Recently, I saw Jordan Peele’s new film, Us. Needless to say, I was pretty creeped out by the idea that somewhere deep below me, there’s a person with my face, waiting for her chance to get revenge. It’s unlikely, but still a weird concept in itself.
And it got me thinking about similar movies. The Thing, in which a group of men must fight off something that wears their own flesh. The Body Snatcher’s franchise, where you can no longer trust your own family or friends.
Each of them have a connecting thread, and each, in my opinion, has left me unnerved, more soo than most other films that I’ve watched. The protagonists must fight off what is essentially themselves, creatures that walk talk and act like something familiar but are actually a mockery of what we know. We’re used to seeing monsters, but seeing ourselves as the monsters brings up a certain discomfort that stays in the mind. It’s soothing, almost, to witness something inhuman being defeated.
It cements our place as the non-villain, the human, when watching people who look like us fighting valiantly against a monstrous being. It keeps the distinctions clear. We are not them.
But in Peele’s film, we are them. They are us.
The villain was you all along!
Us follows a family that takes a vacation to Santa Cruz, and must fend off their doubles in order to survive the night. At the end of the movie, it is revealed that the Adelaide, the mother and protagonist we have followed until the finale, was born as the enemy, as the other. Raised in the tunnels under Santa Cruz, she seized the opportunity that presented itself, choked her surface counterpart, and took her place.
Red, the doppelgänger who spent her later years underground, leads the clones to the surface, to reclaim the life that was stolen from her. Where is the distinction between man and monster, protagonist and antagonist?
What do you do when the creature has your own face? When the lines are blurred between yourself and your enemy, where do you stand? Are you really you?
As time progresses and we push forward into this unknown future, it’s becoming easier for us to push our fears and anxieties onto ‘the other’. The other as the antagonist, as the persons or things you have to battle and kill in order to find your happiness.
The other for white Americans, in the form of brown people.
The other for republicans, manifesting in marginalized people making their presences known in a society that historically bullied them into invisibility. The enemy is anyone who doesn’t look like you. The enemy does not have your face.
In this political climate, these films will only become more pertinent, in the sense that the other, or the enemy, is not as clear cut as we think it is. Sometimes, those with the worst intentions lack six arms or twelve eyes. Sometimes, they’re not ghostly apparitions or six-foot serial killers covered in blood. Sometimes, horrifyingly enough, they’re right in the mirror.