Jordan Peele's Us: 21 Clues That Telegraphed The Twist You Might Have Missed
Us spoilers ahead!
Just ahead of the debut of his new Twilight Zone series, Jordan Peele's second movie, Us, debuted in theaters and broke records. It's already racked up over $176 million at the box office worldwide, and since we first saw it, it's had our minds reeling--even after multiple viewings. What did you think of the big twist? Let us know in the comments below.
Jordan Peele hit a nerve in his "written and directed by" debut, Get Out. It was both critically and commercially successful; it netted Peele an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay. And Peele's newest film, Us, continues his record of success. It's a provoking, sprawling work, filled with callbacks and clever little touches. Comedy was Peele's original genre of choice, and the same instincts that create his comedy are applicable to his horror.
Best of all, Us wraps with a game-changing plot twist that Peele telegraphs, in ways both explicit and subtle, throughout the film's running time. You may have seen it coming, but in some ways that makes it a good twist--it's easy to pull the rug out from the audience, but don't confuse mere surprise with actual narrative subversion. It takes crafting and forethought to misdirect the audience along the wrong path for an entire movie, reveal the correct path, and make it equally viable.
The clues were there all along; you just weren't looking for them. Here is every hint and little detail we've found in Jordan Peele's Us, that gave the entire film its unity and sense of purpose. And if you have questions about the meanings behind the film, check out our explainer gallery and our analysis of the ending.
1. So What's The Twist?
So let's start from the end, with that doozy of a twist. At the beginning of the movie, the audience learns that when she was a little girl, Adelaide went into a house of mirrors at the Santa Cruz boardwalk. Inside, she met her Tethered doppelganger--an experience that apparently left her traumatized and unable to speak.
What we learn at the end of the film is that Adelaide actually switched places with her doppelganger that evening in 1986. The doppelganger, named Red, choked Adelaide until she was unconscious, dragged her down to the underground, and handcuffed her to a bed. She then switched clothes and took her place above ground.
That means that for the entire film, the woman we thought was Adelaide was actually Red, and vice versa. It complicates our sympathies of both women, and deepens the film's theme of "us versus them." It turns out there was nothing inherently inferior about the Tethered. The proof is that once someone from below ground was given chances, artistic outlets, and language to express herself, she blended in perfectly on the surface. The only thing that separates those who have a lot from those who have little is opportunity.
Bearing that twist in mind, what follows are several moments from the movie that are now loaded with double meaning.
2. A Grieving Mother
When Adelaide's mother is talking to the therapist in the flashback and sobs, "I just want my little girl back," she has no idea how literal her words are--that her daughter was literally taken.
3. A Telling Conversation
We're led to believe that both Adelaide and Red have repressed the memories of their switch. But on some level, Adelaide (the adult Red) is aware of the awful act she's committed. She tells Gabe in a bedroom conversation about her fears that her double will track her down. This might be repressed guilt, of having to answer for what she did to Red years ago.
Adelaide says during the same conversation with Gabe, "I don't feel like myself here." Of course she doesn't.
4. Twisted Fairytale
When Red tells the "Once upon a time..." story to Adelaide's family, she talks about how when people above ground ate delicious Thanksgiving food, the people below ground ate raw rabbit flesh. How would someone who lived underground her whole life even know what delicious food was? She remembers it from her childhood, before she was switched. She also phrases the story as a fairy tale because kids' stories are her most familiar cultural reference, since the last time she was aboveground was as a young child.
5. This Is Thriller
The Michael Jackson reference on the Thriller shirt that Adelaide is wearing is no coincidence. Lots of the imagery reinforces the connection to the artist. The Tethered are all dressed in red (like Jackson was in the Thriller video) and are wearing a single glove. Peele has discussed the duality of Jackson in interviews, of how a man of great generosity and philanthropy could also be accused of monstrous things.
But the Thriller music video is also foreshadowing. Remember how at the end of the video, Jackson looked at the camera and had cat eyes? It turned out that he was a monster the whole time. In a similar way, Adelaide has blended in with the above ground people. One would have to look more closely to see that something isn't right.
6. A Broken Voice
Red speaks with a hoarse rasp of a voice. But even so, she is the only one of the Tethered who can speak; everyone else seems to communicate in grunts, moans, and animal noises. This was a clue that she was special; unlike the others, she had experienced and learned English above ground, and so she retained this ability.
So why is her voice damaged? Probably because her larynx was crushed by her double when she choked her into unconsciousness. Conversely, this is the reason why Adelaide does not speak after the mirrors incident. Her parents think it's because she's traumatized. But it's actually because she's one of the Tethered, and simply doesn't know how to speak.
7. Hand in Hand
When she's in the waiting room of the psychiatrist's office, little Adelaide is playing in the sandbox, and she starts arranging the animals in a row side-by-side, in an imitation of Hands Across America.
