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Notes on "Us"

There is actually very little in "Us" that doesn't amount to a perverse sort of wish-fulfillment... until the very end. Adelaide WIlson suffered a terrible trauma as a young child, but as Barbara Streisand recently took advantage about us to say about Michael Jackson's child victims in order to recover Michael's reputation, since she ended up with a loving husband and a handsome family, and as well, affluent, underneath our assessment of her is base sense that it couldn't really have been that bad. If I could have everything she had, I'd undertake her trauma, pretty much in a blink, is what we say to ourselves. Not only that, without it being explicitly delineated for us her being a person OF trauma seems to lend her aspects which would camouflage well, almost of depth, particularness: when we compare her with her "friend," Kitty Tyler, the wife of the family they pair up with a lot for social occasions, her knowing trauma is linked, as is her being a water-drinker rather than Kitty's alcoholic interest in wine at all occasions, with her sort of being elevated above everyone else. In a way, trauma is playing out here a little bit like one of sexy neurotic disorders everyone aspiring to matter in the nineteenth century had to have, to show they belonged amongst the highest circle, to show they were of class. She has suffered an early injury which made her introspective and removed; her friend "injures" herself -- through plastic surgery -- but only to further showcase her own vapidity and triviality. The right amount of trauma, is actually cool to have.
The "evil" dopplegangers that hunt after them are cool to have to, for each member of the family shows themselves capable of besting their counterpart, ultimately, even if not at first owing to their opponents having trained for revenge... their whole lives. Each does well, and the family itself does well, both wholeheartedly pointed out to us, for being given the chance to compare how a different sort of doppleganger family -- the white family they socialize with, who are matches, more or less, in family size and social status -- matches their own literal counterparts. All the members of the Tyler family, go down in a blink. Quick knife attacks on each one of them, and within seconds of one another's demise, they're all down. Since they're own technology -- a Google home-type technology -- ends up almost mocking them at the end, "mishearing" Kitty Tyler's plea for it to call the police as a command to play "fuck the police," by NWA, it almost seems fitting that their debris of corpses suffer other humiliations that are available to them at their demise: and so the Wilson family commandeers their new Land Rover, to show that when a trial arrives to sift pretenders from genuine contenders, we get shown who really earns the right to the edge in all battles between rivals, even in material acquisitions.
There's a whole underclass of people, it turns out, that have been denied all the advantages people like the Tyler and Wilson family possess, so the movie has an "Occupy" theme. But no matter how much we learn of how much they suffered, we probably only think we end up empathizing with them: there's sort of a developed rule in movie narratives that whenever the bad guys show how wounded they have been in life, unless the wounder was directly culpable, the automatic way out of actually involving ourselves in the damaged people's dismay is to show them doing something so heinous, they've already lost whatever sympathy they sought maybe to inure in us. The James Bond villain, Raoul Silva, from Skyfall, was abandoned by the british special forces, by "M," mom, specifically, but he's already killed numbers of "innocent" office workers in return, and as well brutalized and enslaved a woman who as a girl was forced into prostitution, so he's always outside sympathy ("M" does end up paying for it, though). But usually the way it works is the villain ends up threatening the life of a child, which is what Adelaide's double does. The point is, the raging underclass that cuts loose, almost, not to Watership Down-like release of caged rabbits, but human droids still actually under command: they clear the street of so much human "prattle," human cattle, so the vacationing family sort of now has their beach vacation, but without the crowds. They let the family have Saturday "fun," but on Tuesday... they really do get their own beach. The dopplegangers, all wearing red, hand in hand for a line all across mountain ranges, and seeing it visually feels like seeing the like of an aerial view of Great Wall of China: it fits into a vacation theme.
We identify with this family right up to the end. We would want to be this family, be in their position. And that to some extent is how Jordan Peele gets us. For in the end, our desiring to be the trauma suffering young woman who ended up emerging into life like that, forces, for the first time, an identification with a doppleganger. For it turns out that the young girl wasn't only traumatized by an early meeting with her doppleganger in a setting where she felt alone and incapable of finding rescue / parental support, but actually destroyed by it: the doppleganger had actually nabbed her, not just spooked her, forced her into living her own fate while replacing her as the family's "daughter." Nested into someone we ourselves are enjoying being akin to, we get caught into imagining ourselves so doomed as well, and it's not pleasant. Since we had no previous ability to sympathetically imagine the doppleganger, we find ourselves stuck with her, and so likely now find ourselves trying to puff smoke into what she did manage to accomplish in life, what we saw of her and didn't maybe value as much as we should because we knew her character was doomed, owing to her tainted origins, never to really be able to find happiness or victory, so it seems to bear some genuine worth. For the first time we feel as we might if we found ourselves our comfortable society of winners and deposited inescapably amongst the abandoned, the lost... people like those caught in service jobs like all the carnival workers we see, and we try and forge links already lining up for us in reality with a cocktail waitress becoming a powerful member of the House of Representatives, to find some rescue for us.
