WARNING: Major spoilers for Us from the start.
What does the ending of Us really mean? Jordan Peele’s latest is a scarier film than his debut Get Out, and with that comes a more ambitious exploration of the rot in modern American society.
Us follows the Wilson family – Adelaide (Lupita Nyong’o), Gabe (Winston Duke), Zora (Shahadi Wright Joseph) and Jason (Evan Alex) – on vacation to Santa Cruz. On their first night, a family of warped doppelgangers invade their house and attempt to kill them. Adelaide, scarred from a previous run-in with these shadows as a child in 1986, leads her family through the horror as they learn the uprising encapsulates the entire country. Known as the Tethered, the attackers are a failed government experiment fighting for their place in the world. Red, Adelaide’s supposed double and Tethered leader, kidnaps Jason, leading to a fight between the mirrors which Adelaide emerges victorious… only for the movie to reveal she was Red all along.
Related: Read Screen Rant’s Review Of Us
A twisted home invasion slasher that takes aim at the heart of American society, there’s a lot of ambiguity to Us in both how its world is constructed and ultimately what Peele is trying to say. If you’re confused and want to learn more, we’re here to help. Discover the secrets and real meaning of the movie in our Us movie ending explainer.
- Page 1: The Tethered’s Origin & Plan In Us Explained
- Page 2: Us’ Adelaide/Red Twist Ending Explained
- Page 3: What Us’ Ending Really Means
The Tethered’s Origins In Us Explained
The doppelgangers that attack the Wilson family – and the rest of the world – in Us are known as the “Tethered”. They are perfect copies – or shadows – created by the U.S. government as a means of controlling the population and stored in the labyrinth of deserted tunnels underneath the country (a reference to the Mole People urban myth). Each Tethered is connected to their above-ground counterpart through a psychic connection, with all aspects of their life recreated meticulously.
The initial purpose of the Tethered in Us was to literally turn the population into puppets: from underground, the Tethered would dictate everybody’s life, removing free will and leaving leaders in complete control. This sort of government-sanctioned control is a popular conspiracy theory, one teased earlier in Us when Zora suggests fluoride is added to the water to make people more docile.
However, this plan didn’t work. Due to some fault in the development of the Tethered, the connection didn’t imbue control, and so the government left their science experiment to its own devices. Either as part of the fault or a result of their discarding, the Tethered became the puppets and were forced to live out a shadow existence, mimicking their original constantly in the drab tunnels. Starved of sunlight and living off rabbits, they become warped, mute versions of their original.
A lot of the Tethered’s origins are left unexplored in Us. How they or the connection were originally created and how a mirror life leading to the same children was subsequently developed is left dangling for the audience to imagine – it may be that Zora is correct and this is just one part of a greater skewing of reality – but that’s because the only important thing is that they exist; the film’s real focus is on their life after creation.
The Tethered’s “Hands Across America” Plan In Us Explained
Us shows the night the Tethered emerge from their underground prison, with most (but, as evidenced by Jason, not all) having weakened their psychic connection. They first go about killing their doubles – along with any other people who get in the way – but the endgame of the uprising isn’t quite so violent; holding hands, they form a long, uninterrupted line from coast-to-coast. The aim isn’t to overthrow those living above but to find a place amongst them, with the line a striking announcement of their arrival.
The protest explicitly evokes Hands Across America, an audacious and successful charity initiative in 1986 where, across the continental United States, people held hands for homelessness charities (there was a $10 donation per place in line). Organized by music manager Ken Kragen and featuring celebrities Michael Jackson (who is referenced via a Thriller t-shirt), Michael J. Fox, Katheleen Turner and even President Reagan, it was a striking fundraiser. In reality, the chain didn’t exist uninterrupted due to the landscape of America, but did include enough people for it to occur in theory. Us‘ version, which was directly inspired by Kragen’s, appears to genuinely stretch across the country regardless of what mountains stand in their way, technically making it an even more striking example.
In the movie, this was all kickstarted when Red, Adelaide’s double, broke free from her connection and rallied the Tethered after a dance recital. Regarded as something of a messiah figure, she rallied all of the Tethered and began preparing them for war. Of course, there’s something darker going on in this pair’s connection…
Page 2 of 3: Us’ Adelaide/Red Twist Ending Explained
The Adelaide/Red Twist Ending Explained
Us opens in 1986 with Adelaide watching TV – including an advertisement for Hands Across America – before being taken to Santa Cruz pier by her parents. She walks off and finds herself in a hall of mirrors attraction. While trying to find her way out, she’s first creeped out by an extra person whistling, then comes across her exact double – her Tether. For much of the movie, we’re meant to believe that this experience irreversibly scarred Adelaide; this connection is how the Tether broke free and the trauma is why she’s so driven to fight back.
However, the final moments of Us‘ ending reveal something much darker: the Tether attacked Adelaide, chained her up in the tunnels, took her Michael Jackson Thriller t-shirt and returned to her parents, taking on a life above land. Adelaide was her own Tether all along! For the sake of simplicity, we’ll call the two characters by how they are known for the majority of the movie: Red is the original, Adelaide is the Tether.
