What to Know About That Wild Twist at the End of 'Us'

Still trying to piece together the twist ending of Us? Allow us to explain.

Jordan Peele doesn’t shy away from his ambitions in Us, the writer-director’s follow-up to the Oscar-winning Get Out. While it may not be as taught as that social thriller, this new American nightmare is packed to the brim with ideas, unexpected twists, and clever nods to the ‘80s pop culture with which Peele grew up. It’s a sinuous, sly, sneaky beast of a movie. And it’s never more unsettling than in its bonkers twist ending—a final act that throws a powder keg at genre expectations and delivers haunting political commentary.

Warning: major spoilers about the ending of Us below.

To arrive at its ending, Us circles back to and reframes its killer setup. In the extended opening, which is a flashback—a device used throughout the film—we watch a young girl in 1986 with her two parents who tensely argue in the theme park of the Santa Cruz boardwalk. She wanders away from her dad, who’s distracted playing Whack-a-Mole, and into a hall of funhouse mirrors, taking shelter from a rainstorm. There, she finds not just a distorted image, but another girl who looks just like her, who turns to face her with a sublimely creepy smile (the movie’s phenomenal music nicely highlights the most sinister moments). Gone for 15 minutes, Adelaide returns to her folks shaken and mute, and is later diagnosed with PTSD.

Fast-forward to the present day and that grown protagonist, Adelaide Wilson (Lupita Nyong’o in a complex, mercurial performance), shows up with her family to their vacation house in the same beach area. She’s understandably nervous as they relax near the same boardwalk and her son briefly goes missing. Soon their home is invaded by what appear to be demonic versions of each family member, dressed in red jumpsuits and linked hand to hand.

That’s scary enough, but Us unfurls a much, much thornier premise over its two hours. Escaping and gradually killing their monster-clones—without the aid of police who never show up, a clear satirical reference to the way black people are treated by authorities—the family makes its way to their white friends’ (Elisabeth Moss and Tim Heidecker) house. Instead of protection, they’re met by more monster-clones of the other family attempting to take their lives.

Luckily, the Wilsons turn out to be pretty good at bashing their croaking doppelgangers’ heads in, and they make it out on the road. At this point Us broadens its aims quite a bit: They find a huge mass of clones in red jumpsuits standing hand-in-hand, forming a snaking border around the beach town.

Peele throws more extended flashback at us (it gets a bit overdone) to explain the final brutal twist: We discover that on that rainy day in 1986, Adelaide did not manage to run away from her clone but was instead brought down to the subterranean tunnels where all the clones reside. (A title card at the beginning of Us informs us that there are thousands of miles of tunnels hidden under the United States, which is more or less true!) In this underground reality, the government created duplicate humans known as “Tethers” in a botched experiment to control the above-ground population, but the Tethers must share a soul with their copies—never achieving full autonomy.

Universal

Until, at least, Adelaide’s duplicate Red imprisoned young Adelaide underground decades ago and replaced her in the larger world, thus not talking and the subsequent PTSD diagnosis. Here, Us becomes, well, confusing and confused. The “Adelaide” we’ve known is actually the Tether. During the climax, “Red” (who’s actually the real Adelaide—but we’ll continue to refer to them by the previous names for the sake of clarity) abducts Adelaide’s son Jason (got that straight?).

Adelaide then descends into the Tethered underworld via the very Stanley Kubrick-inspired escalator in the hall of mirrors. She faces a duel with Red, who spouts a monologue about how she was chosen to lead the Tethered revolution. Adelaide kills Red, and saves Jason, and the family drives off into freedom. Adelaide briefly flashes a menacing smile toward Jason in the car, and it’s suggested he knows the true origins of his mom (sequel alert?). (And what about Adelaide’s husband Gabe? In a possible Easter egg, he says to his kids at one point, “Your mom knows what to do.”) A wide shot reveals Tethers all over the country joining hands in their uprising, reflecting the ‘80s ad for Hands Across America we saw during the film’s early scenes.

What feels amiss about this ending is that Adelaide, who’s been living a lie for most of her life, seems in most parts of the movie completely ignorant of what’s actually going on. Her ambivalence could be read as her harboring the dark secret of her life, or maybe she just forgot who she really was? But if either of these things is true, why does the real Adelaide aka Red (who speaks in a bizarre groan despite the fact as a young girl of, say, eight before being chained she spoke perfectly normally) never confront her impostor Adelaide about being forced into the tunnels? Most people would be pretty pissed off about that and want some vengeance! Or, you know, at least a conversation.

In its rush of exposition during the finale, Us both gets bogged down in details of its universe and skips over gaping plot holes. That’s basically okay: While this is no masterpiece on the level of Get Out, it’s better for its zoomed-out thoughts, which far exceed its predecessor’s constrained racial satire. Peele clearly wants to send a message about the current fractious political climate in the U.S., in which increasingly sorted and like-minded communities contribute to polarization, and people are able to disregard how the other half lives (thought it would’ve been too on the nose, the title of the movie could’ve easily been Us vs. Them). There’s also a religious dimension to this turn of events: The Bible’s Jeremiah 11:11, peeped on a sign on the boardwalk, tells us, “Therefore thus saith the Lord, Behold, I will bring evil upon them, which they shall not be able to escape; and though they shall cry unto me, I will not hearken unto them.”

Peele insists that we dismiss our supposed enemies—chained to us by nationality, personhood, and our democracy’s underlying belief in a commonwealth—to our detriment. Us hints at this with a powerful moment as the Wilson Tethers are asked by the invaded family, “What are you?” Red answers, “We’re Americans.” What it means to be American—sometimes empowering, other times discouraging—and more importantly what it means to deny that title to out-of-sight compatriots is a rich theme for a horror movie. And it’s one Us drives home with disturbing force.

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