Jordan Peele knows exactly how to simultaneously entertain a crowd AND send a message.
A lot of this movie might feel confusing because it is heavy with metaphors and symbolisms. While Peele’s first film, Get Out, was grounded in reality, this film is like a wild horror fever dream and we have to try to make sense of it all in the context of social issues.
I don’t usually go to see a movie on opening night, but this was one I couldn’t miss—especially with spoilers roaming around the world wide web. AND FULL DISCLAIMER, THIS REVIEW WILL BE FULL OF SPOILERS. I’m going to try my best to give a short synopsis of the movie then explain the themes, the symbolisms and everything that went down in Santa Cruz: which is where the film takes place.
The opening: the film opens with an old school 1980’s commercial for hands across America. (Deeper meaning later)
In the beginning of the film, we learn that Lupita Nyong’o’s character, Adelaide, experiences something traumatic when she was a young girl. In 1986, Adelaide is seen at a carnival with her parents where she wanders off to the beach and ends up at a fun house, decorated with mirrors. When she looks in one of the mirrors, she notices what appears to be an exact replica of herself. Also known as a doppelgänger. Following that event, Adelaide becomes quiet and reserved, concerning to her parents. Eventually, she becomes somewhat normal due to the physical and social elements of dance.
The film then jumps to the present where adult Adelaide, along with her husband (Gabe) and two children (Zora and Jason), are driving back to Santa Cruz for a family vacation. Adelaide immediately feels super uncomfortable at this point. She tells Gabe about her traumatic experience at the funhouse when she was a child and that same young doppelgänger was out to get her. This turns out to be true. Just as she finishes telling Gabe, her doppelgänger (I’ll call her, Red) shows up with the corresponding versions to her family and begin to terrorize them. Cuff them, hurt them, and scare the living day out of them. Are you still following?
Red, being the only evil doppelgänger who seems to speak normal English, explains to Adelaide that their lives are tethered together. Now here’s where I began connecting the themes. In the beginning of the film, there is text that show up on screen explaining an unused network of tunnels currently underground in the United States. That’s assuming where Red and her doppelgängers have been this whole time. So, while Adelaide has been able to be happy and make her own choices, Red explains that she was not given the same opportunity. After breaking free (and it wasn’t easy), the family manages to kill almost all their doppelgängers, including the ones correspondent their friends/neighbors. When they turn on the news, they realize that this isn’t just happening to them, this is an epidemic. The doppelgängers mission, while wearing red jumpsuits and carrying around gold scissors, is to kill everyone. Almost successful at killing other doppelgängers, Adelaide is unsuccessful at killing hers. Red manages to steal Adelaide’s son and traps him at the same funhouse Adelaide was in as a child.
Okay, this is where shit gets crazy! There’s a secret door, a crazy down-escalator going underground and a whole bunker with a series of rooms. Red begins to explain to Adelaide the premise of why this is all happening, in a very supervillain manner. This master ground bunker area is where exact replicas are kept of the humans living above them. Their moments and interactions are mimicked from their clones above. Maybe government clones? These doppelgängers are basically walking zombies with no resources and forced to eat raw rabbits. It’s assumed that the clones are forced to control their lives above, while forced to live meaningless meandering lives of their own. Adelaide’s doppelgänger is particularly resentful at her for not taking her with her as a young girl. Red’s character was the chosen one. As kids, she actually steals Adelaide, brings her down to bunker, handcuffs her to bed, and takes her place instead. This leads her doppelgänger, who was previously the real Adelaide, to join the others in a carefully planned revolt. Stick with me.
As this is happening, a chain of doppelgängers in red jumpsuits holding hands across America is slowly forming. This goes back to the beginning of the film. (I’ll explain more about this later)
Adelaide takes great pleasure in killing her doppelgänger, saves her family and drives away.
Explaining The Ending
Let’s recap the big reveal of the film again. Adelaide actually is the doppelgänger. When she was a young girl, she switched places in that first encounter. Red managed to strangle Adelaide unconscious, chain her, leaving her in the bunker to take her place in the family. This is why her doppelgänger is smarter than the rest of them. She was the only one that consistently spoke some attempted English while leading the revolt. She could do so because she was an original human. At the end, while driving her family away after succeeding the fight, you see Adelaide give an evil smile, the same smile the doppelgängers give throughout the film.
Class and Race
Back to the red line across America: red lining is the denial of services to a certain community based on class and race. This group of people live “below” in this country. They are considered “lower class” because we put them there.
“Hands Across America” was a fundraising event in the 80s tended to fight homelessness, hunger, poverty and to unite us all. The reason Adelaide’s character was able to go back up the escalator was because she was strong enough to fight for a better life. For the rest, when you are told you are lower class, most likely you will stay there because that’s how the system is built. You adapt by becoming the product of your circumstances.
The mirrors! Those weird, scaring mirrors! Those mirrors are a symbol of what it’s like to look at ourselves. We are all human and more alike than no alike. Does that make sense?
The obvious: US…U.S. of America?
What I took from this movie was that the doppelgängers aren’t necessarily actual clones of us (some might disagree), but merely a reflection of what our lives could actually be. Having empathy for someone is seeing yourself in them, in their shoes, in their situation. When we live in the safety of our comfort and privilege, we often forget about those less fortunate than ourselves.
Immigration, poverty, underprivileged: that, unfortunately, is real America. People who “have it all” generally have to step on those who have less to nothing just to get ahead. This isn’t right, but this is a reflection of our nation from the beginning of time.
All characters, from both sides, have point of views. Just from different perspectives.
Double digits, get it? Yes, that was the first thing I noticed. This bible verse shows up on a placard held by a homeless man on the beach and appears on the alarm clock when the dooplegangers appear.
“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.”
Jordan Peele still keeps his comedic side relevant in his films. Winston Duke’s character, Gabe, is the patriarch of the family but still offers lightheartedness and relaxation to the film. Though his physical appearance is strong and large in definition, he holds the weight of being the materialist member of the family. His insistence on having a nice car, a comfortable home, and even a boat is somewhat of a privileged life. This goes back to class and power.
Although he is reluctant to fully digest the realism of the situation, his role was comforting and entertaining. Other characters, like the wealthy friends and young kids played a role in offering some light to this mainly dark film. Even with the deep messages throughout, Peele still finds a way to entertain us.
Seeing a black, middle-class family in the forefront of a horror film was quite refreshing. Even a movie centered around class and power, a black family wasn’t the ones being marginalized. But rather depicted as a normal family, in some cases. These stereotypes of black people being killed in the beginning of movie was stripped away because of the powerful inclusion to hire and employ more people of color in mainstream media. We’ve never seen that before in the box office, so thank you, Mr. Peele.
Patriarchy and matriarchy was also a huge part of the film. Both parents’ roles were challenged in this apocalyptic society. You noticed Adeline’s character take a major role in defending and protecting her family, though it was she who suffered the most trauma and fault throughout the entire movie.
Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed the filmed. With its deep political and cultural references and frightening horror scenes, it was the perfect movie for me.
I’d give it a 9/10.
Please comment below on some themes I didn’t mention. Did you like the film, did you hate it? Let’s talk.