In the new movie Us from Jordan Peele, murderous doppelgängers dressed in red prison-style jumpsuits disturb a family on vacation, ushering in a terror the likes of which the world has never seen before. Although the film begins as a single home invasion, the scope of the terror in Peele’s newest movie quickly expands across the globe.
Because Peele’s movie is layered with so much, it may actually be hard to figure out just who the Tethers were and what they wanted. Also, what did “Jeremiah 11:11” mean? And was Hands Across America a real thing?
See also: Our full review of ‘Us’
Here’s what you need to know about the ending of Jordan Peele’s Us.
⬇⬇⬇⬇⬇ Spoilers below. ⬇⬇⬇⬇⬇
“Red” and the Tethers
In Us, the murderous doppelgängers are called “Tethers.” They are the failed results of a secret government experiment that created clones of people, all of whom inhabited the thousands of miles of abandoned tunnels that run underneath the United States. (Because of the film’s lean $20 million budget, we don’t see miles of tunnels, only just a single long hallway.)
The project, whatever it was, was a failure, because it was found that the clones only replicated the bodies of its originals and not their souls. After the project was canceled, the “Tethers” were left to wander and fend for themselves in the tunnels. This is why they fed off of rabbits and who knows what else that lurks underground.
“Red,” who is the clone of main character Adelaide (Lupita Nyong’o) — or so you think at first — is the leader of the Tethers. Inspired by the 1986 charity event Hands Across America, Red organizes the Tethers to eventually rise up and take back their place above ground.
Red vs. Adelaide
Part of what makes the story of Us so brilliant is in its final reveal. In the film’s prologue, set in Santa Cruz Beach in 1986, a young Adelaide (played by child actor Madison Curry) wanders into a hall of mirrors that connects to the home of the Tethers underground. On that fateful night, Adelaide meets Red, her double, and Red quickly “switches” places with her.
This is why, to Adelaide’s parents, she had “changed” after the beach. This is why Adelaide didn’t speak and was so unlike herself. It was because she literally wasn’t their daughter. Adelaide’s parents had unwittingly adopted the clone of their daughter, who eventually learned to live above ground, grow up, marry, and suppress the memories of her life in the tunnels.
Meanwhile, the “real” Adelaide was left abandoned with the Tethers. To survive, she clung onto her few precious bits of life on the surface, including her Hands Across America T-shirt. This influenced her to organize the Tethers — since she was the only one who could speak — to help her return to the outside world.
This is what makes the final shot of the movie chilling. While the Wilsons survive the film, the fact that they’ve been living with Red — and not the real Adelaide all this time — and escape with her, means you’re never quite sure who people really are. Even if they’re family.
Jordan Peele’s “Mole People”
With Us, Jordan Peele basically created his own take on the urban legend of Mole people.
While documented to be homeless, living in abandoned structures — Jennifer Toth’s 1993 disputed nonfiction book The Mole People: Life In The Tunnels Beneath New York City popularized the term (itself inspired by the 1956 horror film The Mole People) — they have since become a popular trope, appearing in everything from cartoons to comic books. Episodes of Nickelodeon’s Hey Arnold! and Batman: The Animated Series had “Mole people” villains.
Peele’s Us leaves a lot of questions surrounding the Tethers unanswered: What was the project for? Who oversaw it? When was it abandoned? And how did the clones “mate” to create copies of their children? None of these questions are answered, and, truthfully, they’re unnecessary. What Peele sought to explore was a story about America and the evils that dwell within us.
“The feeling that we all feel we are the good guy in our own story prevents us from facing our demons,” Peele told the Los Angeles Times. “I wanted to make a movie that allows everybody to face their demons, in whatever faction you want to put this movie through the prism of. But as a starting point … the United States and our xenophobia was the front and center idea to grapple with.”
Hands Across America
Red’s inspiration for the Tethers’ uprising was in Hands Across America, a real charity event that took place on May 25, 1986. A commercial for the charity plays at the top of the film, which Adelaide watches before going to the beach.
Organized by prolific music manager Ken Kragen, who secured the star-studded talent for the 1985 charity album We Are the World, Hands Across America was a charity in which people donated 10 bucks to have a spot in a handheld human chain across the contiguous United States. The proceeds were donated to charities in an effort to combat hunger, homelessness, and poverty.
In a pre-Twitter era, donating $10 to maybe hold hands with celebrities like Michael J. Fox (in Columbus, Ohio), Brooke Shields (New York), and Mickey Mouse (Long Beach, California) seemed like a pretty cool way to spend an afternoon. President Ronald Reagan also joined, despite the fact that his administration is largely to blame for America’s homelessness that endures even today.
Did a single chain actually form through the US? Of course not. This country’s topography prevents that. Still, the charity worked out in such a way that if everyone who participated had connected, there really would have been a chain of hands across America. All told, the event was a success and was deemed by The Washington Post in 2016 as “the most Eighties thing to happen in the 1980s,” and has been referenced in everything from episodes of Seinfeld to 30 Rock to Modern Family. (My personal favorite is this bit in 2006’s Beerfest.)
What Is Jeremiah 11:11?
One last important bit to know about Us is the recurring motif of a Bible verse, Jeremiah 11:11. It is seen inscribed on a sign held by a homeless person on the beach, and “11:11” is a recurring visual for Adelaide throughout the film.
Beside the obvious allusion to twins and mirrors with the “11:11” part, the verse says (in the New American Standard Bible translation):
Therefore thus says the LORD, “Behold I am bringing disaster on them which they will not be able to escape; though they will cry to Me, yet I will not listen to them.”
Taken in isolation, it’s an ominous verse that alludes to doom. It’s basically the Bible equivalent of Rorschach in Watchmen (“The world will look up and shout, ‘Save us!’ And I’ll whisper, ‘No.’”) or the Borg in Star Trek. (“Resistance is futile.”)
But in the whole Book of Jeremiah, the verse emphasizes some of the themes in Us. In the Bible, the Book of Jeremiah is an Old Testament book that has nothing but bad news for the Jews in exile after Babylon. Basically, God is mighty pissed the Jews dared to practice Pagan worship and false idolatry.
While there is no such godly authority figure in Us, it reads more clearly from the perspective of Adelaide. Adelaide is pissed that Red got to live a life above the surface and have a family, while Adelaide dwelled in darkness and gave birth to monsters to a soulless husband, Abraham (another telling Biblical allusion), underground. Red is the false, Pagan idol, while Adelaide is the real deal but was shunned by the world, so to speak.
Us hits theaters on March 21.
Watch our video review of Us: