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Peter Fenzel, Mark Lee, Jordan Stokes, and special guest Shiyan dive deep into Jordan Peele’s latest horror masterpiece, Us, including the story’s overall allegorical significance, the Stephen Spielberg version of this movie, and the Call the Police / F— the Police dichotomy of American life.
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- Hands Across America
- Damaged by Black Flag
- Suspiria (2018)
- Jeremiah 11:11
- “Here are the 10 horror films Jordan Peele had Lupita Nyong’o watch before filming ‘Us'”
"Rabbits… they have the brain like a sociopath." @JordanPeele explains how nature's cuddly creatures are the most terrifying animals around. #UsMovie pic.twitter.com/94FYwPRjvF
— Rotten Tomatoes (@RottenTomatoes) March 21, 2019
I would love to hear even more Overthinking It thoughts on the film’s soundtrack choices. I don’t really have any thoughts of my own, but the remix of “I Got 5 on It” was striking and I always like to hear The Beach Boys “Good Vibration,” even in a terrifying context.
I have some thoughts on “Good Vibrations.” First, it’s one of the exemplars if a certain type of pop music—rich instrumentation, complex harmonic structure, and also totally catchy and accessible. If you wanted to pick one song that symbolizes what’s possible with capitalism and all its privelege, this would be among a short list of contenders (along with Bohemian Rhapsody and the best ELO songs, but I digress).
Perhaps more importantly, though, Brian Wilson was a tortured and depressed man who wrote this super cheery song. So that fits pretty well with the movie’s overall preoccupation with duality.
“I got 5 on It” and “Good Vibrations” are both about anesthetizing comforts, and you can see them as relating to the internalized dimensions of the two families. At one point I think it’s the daughter brings up that the lyrics to “I got 5 on it” aren’t about good things, and the parents dismiss her complaint without seriously questioning it – they aren’t questioning themselves why they like it.
At any rate, “I got 5 on it” is about refusing to share weed with friends who don’t reimburse you for it, and is also about stereotypically degrading material pleasures associated with Blackness in America – it is, for example, heavily invested in 40s.
So the song is both materialistic/capitalistic and racially coded, reflecting internalized degradation. It can be seen as covering both angles we discussed in the podcast.
Meanwhile, Good Vibrations is a song that is white as all get-out (pun intended?) and is about how the possibilities introduced by mutual interest in your partner resonate with the rest of your life and make it a generally transformative and positive experience. It is played with bitter irony because the white couple don’t actually love each other and don’t even really like each other – and also the “vibrations” in their life are overwhelmingly negative, not positive. I think it’s shortly after that song plays that Elizabeth Moss is mortally wounded and crawls toward her dead husband – the person she said earlier she wanted to kill – but here instead we see this underlying yearning for him… to protect her? to love her? to die with her? to offer her some measure of comfort?
There’s a transmission that takes place – something she is picking up from her husband’s cooling corpse – but it isn’t the transportative vibes of the Beach Boys, it’s this aching and fatal need that was never met in their marriage and that she hopes (without prospect as such) that she might meet for even a moment before her death.
So yeah, IMO, both are included to highlight the family’s hypocrisies – the one family around selfishness and money, internalized signifiers that give the lie to their current material condition, and race, and the other around selfishness and love, signifiers that give lie to their current condition vis a vis their marriage, and also race.
Another way of putting it with regards to Elizabeth Moss’s character is that the Good Vibrations moment is about how coded internalized whiteness says that marriage means you’re always supposed to be happy, when the reality of the world is that sometimes in marriage you are also sad or scared, and you need your partner for the sad or scared moments as much as the happy ones.
And this is why the white couple are comfort addicts and alcoholics and hate each other – they keep banging their head against the wall of their marriage not being blissful, which creates an irresolvable conflict with their internalized racial identity.
For what is rose but a diluted and brunch-friendly facsimile for blood?
And on the other side the Black family not only are living a charade by celebrating their connection to hop hop culture while keeping so much for themselves in the face of the needs of others, the mom at least literally _is_ a tethered masquerading as an above-grounder. She is passing. They aren’t able to fully express themselves or their own power because they live in denial of both/either the part of themselves that has internalized their structurally lower-status position, and/or their kin they left behind. They seek to paper this over with money and nice things associated with money (“putting 5 on it”), which turns out to not be a fully effective response.
Oh man, that is an amazing and delightful typo.
“hop hop” is the tethered form of hip hop inspired by the rabbits.
Since I first started hearing about the premise, it’s reminded me about–of all things–the Muppet-focused memorial tribute aired shortly after Jim Henson passed away (“The Muppets Celebrate Jim Henson”). One of the characters remembers Jim Henson as always hanging around…down there.
The rest of the crew never noticed the puppeteers, before, and they take it as sort of a creepy revelation, including, “look, look, when we move, THEY move!” And then they decide not to think about it anymore, because it’s “too weird.”
It almost seems like, other under circumstances, the movie could be spun into an entire franchise just interrogating who thinks they’re in control of their dyad and whether either of them completely is. The characters above ground seem to always be empowered, but is it because of their nature or because of a system that privileges them…?
It is suggested both sides of the tethered influence the other. My question is, what happens when one side dies? At the end of the film, the family has eliminated their duplicates. Do they now have more control over their actions than other people?
When you kill your doppleganger, you actually double your skills and abilities in martial arts. Us takes place in the Jet Li “The One” Cinematic Universe.
Oh good! Someone else remembers that film!
Yeah, but everytime someone forgets about it, the rest of us remember it a little stronger. Right?
The movie actually answers this pretty clearly, and it’s a very depressing answer. So, the tethered version of Elizabeth Moss has a bunch of facial scars. The implication is that whenever surface Elizabeth goes in for plastic surgery, tethered Elizabeth gets cut up without anesthesia.