After the switch – which is where the Tether between the two broke – Red assumed Adelaide’s life, learning to live above ground in a mostly normal manner, although still haunted by her early years. She originally suffered from ill-diagnosed P.T.S.D. and upon returning to Santa Cruz has an aversion to going near the beach; the film presents that as fear of the event but it is actually of returning to her origin. How much Red actually remembers is unclear – flashes of memory and her confusion over Adelaide’s two speeches suggest that over time memories has softened.
Adelaide, on the other hand, suffered considerably more after being trapped underground. While at first “Red” is presented as having broke free during a dance recital, the twist suggests that the girl actually used this as a way to rally the Tethered, showing her uniqueness. From there, her ability to speak allowed her to organize the uprising, an event rooted in her last memories of above; she saw Hands Across America on TV hours before the switch.
As with the true nature of Rose’s family in Get Out, there are a lot of clues to the twist early on, from Red telling Jason to “get in rhythm” to a Tethered visage appearing in her reflection when telling Gabe the 1986 story to her animalistic killing of the Tyler twin. Perhaps the biggest, though, is the characters’ evolving speech: Adelaide “loses” the ability to talk after her experience because, as a Tether, she never was able to and must learn, and later, the present day, she says to Kitty (Elizabeth Moss) she’s not much of a talker. Conversely, Red is the only Tether with the ability to speak, which becomes increasingly prominent as the nationwide scale of the story is revealed.
By the end of Us, Red has killed Adelaide following a tense mirrored showdown (where she chokes her just as she did in the hall of mirrors all those years ago) and escaped with her family. Jason suspects the truth – or, at least, that something is off with how his mother handled the outbreak, with her two kills seeing her slip into Tethered clicking – but, essentially, Red has managed to finally put the past to bed. While the Tethered have made their existence known under the leadership of Adelaide, to our lead character what mattered was her killing the big connection to that night in 1986 and her horrific existence before.
And if the fact that she was running and neglecting her past, or that Jason’s discovery has no discernable impact, leaves you feeling a bit morally confused, that’s exactly the point of Us and its ending…
Page 3 of 3: What Us’ Ending Really Means
Us Is A Commentary On Outside Fear
While Us isn’t as directly targeted as Get Out, there’s no avoiding what its core discussion is. This is a film about our fear of “the other” when “the other” is literally just us. More than that, even: when “the other” is a direct product of us and our actions.
The Tethered were created by the American government (the title’s U.S. double meaning is intentional, called our when Adelaide describes her family as “Americans”) as direct replicas of the population and then forgotten. They are the embodiment of outsiders that we’re told to resent by the people who created them. Immediately, that’s the homeless and underprivileged that Hands Across America was built to help while involving a President who made steps to worsen the social gap in a decade of opulence. But they can represent more: black slaves brought to America against their will and resented post-abolition; al-Qaeda, who were in the 1980s freedom fighters who the U.S. funded; and even Native Americans whose land was taken and the people discarded (it’s no coincidence that the hall of mirrors changes from an indigenous-themed attraction to an English mythological one).
But Us isn’t just a history lesson of injustice. It’s telling the audience how these injustices remain to this day, regardless of when they were created. The Tethered were a product of a time before Adelaide’s parents but, as easy as it is to bury, the modern America must address it. The film is a plea for humanity. The Tethered may act differently, but they are intrinsically the same as us; try as we might, there’s no getting around how we’re all the same. Us is a movie about basic human rights.
This isn’t a black-and-white issue. The Tethered’s end goal is non-violent protest, yet to get that point they brutalize their surface world doubles. To see them as relatable humans, we have to look past extreme actions they were pushed to and take in the full context. It’s the reverse of the approach taken by today’s judgemental media, and further roots Us in the here and now.
All of this is underscored by the Red and Adelaide twist. That they could swap and nobody noticed highlights just how close we are to the Tethered, further breaking down any mental barrier that may be put up. Indeed, what Red ultimately cares about is the safety of her family, making her indistinguishable from the humans she has infiltrated.
What Jerimiah 11:11 Means In Us
One recurring aspect of Us that is left unexplained is the repeated reference to Bible passage Jerimiah 11:11. It’s seen multiple times on a cardboard sign held by a drifter in Santa Cruz and one of the first to be killed by his Tethered. The movie doesn’t provide the quote so, first, here’s what it says:
“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.”
Obliquely, it represents the brutality of the Tethered in their uprising and how unrelenting they are, with the command of the Lord being that of Adelaide, the only one who can speak. However, coming from a surface human and one murdered early on, this more represents the misguided view of what the Tethered are trying to achieve, a skewed propaganda take on what is meant to be a leveling of the playing field. Considering that religious rhetoric is synonymous with the far right media, there’s a further crass statement to be made.
Us is not an immediately open movie. It intentionally hides its narrative and thematic meanings behind a note-perfect slasher riff, but it’s in diving deeper the real and relevant horrors come out. This is a fantasy world of a twilight zone, and yet it’s far too real.
Next: Us Is A Very Different Film To Get Out