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Links R’ Us

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It’s been a week since Us, Jordan Peele’s brilliant, messy follow-up to Get Out, opened in theaters, and I think it’s time for the LGM commentariat to get their thinking caps on about it. Us is the sort of film that is almost as much fun to talk about as to watch, and the last week has delivered some fantastic reviews and thinkpieces. Here are some of my favorites, but I hope you’ll use them as a jumping off point for your own thoughts.

(I’m not putting any spoilers in this post, but you should assume that any of the discussions linked to are fully spoilery, and I think it’s fair to expect the comments to discuss the film and all its twists in full.)

  • My favorite review of the film is by Alissa Wilkinson at Vox. As well as discussing the film’s merits as a work of horror, and Lupita Nyong’o’s stunning central performance, it offers one of the most clear-sighted assessments of how Us‘s story is underpinned by class, and by the conflict of the haves and have-nots.
  • My own review tries to get at that underlying tension, as well as to discuss the way that while Us encourages us to discus it, we should be wary of the impulse to “solve” it. This is a messy film, and while a lot of its imagery suggests different avenues of interpretation, I doubt that there is one “correct” way to read it.
  • Author and academic Tananarive Due writes about Us in the context of black horror. You may know Due’s name from the university course she designed in response to Get Out, in which she discusses the tradition of horror in black art and how it expresses the anxieties of the black community, which eventually featured a guest appearance by Peele in 2017.
  • The image in Us that gave me the most trouble in trying to puzzle it out was the repeated reference to Hands Across America, which ends up being central to the villain’s scheme (as well as the visual motif of people holding hands, which appears in such disparate places as the sticker on the main characters’ car and the paper dolls created by the villain). Jen Chaney at The Vulture and Amanda Marcotte in Salon do a great job of unpacking the significance of that image, and the project it represents, to the film’s central theme of the revolt of the dispossessed.
  • My favorite piece of analysis of the film’s themes comes from Kyle AB, who dissects, first in an excellent twitter thread and then in an essay at Afropunk, how both Us and Get Out represent different approaches to the concept of double consciousness. I agree with AB that Peele’s claims in interviews that Us isn’t about race shouldn’t be taken at face value, and this description of how both of his films have approached similar issues from different perspectives really opened up the film for me.
  • In my review of the film I mentioned that one of the authors Peele reminds me of is Helen Oyeyemi, particularly her 2009 novel White is For Witching. Like Peele, Oyeyemi tends to pile on surreal imagery in a way that doesn’t lends itself to an easy decoding, but which is clearly rooted in long-simmering anxieties over racism and the weight of historical injustice. In the comments to my review, commenter lisze mentioned Kelly Link’s story “Stone Animals” (originally published in Conjunctions in 2004, then collected in Magic for Beginners in 2005; you can find an online copy here) which also makes for an interesting companion to the movie. It shares with the film several central images—chiefly rabbits—and more importantly, the theme of doubling and of being replaced. If you enjoyed Us, you should give Link and Oyeyemi a look.
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