8. Odd Couples
When adult Adelaide is relaxing on the couch near the beginning of the movie, she sees a smaller spider crawl out from underneath a bigger rubber spider, which mirrors the Tethered overcoming and escaping the underground.
Later, a red frisbee lands on a white blanket at the beach, and completely lines up with a blue dot on the blanket. This overlap reinforces the duality theme, and it also refers to the entire film's premise of the red-clad Tethered rising up to kill and overlap their twins.
9. Odd Gestures
Gene's double, Abraham, is fascinated by Gabe's glasses, because every time Gabe adjusted his glasses or put them on, Abraham felt compelled to do the same gesture. This is the first time he's seen the purpose for this movement.
Sometimes, the mirrored movement is twisted into something violent. The doppelganger of Kitty cuts her own face with a knife. This is a reference to the above ground Kitty's plastic surgery.
10. Mimicry Mimicry
Similarly, Jason's double, Pluto, is fascinated by Jason's lighter, because every time that Jason tried to do a magic trick with it, Pluto lit a match; it may be how he burned off the bottom portion of his face. Finally, he can see the reason for his misery.
Jason realizes that his doppelganger, Pluto, feels a compulsion to imitate him. He learns this when they're in the closet together, copying the magic trick and pulling off their masks. Jason later uses this knowledge to his advantage, and tricks Pluto into walking into the fire, killing him.
11. The First Link In The Chain
When Adelaide and her family first arrive in Santa Cruz, we see a dead homeless man being loaded into an ambulance. We saw him previously during the prologue flashback; he was holding the same Jeremiah 11:11 sign and looked much younger.
Later in the movie, Jason sees a homeless man standing in the middle of the beach, with his hands outstretched. We know now, with the benefit of hindsight, that this is the Tethered who replaced the original homeless man after killing him. He's also one of the first Tethered individuals to successfully kill his double; he's standing strangely, because he's taking his place as one link in the Hands Across America demonstration. By the end of the movie, there are many, many more who have joined him.
12. Sinister Shyness
When Adelaide tells Kitty on the beach that she doesn't feel comfortable talking, we initially think it's shyness. It's actually because she had to learn it; she had spent the first part of her life in the underground, where she didn't know any English. It's not a surprise that she still finds social interactions a little awkward or confusing.
13. An Innate Sense of Direction
Adelaide manages to navigate her way into the underground, sight unseen. The only way she could have moved with such deliberateness is if she had already been there--which she had, as a child.
14. A Regression of Behavior
Adelaide enters a near feral state toward the end of the film when she's trying to defeat Red in the hallway. She makes growling noises after killing Red that sound eerily similar to those of the Tethered. Her staggering (resulting from injury) is reminiscent of the way that the Tethered walked underground before the real Adelaide woke them up.
Jason is suspicious throughout the movie. He sees Adelaide's "true self" when she kills one of the twins, and also when she kills Red; he's likely able to see some of their fight through the holes the locker. After both incidences, he looks terrified of his mother rather than reassured.
15. A Thematic Color Change
Adelaide's white shirt becomes more and more stained with blood during the movie, until it's finally "red," like the jumpsuits of the Tethered.
16. Whistle a Happy Tune
The real Adelaide, unlike her doppelganger, can whistle "The Itsy-Bitsy Spider" well. She does it as a young girl in the mirror funhouse. And she does it again right before her death, revealing that it's the same person.
17. Something Off About Jason
There are several theories that Jason might be a Tethered himself. Fans speculate that Pluto and Jason switched in the beach house closet the previous year, when Jason was trapped inside it the prior year.
There's a lot of circumstantial evidence that supports this. For example, Jason is digging a tunnel at the beach instead of building a sand castle. He has a fascination with the underground and with dark places; the twin neighbors call him "weird" for it.
18. A Selective Memory
Jason also doesn't always recall things that he should. He doesn't remember how to do his magic trick from last year. And when Gabe asks Jason to get the baseball bat to defend against the Tethered, Jason doesn't know where it is.
19. Grieving for Grandma
We also learn that Jason and Zora's grandmother died, which Gabe says has affected Jason's state of mind. This feels like a callback to Adelaide's prior trauma. Maybe Gabe is making a convenient rationalization, and maybe the real reason why Jason seems different is that he is actually Pluto?
20. Another Explanation
If you don't buy that theory, there's another reason why Jason might be scared of his "mother" at the end: The real Adelaide, AKA Red, might have simply told him the truth about the switch. They were alone together down there for a while, after all.
21. Back to the Shadows
After Adelaide remembers her past, she locks eyes with Jason. He gives her a knowing look, and then puts on his mask.
You could interpret this as a non-verbal signal to Adelaide that, "Yes, I'll keep your secret." Alternately, if Jason is actually one of the Tethered, he may have put on the mask as an acknowledgement of his true nature, and to tell Adelaide that he too was hiding the truth about himself.