looks at Jason, who is staring at her as if he knows. She smiles and turns her eyes to the road. And Jason? He pulls down his scary mask.
The second scene transitions from the ambulance on the road to the rolling hills of the American landscape. Eventually, the camera finds the chain of thousands, if not millions, of Tethered, holding hands in a human chain. In the distance are helicopters and smoke, pointing to a larger scale tragedy than the film led us to believe. This wasn’t an isolated event.
What’s the ending mean?
The Tethered represent lower class groups who live cheap imitations of the lives of the upper classes. Both final scenes have to do with the success of the Tethered overcoming their situation. It’s a successful revolution, demonstrated on both the micro and macro level. Micro through the story of Addy. Macro through the unknown (but very large) number of Tethered we see making up the human chain. On the one hand, their victories came at the expense of many other lives. Each Tethered in the chain is someone who “untethered”. That’s a lot of lives lost. It’s easy, then, to simply look at the Tethered as evil. But then you have Addy. An individual we should have grown to like over the course of the movie. She’s a smart, loving, likable person who cares deeply about her family. She’s relatable. Except she’s also an escaped Tethered who is only able to live the life she’s living because she did this cruel thing to the original Addy (Red).
The Tethered aren’t just monstrous others. They’re people the government failed and thus forced to monstrous action. Their uprising has qualities of the heroic about it. Which sounds crazy, given what we see them do. But it makes you think about the human toll of even the original founding of America. The loss of Native American life to the colonization of the country. The lives lost in the Revolutionary War. The history taught in American schools focuses more on the heroism of the settlement and the righteousness of the war. Similarly, the Tethered saw their actions as the only way to freedom. When they teach about the Untethering, they’ll probably speak about it the same way we do The Boston Tea Party.
So you have this weirdly jovial and triumphant tone at the very end. Reinforced by Minnie Riperton’s song “Les Fleur”. The lyrics:
Will somebody wear me to the fair?
(To the morning, sing a lovely flower)
Will a lady pin me in her hair?
Will a child find me by a stream?
Kiss my petals and weave me through a dream
For all these simple things and much more, a flower was born
It blooms to spread love and joy, faith and hope, to people forlorn
Inside every man lives the seed of a flower
If he looks within he finds beauty and power
Ring all the bells,
Sing and tell the people that be everywhere that the flower has come
Light up the sky with your prayers of gladness and rejoice
For the darkness is gone
Throw off your fears, let your heart beat freely at the sign
That a new time is born
I bolded the relevant lines that stand out. The themes of Us essentially boil down to self-confrontation and revolution. The question is what happens to the flower? Does it grow or wilt? Do we let our better natures win out? Or does a weed of jealousy throttle our sense of right and wrong? Us is essentially a call to action. Or a prophecy of action. Saying that people who take their materialism for granted will one day have to face a reckoning from the people who want the same opportunities. That the same envy you feel for others, others feel for you. And the sooner we can work together, the more likely we are to avoid confrontation. The Hopi legend of The Twins becomes the idealistic way the story goes. Whereas Us is the more cynical and, dare I fearfully say, realistic way.
The cynicism is absolutely clear in Jason’s reaction to Addy. The reason he’s suspicious of her in the first place is because earlier Addy fought the tethered version of a Tyler daughter and went full tethered herself. She clicked the way the Tethered do and was far more feral and vicious. But Addy wasn’t aware Jason had re-entered the home. So she tried to downplay her behavior and just be “mom” again. But Jason was, after that, concerned. Regardless of whether Red said anything to him or he heard any of the conversation between Addy and Red, Jason sees his mom in a new way. That’s very evident after Addy rescues him. Instead of hugging her, he’s distant. When she asks if he’s okay, he gives a negative answer. When she offers her hand, he doesn’t take it.
Then, in the car, he’s still staring at her. Ultimately, he pulls the mask over his face. I’d lean heavily toward a negative interpretation of that action. As in, he’s wanting to hide from his mom because he realizes or feels she’s “different” than him. Or, at least, that there’s a side of her he doesn’t understand and fears. And Addy, in this moment of triumph, doesn’t necessarily care. She won. She not only replaced the original Addy all those years ago but has finally rid herself of the past altogether. That fear that Red would one day return is gone. No one can replace the new Addy. Keep in mind, too, that the only other times Jason pulled the mask down was when he was with Pluto and when he went into battle against the Tethered Tylers. So if he does it when afraid or when in the presence of a Tethered, well…
On the flip side, there is a positive interpretation. The movie is about duality. And the Tethered are viewed as the others. The monsters. So when Jason pulls down his monster mask, you could very much interpret it as the film conveying to the audience that Jason is on her side. The two of them shared a closer bond over the course of the movie. This is just that bond reaching a new level of depth.