But then after surface Elizabeth gets killed, tethered Elizabeth sees Lupita… and goes right back to cutting up her own face. So the premise behind the tethered’s plan is just essentially wrong: even after they’ve killed their surface counterparts, they’re going to keep on acting out the same maladaptive behaviors.
Although actually, one way of reading tethered Elizabeth’s reaction to her husband getting burnt up is that, at first, she starts to emote sadness (because this is what she would have had to imitate if the surface husband had died while she was still in the tunnel), but then realizes that she no longer needs to do so, and laughs gleefully at that realization. So maybe the tethered do get free will, but it takes them a while to grow into it.
There’s also a lot of nature/nurture and systemic issue arguing available here, too. I mean, it’s hard to believe that Peele would be fine with moral messaging that the forgotten people whose shoulders we stand on need to be tied down so that they don’t become self-destructive, given how often that narrative was used to justify colonial abuses.
Speaking of Jim Henson, there’s also some hay to be made out of comparing this movie to The Dark Crystal. But it’s been too long since I watched that one, I’ve basically forgotten everything except for “AAH! My hand!” | “Ah. My hand.”
The discussion of a “solution” to the Us problem (greater transparency between tethereds) brought to mind a similar problem from the most recent season of The Good Place. (Spoiler alert)
In TGP, modern life has become so complex that even the most well-meaning people cannot earn their way into the “good place” when they die. Indeed, no human has made it into the good place in over 500 years. Even the most basic actions of modern life draw on or contribute to immense, largely invisible wrongs (sweatshops, deforestation, climate change, etc.) and trying to avoid those problems by living off the grid and immediately atoning for every slight, however minor, doesn’t work either.
Since TGP hasn’t revealed its solution to this problem, I figure an Us-style peasants revolt is just as likely to work as any other plan!
I wonder if The Good Place has an endgame in mind at all. On the one hand, the show delights in pulling the rug out and saying, “oh, no, this is actually an entirely different show than the one you thought you were watching.” But on the other hand, it’s really hard to imagine the twist that raises the stakes beyond “the entire universe is at risk because of neoliberalist enabling of capitalism” that doesn’t come off as absurdly reductive…
Maybe some kind of nihilist revelation like “the Good Place isn’t actually that great and humans never deserved to go there anyway”?
After all, for all the *discussion” of horrific tortures that occurs in the Bad Place, we’ve seen very, very little of it actually happening. And the Soul Squad have spent more than a full season physically in the Bad Place without any real scars or trauma to show from it. So are we *sure* that an eternity in the Bad Place would really be that hellish?
Or possibly some kind of twist on “hell is other people” where the Good Place is a utopia in theory but deviod of social interaction (like solitary confinement in an amusement park, sure it’s fun for a while, but other people are an essential element for long-term enjoyment). So the Bad Place isn’t perfect, in part because other people are there (with their own needs and wishes that may conflict with your own), but our group eventually decides that it’s preferable to an eternity without each other. Maybe?
Well, we do kinda-sorta get a sense of what the actual Good and Bad Places are like. We know that the original Neighborhood was patterned on actual Good Place settings, so it’s probably made of communities of nice people with similar tastes, which itself might not be great. Likewise, the point of the Neighborhood was to have the residents torture each other, which suggests that the Bad Place revolves around emotional abuse and anxiety more than classical “burning eternally.”
So, there’s a direction in investigating that, but my point was more that they’ve shifted the show from a goofy sitcom (the first season) to a goofy sitcom about making a goofy sitcom (in that the second season’s revelations make the show about maintaining the setting) to pretty heavy (but still very funny) satire exposing our complicity in society’s systemic injustices.
There are definitely directions they can go. But, I don’t think they can go “down” a layer, because it’s already very real. Digging deeper into the actual afterlife is going to end up implying that morality is no big deal, which is off-brand for the show. Presenting any sort of Earth-bound solution is going to oversimplify. And punting to move on to another concept feels like it wouldn’t work.
Mind you, that’s much more an “I’m excited to see where this goes,” and not “this is terrible because I, a viewer, can’t conceive of a satisfying plot”…
symbolism of names?
the dad is gabe(riel)/ abraham, the daughter is zora (neal hurston?) adelaide (aussie colonialism?) tim heidecker’s tethered is ‘tex’ the twin daughter tethers io and nix
is there something unifying?
So I was thinking about the line in the early beach scene where Abigail is like “I have a hard time just… talking.” At first you think she’s just being like, “go away lady, just because our husbands are friends doesn’t mean we need to pretend to like each other.” But in retrospect, no: she DOES have a hard time talking. Every second of being a surface person is a performance for her. She has to work at it.
And then… are we maaaaybe supposed to think about her kids in the same way? They’re both a little socially maladapted. The girl’s always lost in her phone, the boy wears a mask everywhere he goes. It’s all very much within the realm of normal variation for kids — show me a teenager that *isn’t* buried in their phone. But of course that could be the point. We look at extremely online teens and say “Ha ha, kids these days,” but what if they aren’t glued to their phone because they’re kids, what if they are processing the legacy of hidden social traumas and wrestling with the unruliness of their own bodily selves, and being online is their way of self-medicating?
Who is able to speak and who cannot feels symbolic. The tethered cannot speak, they have no voice in the world until the original Abigail comes into their world. The tethered Abigail is only able to gain a voice through art. Her dancing.
Meanwhile, underground Abigail is only able to give voice to the tethered through a piece of performance art.
Art used to convey a message and give a person agency in the world.
Still haven’t seen this yet but I wanted to link the Film Theory video on it:
Because it was uncharacteristically focused on theme for this movie and added a lot of really interesting discussion points.