Husbands deflate in terms of family stewardship as film progresses. Wives of both WIlson and Tyler families emerge as of central importance, as relative riff-raff of husbands fall to the side. With the Wilson family, where the father is hardly completely deflated, he makes a stupid show of himself as he stands against an invading family, solo, deeming that a family, shadowed in black, standing on his lawn, immediately after the power in his house has gone out, is something that can be handled by the type of father we know of from movie references, who ostensibly sure head of householdness is shown by the fact that HE WILL recourse to a baseball bat if the "kids" don't get off his lawn after being politely asked to. Conversely, his wife makes splendid show of her own self, when she decides that she's in charge. With the Tyler family, the husband tries to stand by his "right" to sit by and drink, but the wife of course succeeds in beckoning him out to confront their own "lawn intruders." If there is any risk of this sequence itself playing into one that feeds into patriarchal motifs -- and certainly we do know of the old sense of a couple where the father's reluctance and the wife's insistence, nevertheless doesn't play to matriarchy but it's opposite, involving the over-concerned wife -- it gets blanched in the way the scene develops: everyone but the wife is killed and remains dead; she gets moments more, and her doppleganger plays out as the movie's second-most formidable and dangerous -- kid-threatening -- "villain.'
Argument that the film extends our empathic reach, which one would think an easy one to make, considering ostensibly being drawn in to involve ourselves with the lived lives of the ignored and disparaged, is belied by the fact that the Tyler family is set up so that one almost enjoys their being so readily slaughtered. In any film where empathic reach is actually extended, one would think it would bleed into arenas ostensibly immune to it -- which would include the rich and obnoxiously rude.
The dopplegangers use scissors as their primary weapons, mostly to gouge, but also to snip "things" off. It's a tool of the household, of seamstress... of elementary school play activities. It's the inverse to all the other objects that our attention is put to in the film, which are of the adult world. Things like alcohol, a boat, summer home, a car. It's also retrograde, as the focus of the teenage girl in the film is an iphone. None fo these people make any pretence to being grown-up, is what we intuit. With the exception of their leader, they are all de facto children. It's empowering as it seems to free them of any doubt.
Tyler family is ample in size. They're all conventionally John Hughes, when Hughes is depicting characters in affluent upper middle class families, other than the odd one out. With Hughes its a way to pull off focus on them as as fully human as the odd one out is, and it seems like something along these lines -- means to pull away empathic reach -- is at work here. Thereby the twin girls of the Tyler family, deindividualized simply for being twins, suffer the further indignity of being rendered into exactly the type of girls -- in being large-breasted, big hipped, in a conventional most popular girl in school way -- who'd show up in horror films only to be killed while having sex. By contrast, the Wilson family -- with the notable exception of the father -- is lithe, ballerina thin. They carry aspects of genuine culture in them. Europeanness, vs. the Tyler's course Americanness. Insular, removed, ostensibly snobby. Sense is that the Tyler family represents the over-ripened affluent, so far along on its phylogentic limb that it's lost if circumstances change, while Wilson family is only half-emerged into it, always holding something back.
The Wilson father's huge frame and over-weightness works a bit as a family defence. That is, in case all the other member's thinness or smallness reads as undevelopedness, or as afraidness -- bodies afraid to emerge into full reality, so stay tight to the bulb -- he himself loudly represents to others the frame the film intends to delineate as embodying Americans who readily assume their level of comfort and affluence.
One of the things you sense when everyone around seems to have died, is a sense of being allowed now to quieten your ambitions, a sense of freedom. The Wilson family is in competition with the Tylers... there a sense that you have to, if not match them, show you're more or less keeping up. The young woman in the family feels the pressure of becoming a top athlete, a great athletic runner. Her doppleganger rival mocks her by showing in her casuality, just how easy it will be to catch up to her in a footrace, for already being at the peak of performance her rival is hoping she might obtain. Her doppleganger self does it, already possesses it, and perhaps with that, and it being a drive that is funnelled into something due for destruction -- the doppleganger will die; the sprinter humiliated by a car's ability to go even faster and then come to an abrupt stop -- she no longer feels the pressure to perform. She can easily let that "ambition" go, if she wants. And otherwise for the family, with so few remaining alive, there's a sense that the whole competitive, late-capitalism manic phase of competitive acquisitiveness, has been given the push it needed to reach its full demise ahead of time.


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