It’s a glass of water moment, as you’re left to decide if it’s half full or empty. The big point is that the relationship is either improved or ruined. If it’s improved, it’s a very positive ending for Addy. If it’s ruined, her smile says a lot about her true feelings. That she may not be the decent person we thought. A character judgment underlined by the fact the moment between her and Jason revolves around Addy’s flashback to kidnapping the OG Addy and replacing her and the ways in which she relished what she had done. So the signs are pointing to this final moment indicating Addy has a cruel streak that Jason’s just now understanding. Making it a loss of innocence moment for him. Addy wins the war against Red, but at the cost of her son. Which you can extrapolate to envy as a whole. You may eventually get what you desired, but what does it cost you?
Timeline of events in Us
- Before the movie
- The United States government wants to spy on and influence political targets. They discover a means of duplicating someone’s soul and putting it into an identical body and using this “shadow” to manipulate the original.
- Apparently, this program calls for essentially the shadowing of most of the country’s population?
- The government uses rabbits as food for the shadow people.
- Addy is born. As is Shadow Addy.
- Prologue of the movie
- The year is 1986
- Young Addy sees commercials for the Hands Across America event.
- When young Addy goes to the pier with her family, Shadow Addy becomes aware of the ability to influence. Shadow Addy uses this to bring Addy to the Vision Quest where there’s a door to the shadow world. Shadow Addy confronts Addy, chokes her, then deposits Addy in the shadow world. Shadow Addy returns to the surface and becomes Addy.
- Between the prologue and the movie’s present day
- The government abandons the shadow program but leaves all the shadow people in the shadow world to fend for themselves.
- Shadow Addy and Addy still share a bond. Meaning whenever Shadow Addy does things above ground, Addy feels the compulsion to do them below ground.
- One day, Shadow Addy has a dance recital and puts on a wonderful performance. But simultaneously, Addy dances in the shadow world. This is a huge deal because shadow people move with a stutter. They’re awkward and stiff. They don’t know Addy isn’t one of them. So when she dances with grace and fluidity, they’re blown away. They turn her into a kind of religious figure and she becomes their leader.
- At some point, Addy, now Red, as leader of the shadow people, formulates an idea for their revolution and takes inspiration from the old Hands Across America commercial. She calls it the Untethering. They, the Tethered, will rise up and cut the ties that bind them.
- Somehow she finds scissors for everyone?
- Shadow Addy, now just Addy, has a normal, above ground life. Eventually meeting Gabe, getting married, and having Zora and Jason.
- Red is forced to meet Abraham and have Umbrae and Pluto.
- Eventually, Addy’s return to Santa Cruz triggers Red putting the Untethering into action.
- The events of the movie unfold
What do the bunnies mean?
It’s two-fold. The practical answer is that the rabbits are what the Tethered eat. Because rabbits breed and grow quickly, they provide a steady supply of protein for a large population. But the more symbolic answer is that they symbolize non-wealthy Americans. That’s why the movie’s title is over top of a bunny locked in a cage. The title is literally saying, “Hey, this is us. We’re the rabbits.” And also represents the U.S. As in: this is America. The policy makers have turned the general population into nothing more than rabbits who provide sustenance to the wealthiest 1%. We’re the protein that feeds the economy that makes them wealthy. This classism is a huge part of the movie and something discussed in more detail in the earlier sections on the themes and ending. I almost forgot that Red even has a line of dialogue where she says, “We’re Americans.”
Why did Red whistle?
It’s a callback to the opening scene. Back in 1986, when OG Addy first enters the Vision Quest, she starts to whistle “Itsy Bitsy Spider”. Then Shadow Addy whistles back at her. Moments later, they come face to face and Shadow Addy chokes OG Addy, drags her to the shadow people facility, and leaves OG Addy chained to a bed.
At the end, Red keeps trying to get Addy to relive that day. Going so far as to steal Jason and bring him to the facility so Addy would have to go back there. So the very end mirrors the beginning with adult Shadow Addy being the one to enter the Vision Quest (now Merlin’s Forest) and go to the tunnels. With so many callbacks to that period, with Red passing at the foot of the very bed Addy had chained her to in 1986, the whistling is just another one.
