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A Filmmaker's Guide to Jordan Peele's 'Us' (2019)

by Annie Kapur 2 years ago in movie review
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How to hide the ending within the confines of the film.

SPOILERS AHEAD - For the purpose of this article, the ending will be revealed within (as that is what we're covering). If you have not watched the film and would not like to know the ending then, please read no further than this paragraph. Thank you.

(Note: in order to get the most out of this article, it is recommended that you watch the film in question at least once in its entirety. Notes are not required or essential but are definitely encouraged).

If you're here because you wanted to see my review of the film, then please click the link here: https://vocal.media/horror/a-filmmaker-s-review-us-2019 Whereas, if you're here to learn about filmmaking, then please continue where you are.

Jordan Peele's latest nightmare film, Us (2019), is quite possibly not only one of the highlights of 2019, but is also a contender for one of the greatest films of the 21st Century. A clever, cunning and twisted fantasy, this nightmarish motion picture packs a punch as it preys upon our worst fear: imposter syndrome. Peele's incredible skill in writing and directorship has made this film an instant classic and one that you cannot help but, by the time you reach the end credits, rewind all the way back to the beginning to watch again. Why? Well, was there something you missed? Was there something you saw and couldn't quite make out what it meant? If it's regarding the abundance of rabbits, then you probably want to check out my article on using animals in filmmaking for psychological symbol, here's the link: https://vocal.media/geeks/a-filmmaker-s-guide-to-animals-as-psychological-symbol

Furthermore, I have watched it a couple of times by the time I write this article and I can honestly say that it is a film not only of brilliance but of incredible wit in the way it plays with your mind. From the very beginning of the film you are practically told what the ending is and yet, when you watch the film for the first time in its entirety - it still manages to surprise you. What we're going to investigate is how the film points us to the ending from the very beginning and, in the end - why it still surprises us. The ending is imminent throughout the film and even though you, upon first watch, may not know exactly what it is, I'm sure you could guess and get somewhere in the ballpark. Let's break that down:

- HOW does the film point out the ending to us?

- WHAT is the point?

- HOW can it influence our own filmmaking techniques?

Let us get on with the learning process then, hopefully we can cover everything in sufficient detail so that we get a feel for exactly why this is so effective in especially horror filmmaking.

Section 1: How does the film point out the ending to us?

There are a few ways in which the ending of the film is pointed out to us from the very beginning. Obviously, the first one is the start where the young Adelaide sees the girl in the mirror when she goes missing and then the next point is when her mother says that she wants her own daughter back. This is very important because these moments are very 'blink and you'll miss it' scenes. It doesn't really sink in until you see the subtle changes in the character when she states that she doesn't want to go to the beach, even having been before. This is a prime example of displacement. She has had bad experiences with beaches and so, does not want to go. But, in reality when we know the ending - she is more frightened that she will be taken back to the place of the tethered underground.

Check out this scene, what is the one thing you notice about the tethered children and husband that is different to the mother?

The one thing you notice is that she is the only one talks. When you look at the scenes with the tethered people, none of the others talk - the only one that talks is the tethered human to Adelaide. This shows the audience difference, but we don't fully take it in because we don't know yet, what the regular behaviours of the tethered people are. When we find out that they do not speak, it seems more irregular that there would be one that does, no matter how quiet and disfigured the speech is. It sounds more like the speech has been stopped rather than learnt by chance, thus showing that the tethered is actually the other one and not, as we first thought, red. The fact that the tethered would no regular story techniques like 'once upon a time' is something we don't notice but nobody else in the tethered seems to notice. But the biggest give away was the fact that the tethered cannot kill Adelaide as they notice her as one of them. This is quite possibly the most important scene of the entire movie, it is the biggest give away to an ending I have ever seen and yet, it is done with so much finesse that if you're not watching carefully you will definitely miss it entirely.

Section 2: What is the point?

The point of this is to let us know that there is something, in fact, very wrong. For starters, the weird looks and creeped-out expressions that Adelaide keeps giving to everything as they drive up to their holiday home needs explanation. Without these hints to the ending, these expressions would be pretty meaningless and have no real point because we wouldn't suspect anything. Since the key detail of what happened to Adelaide in the house of mirrors is left out, we are likely to place her expressions down to trauma that she still experiences today and these wide open spaces, to her, are places she could lose her children.

Check out the scene and this is really all we know until the end of the film - it shows that we can suspect something, but obviously, we don't know for sure. It would be the other hints in the film that give insight and let us know what the ending is if we're watching carefully enough.

The point of it is to give us information in sections, giving away parts of the film that would link explanation to certain things, but maybe our assumptions of the explanations are wrong and they are, in fact, there for a totally different reason than what we previously thought. The entire point of this scene is to show us the traumatic incident and so, throughout the film when Adelaide looks spaced out, we can place it on this particular incident and not on the fact that she is unfamiliar to the environment and therefore, frightened of the truth. By the end of the film, we can see that Adelaide does not want the tethered children to die. And again, we can put this down to the fact they look like her own children. But, in reality - she is the one who is supposed to be their mother. Check it out, it is a very constant hint:

We can therefore acknowledge that the entire point of this is to show us a traumatic incident so that we can blame certain behaviours on it. If you fail to question what we don't see then the hints at the ending will remain a mystery until you actually see it. But, counting up the hints to this twist in the ending will make you see that you are told how the movie ends from the very beginning of the film.

Section 3: How can it influence our own filmmaking techniques?

In terms of filmmaking, this can influence your own techniques by allowing you to see how cleverly the film has been built around the trauma from the incident at the beginning. After showing this incident, we get constant flashbacks to it, much like how trauma works and so - reasoning is already in place. We don't need to explain that the main character has trauma, the audience can see it through this displacement of character. The fact that the tethered (red) can not only talk, but can also dance with more precision than Adelaide makes the audience seriously question what they are watching and so, the trauma reason begins to unravel.

This unravelling is important because, if your reason doesn't get questioned by an incident then it could look very 'matter of fact'. It will be like you're just telling a story and placing in a deus ex machina in to make the reason fit whatever you're doing at the time. The one thing you need is a single scene that gives the audience something to question or think over. The scene when Adelaide and Red are fighting each other and it keeps cutting to the ballet dancing is a great example of that.


To conclude, this film is a perfect example of how the ending is set up, told to us and given a reason from the very beginning of the film. The storytelling techniques allow us to keep going back and forth from that moment as if we've missed something. If you pay good attention, you can actually see exactly what the ending is and if you're not that good at guessing an ending through subtle hints then, well you can wait for the surprise. I hope you've learnt something today and good luck on your next project.

movie review

About the author

Annie Kapur

Film and Writing (M.A)

150K+ Reads on Vocal

IG: @AnnieApproximately

Pronouns: (she/her/hers)

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