The Story of Us: Jordan Peele's New Movie is an Allegory for Capitalism in the United States
“The ground is gonna open up and swallow the evil. That’s how I see it, my word is bond... and the ground is the symbol for the poor people; the poor people is gonna open up this whole world and swallow up the rich people.”
**Major Spoliers for Us to follow.
The above analogy by Tupac Shakur features in the track “Mortal Man,” on Kendrick Lamar’s album To Pimp a Butterfly. This analogy became a key frame of reference to help me understand Jordan Peele's critique of the social order presented in Us.
Us is an allegory for capitalism in the United States. The amusement park setting is critical. It represents diversion; the diversion that distracts the middle classes from the truth, by engaging them in frivolous spending and addiction to vices. Underneath the amusement park live the lower classes, who are driven insane by poverty and deprivation, kept hidden, in close proximity, from the middle classes. When the tethered girls, Adelaide and Red, first come into contact, the impoverished girl sees an opportunity to leave the tunnel for a better life, but to do that, she has to put the other girl in her place. The message in this is that "There is no innocence in capitalism." For some to enjoy the benefits of a capitalist system, others must be oppressed and exploited by it.
The middle class girl, now living in the tunnels, knows the life she is missing and devises a plan to get it back. Inspired by the Hands Across America commercial, she knows the only way she can do that is through uniting the lower classes. The red they wear is a symbol for communism, or other leftist systems such as socialism, in which the lower classes gain access to economic power through unification.
The lower class girl living above ground grows fearful when her family returns to the beach, because she is aware of the oppressed people living below the amusement park. She is aware that they could take action against the people living above ground, just as she did as a child. But she does not believe that there is an alternative to the current arrangement. For her to live the life she has above ground, someone must take her place living below ground. This is not her fault, but rather the social order put in place by those who created the tethered. Those who created the tethered represent the elite in society, who turn the lower and middle classes against each other.
When the people living below ground attack, it represents a revolution by the lower classes. The lower class girl living above ground survives because of her knowledge of the social order that she gained growing up in poverty. She genuinely loves her family, and wants to keep living the life she is living, but due to the social order, she must kill her tethered self, because only one of them can survive in the system the elite created. Peele's use of doppelgangers helps us understand that those who are oppressed in a capitalist system deserve equity. They are not just similar to us, they are us. No one benefits from an inequitable distribution of resources in society. To maintain the status quo people must ignore injustice or actively engage in violent oppression. To challenge the status quo people must engage in violent revolution. While people believe that capitalism is a system of freedom, both the middle class and lower class are subjects of control in the system created by the elite, who will abandon both classes when systems cease to benefit them. Us shines light on the precarious nature of the current economic situation in the United States.
I am growing to love this movie more and more, as I continue to think about it and talk about it. I credit my good friend Akeem for drawing the comparison between the movie and the Tupac analogy, which ultimately helped me construct my current understanding of the film. Additionally, I credit conversations with my friend, Kay, and my wife, Akanksha, for providing the platform to think about this film more deeply. This is a dense film that I have many more thoughts on. What do you think of my analysis? What are your thoughts on the movie? Let's talk more in the comments!