If you want to read more into it, it’s possible that it’s a final act of defiance. Because of how they live, the Tethered are naturally clunkier than their counterparts. The huge difference in physical movement is something you notice throughout the movie. It might be that whistling “Itsy Bitsy Spider” is something Red can do and Addy can’t since Addy’s the Tethered. Despite the years living above ground and gaining control of her body, maybe some things she’s still limited at? So Red’s whistling as a final, “See, you’re still not as good as me.” Which could be why Addy then freaks out and strangles Red.
There’s also a sweeter interpretation. The two of them whistling back and forth was the first interaction they ever had. And is something that was actually kind of shared between them. A moment where you could imagine them actually getting along. We know Red chastises Addy by saying, “How you could have taken me with you.” As in, you didn’t have to replace me. We could have done this together. Maybe Red’s still trying to connect with this other part of her. Even at the end. Like “Whistle with me.” But, instead, Addy, in a rage, puts an end to Red.
Also, it’s a call back to the original Hopi legend heard in the Vision Quest. Sótuknang creates The Spider Woman who then creates The Twins who will help bring life to the world. Addy and Shadow Addy are this movie’s version of The Twins. So the “Itsy Bitsy Spider” is a nice, subtle acknowledgment of the original Hopi story.
What do the scissors mean?
The shadow people share a bond with the original people. Red tells us the government found a way to split the soul but it’s still the same soul. And it seems that the connection means the people above ground determine what the people below ground do. But it’s possible for the shadows to influence what the above ground people do. Not all the time, but sometimes.
So the shadow people., led by Red, decide they should sever this bond. That’s why the whole uprising is called the Untethering and why the people are sometimes referred to as the Tethered. How do you untether? By cutting the bond. In practical terms, that means cutting your twin’s life to pieces, so to speak. So the scissors end up simply being a marketing decision. A way in which Red gets the other Tethered to buy-in on the concept. It formalizes it. And also gives them a weapon to use.
Why does Tethered Kitty (Dahlia) cut her face?
Kitty Tyler was a very vain and superficial woman, very much focused on her own physical appearance. The shadow version of Kitty, her Tether, Dahlia, would know this. Would feel this. Would have her Tethered-version of makeup that was probably awful and would have to perform Kitty’s whole makeup routine every single day, multiple times a day (probably).
So imagine how satisfying it must be for Dahlia to not only untether but then have access to all of Kitty’s makeup? We see her completely enamored by it. To the point she’s oblivious of Jason and Zora causing mayhem in the hallway outside the room. Even though she’s excited by all of this, there’s still part of Dahlia enormously resentful of Kitty. Of Kitty’s life. Even of Kitty’s face. So Tethered Kitty cuts her face out of this intense mix of emotions. The satisfaction of finally being free of Kitty but the rage at still being Kitty.
We see Addy go through something similar. At the end of the movie, she’s thrilled to be rid of Red. She’s incredibly satisfied with what she’s done. Why? Because even though Addy replaced Red decades ago, there’s still an anger having been born as an “other”.
Speaking of Addy, Dahlia brings the scissors to Addy’s face and seems like she’s about to hurt Addy. Then doesn’t. I’m assuming she doesn’t because Red’s such a Tethered celebrity and the whole point of this is to untether. It wouldn’t be right for Dahlia to do anything to Addy because that’s for Red. But seeing Addy and not being able to do anything causes Dahlia to feel a sudden increase in her own resentment for Kitty. Hence why she goes back to the mirror and cuts her face. She’s trying to, once again, punish Kitty. It’s a nice way to introduce thematic aspects of self-resentment.
Did Jason know his mom was a Tethered?
It’s never made absolutely clear. But you have a slow build that would be weird if Jason wasn’t supposed to know.
The first instance occurs at the Tyler house. The Wilsons think they’ve dealt with the Tethered Tylers and are ready to flee to elsewhere. But Addy has to go back inside for the car keys. She goes in alone only to discover one of the shadow daughters, Io or Nix, is alive. They fight and Addy wins but there’s something extra in her demeanor. She grunts and growls and breathes heavily in a way that feels…different. Jason happens to come back inside and sees this and is wide-eyed. But it’s pretty minor. It can be chalked up to the heat of the moment. Rather than a huge revelation that Addy isn’t who or what she seems.
But that’s the start of Jason putting together his mom may not be telling him everything. The next development happens after Addy defeats Red. She finds Jason in a locker and frees him. When she tries to comfort Jason, Jason’s clearly shaken up. Addy holds up her hand for him to match her, but he doesn’t. She has to grab his hand and put it to hers. Obviously he’s rattled from Red stealing him. But he also would have heard Addy roaring in victory and some of her post-fight Tethered sounds.
