If you are a fan of reading too much into things, then congratulations – You have come to the right place!
Light Spoiler Warning – If you haven’t yet seen Us then I would coming back to this post later!
This weekend saw the already record-breaking release of Jordan Peele’s sophomoric horror installment Us, a film which not only blew me away upon seeing it last night, but has increased my excitement over his Twilight Zone reboot tenfold…if that was actually possible! The film is rife with visual clues that leads up to several fantastic narrative twists (which I won’t get into too terribly much here), and is focused more on the consequences of the plot rather than delving too heavily into the mythology of why those plot elements exist in the first place, leaving many viewers like myself eager to draw their own conclusions as to its overall meaning.
Despite Peele himself denying another filmic metaphor on race like Get Out achieved, to say the film was devoid of metaphors on society altogether would be too disparaging of its effectiveness and power. He has stated that his focus was primarily on placing a black family at the center of a horror narrative while examining “the fact that we are our own worst enemies,” yet also hints at something far more profound in an interview with The Guardian:
We are our own worst enemy not just as individuals but more importantly as a group, as a family, as a society, as a country, as a world. We are afraid of the shadowy, mysterious ‘other’ that’s gonna come and kill us and take our jobs and do whatever, but what we’re really afraid of is the thing we’re suppressing: our sin, our guilt, our contribution to our own demise […] No one’s taking responsibility for where we’re at. Owning up, blaming ourselves for our part in the problems of the world is something I’m not seeing.
An analysis from Jordan Crucchiola of Vulture calls Us a “Choose Your Own Adventure kind of critique,” a description which I feel couldn’t be more apt. One could simply read it as being unique and powerful for the simple narrative reasons Peele suggests, but his carefully constructed imagery reads as so much more. In taking into account Peele’s statement on “othering” and the idea of a nationwide-yet-suppressed shared societal guilt, I argue that even the film’s title has less to do with doppelgängers (“Us”) and more with America as a whole (“U.S.”). Indeed, Adelaide’s “Tethered” equivalent Red, when asked who she and her family are, answers chillingly, “We are Americans.”
Therefore, a deeper reading of Us’s symbolic imagery would not be unwarranted, and many have already begun to do so in various articles or blog posts just like this one (my favorite one so far is linked right here) that I highly recommend investigating if you truly want to dive headfirst into the rabbit hole… or at least the rabbit-filled underground (heh heh). But I specifically want to focus on the constant reappearance of the number 11; its historical and spiritual readings, its usage in the film, and what it all could mean.
Us begins with the film’s prologue, where a young Adelaide (played in adulthood by Lupita Nyong’o) enjoys a beachside carnival with her family. Her father wins her a prize, which she picks as #11, a Thriller T-shirt whose distinction becomes intrinsic in the film’s third act twist. When Adelaide wanders off to the beach by herself, she passes a man with a sign that reads “Jeremiah 11:11.” In the present day, Adelaide sees this man again, deceased and being wheeled out on a gurney, distinguished by the same “Jeremiah 11:11” sign. Finally, right before the red-jumpsuited doppelgängers (also known as “Shadows” or “the Tethered”) begin their attack our central protagonists, Adelaide’s young son Jason points out to his mother that the time on the clock reads “11:11.” The reappearance of this number could, much like Adelaide herself suggests, be merely “things lining up” or “coincidences” that serve merely to unnerve her in the moments leading up to the narrative’s central attack. But I couldn’t help wonder if it meant something more.
Without any research, one can clearly see where 11 connects to the plot of Us— It is the first sequential whole number to be comprised of a repetition of a single-integer number, significantly the number 1. The number could represent two singular identities, identical in nature, “tethered” together to create something new.
In getting a bit more scholarly, the first thing to immediately investigate was the Jeremiah 11:11 Bible verse present on the cardboard sign. The verse reads as follows:
Therefore this is what the Lord says: ‘I will bring on them a disaster they cannot escape. Although they cry out to me, I will not listen to them.’
Sounds appropriate to be the message of a doomsday conspiracist, right? Well the whole of Jeremiah 11 tells of God warning Jeremiah to tell all the people of Judah and Jerusalem obey His will, lest he bring upon them a great suffering. He also states that so grave have the actions of the people been, that at the worst point of their agony, God will not come to them if they ask his mercy, as it will be a request made in vain. This verse has a dual message in relation to the film’s plot. Not only is it telling of the Tethered the lost souls forgotten and unheard living beneath the ground, but also speaks to mankind as well. There is no one left to hear or help them when the Tethered rise to the surface to account for the injustice they have endured.
Things grow a bit more complex when looking for symbolic meaning behind the number 11 itself. It is the number most commonly associated with misdeeds, Saint Augustine calling it “the blazon of sin.” 11 has also been paired with rebelliousness, conflict, and disorder.
Tarot has the 11th card listed as the card of strength, justice and balance. Numerology has likened it to a balance of emotion, thought, and spirit, as well as duality and justice. 11 is often juxtaposed with 2 in Numerology (as the integers 1+1 = 2). Therefore, the appearance of both 1 and 2 can also be associated with Yin and Yang, the codependent and intertwining relationship of opposite energies.
Finally, remember when we all tried to pretend we weren’t totally dreading the worst on December 12, 2012, the day the Mayans predicted the world to end? The exact time of that prediction, you ask? 11:11 AM. The time 11:11 has been the focus of several New Age philosophy studies, most of which seem a bit muddled in unfounded conspiracy. Regardless, the mere existence of these studies proves a fascinating insight into how unnerving natural patterns, repetitions, and reflections can be.
This is but one minimal aspect of the highly metaphorical work that is Us, yet I believe serves as one of the more understated, subtextual patterns that deserves to be highlighted as a brilliant and nuanced addition to the narrative text. Were there any 11’s I missed? Did you find any other symbolic imagery you want to put your own reading on? Feel free to speculate with wild abandon in the comments below!
All gifs from giphy