The third moment happens in the next scene. The Wilson family is together again and flees in an ambulance. Addy drives and Jason is in the passenger seat, holding a rabbit because he’s sweet. As Addy thinks back to how she replaced OG Addy/Red, Jason’s staring at her, as if he can read her mind or knows what she’s thinking. It’s a statement stare. But he never says anything. Only pulls the mask down. Which he only ever did before when he was interacting with Pluto and the Tethered Tylers. So I’m inclined to say we’re supposed to take away that he knows. Why else show him kind of knowing? They don’t do that with Gabe or Zora. So the more important question is what’s it mean for him to know? How does that affect him? Should it affect him? And how will it affect Addy?
Why did the Tethered make a human chain?
Because in 1986 OG Addy/Red saw a lot of commercials for Hands Across America and Shadow Addy also put OG Addy in a Hands Across America shirt when they switched places. So it’s something Red had on her mind for decades. And she knew the Tethered needed to make a statement. Not only that they exist but that they too are Americans. There’s also something nice about a group called the Tethered tethering together.
What do the shadows in Us represent?
We talked about this a bit in the theme section. But Us is about not just people but specifically people in the United States. There’s serious political commentary on classism and materialism and how we treat one another. And how the government treats people. So the shadow people, the Tethered, represent not only the 99% of Americans who live in the shadow of the 1%, but also a personal reckoning. Everyone is forced to confront themselves. You see the way in which the Wilsons band together and how that contrasts with the Tyler family and how they completely fall apart.
I think, ultimately, it gets at an idea of harmony. In the original Hopi legend, The Spider Woman makes The Twins who then help bring life to the planet. That was only possible because The Twins worked together for the common good. While The Twins in Us, Red and Addy, don’t work together. Shadow Addy banished OG Addy to a Tethered existence and took the life and name of Addy for herself. It was selfish. And causes a chain reaction that leads to the collapse of America as we know it. So there’s something to the idea of the ways in which we betray ourselves and create internal friction. As opposed to the original Hopi legend where there’s harmony between everyone and it leading to the creation of the world.
Did Adelaid know she was Red?
This is apparently a question a lot of people Google. I’m actually not sure what’s being asked. But everyone knew who they were. Red knew she was the original Addy. And Addy knew she was the original Tethered. Addy isn’t confused about her origins. Neither is Red.
Does the family in Us survive?
Yes? We see them alive and driving away when the movie ends. There’s nothing to point to anything bad happening to them. The Tethered were, for the most part, doing a 1-to-1 untethering. Meaning each Tethered only eliminated their other self. As far we saw, it wasn’t just rampant, chaotic violence. Each person had one target and dealt with their target and that was that. I feel like even the Tethered Tylers would have kept the Wilsons for Red to deal with.
So I assume the violence is over and the Tethered will move on to trying to live normal lives. But maybe there’s a chance the Wilsons aren’t safe and still in immediate danger. We’ll probably never know for certain. But I’d assume they just drive to safety, eventually find shelter, and either go to a specific government shelter or flee the country since the Tethered are specifically an United States issue.
Why is Red’s voice weird?
Shadow Addy choked her. The movie doesn’t really do a good job of conveying how damaging it was. I believe in the scene itself, we only see her hands at OG Addy’s throat for a brief moment before OG Addy collapses. But it seems Shadow Addy squeezed hard. It’s a smart way to show how that day has just totally scarred Red for life. Physically, mentally, and vocally.
What’s Jeremiah 11:11 mean?
Jeremiah 11:11 is the sign held by the homeless man at the peer. the Bible section in question says “Therefore, this is what the LORD says: ‘I will bring on them a disaster they cannot escape. Although they cry out to me, I will not listen to them.'”
So you have this Biblical energy that makes the uprising of the Tethered feel almost like divine punishment for the follies of the U.S. government and the ignorance of the general public. 11:11 repeats multiple times. Just before Red arrives, a clock says 11:11. And the baseball game Gabe’s watching is tied 11-11. Addy chalks it up to a series of coincidences that lead her to believing something is about to happen. So you probably shouldn’t read too much into the whole 11:11 thing. It’s just an effective and subtle way to increase the sense of tension leading up to Red’s appearance. If you do start to read into it, it opens up a whole supernatural element to the film that doesn’t really lead anywhere.