With recurring bible verses, references to mid-’80s charity campaigns, and vintage rap throwbacks—Jordan Peele’s Us is a terrifying tapestry of symbolism to unpack. Yet, perhaps the boldest part of the film being debated this week is his stunning twist ending.
So, consider this an obvious spoiler warning, as we dive into what happened to Adelaide and her Tethered doppelgänger Red at the end of the movie.
Us opens in 1986, when young Adelaide is at the fair with her family. She wanders off into an old funhouse on the Santa Cruz beach, where she runs into the terrifying doppelgänger version of herself in a hall of mirrors.
The film then flashes forward to present day, where Adelaide Wilson as an adult travels back to Santa Cruz for a trip with her family—Gabe (Winston Duke), Zora (Shahadi Wright Joseph) and Jason (Evan Alex). As the trip begins, she’s apprehensive about returning to the spot where this traumatic event in her life took place.
Soon enough, the family is attacked at the beach house by four people wearing red who look exactly like them. The attackers—a father, a mother, a son, and a daughter—eventually take Adelaide’s family hostage. In the third act of the film, the mother—a doppelgänger to Lupita Nyong’o, credited as Red—explains a life where one girl lives a happy, lavish life and another who lives a tragic life in shadow.
Earlier in that third act, though, after the Wilson family survives the night, Red takes Adelaide’s son Jason hostage after the family kills the Tethered son Pluto with fire.
Adelaide chases Red into the catacombs beneath the Santa Cruz boardwalk—which are accessed through the funhouse—where the Tethered appear to have been raised living mirrored lives of their lookalikes above ground.
Here, Red tells Adelaide that the Tethered were created as an experiment by “them” to control the people on the surface. The experiment was abandoned and the Tethered were left to survive by themselves below until Red broke free of her bond and led a revolution against the surface. Then, Red and Adelaide fight and Adelaide kills Red, finds Jason and returns to the surface.
Above, we see the Wilson family driving away from Santa Cruz where millions of Tethered have joined hands in a fashion similar to Hands Across America, seeming to hint that millions of surface people have been killed by their doppelgängers.
But, there’s one final twist, suddenly Adelaide remembers a repressed memory. We see her once again as a child in 1986 in the fun house on the beach. When the two girls meet, the Tethered girl chokes Adelaide into unconsciousness, swaps clothes and returns to the surface in her place.
That proves that Adelaide was really a Tethered all along, and Red was really the surface girl leading the revolution of the people below. This would explain why Red is seemingly the only one of the Tethered who is able to speak so eloquently. Her voice is strained from not using it for the majority of her lifetime. She’s also the only one of the Tethered who shows real human emotion and restraint when it comes to actual killing. Now there’s some question as to why Adelaide seemed to not understand or know what was happening in Santa Cruz. It’s also worth noting that in the final scene during the fight, the sounds Adelaide makes seem like the animalistic grunts the Tethered use to communicate—as if she’s reverting back to her natural self during a time of stress.
In one Reddit theory, the user even believes that Adelaide and Red are the only two that this experiment worked on, and what we’re watching is two people whose soul has been split in half being reunited.
Regardless of what happened, one question still remains: Why didn’t Adelaide remember anything? There are a few potential options here. The easiest of these is that she’d repressed the memory of swapping places with the real Adelaide deep into her unconscious. It’s also possible that she remembered the whole time and she was afraid to return to the beach because the real Adelaide would return for revenge.
There’s one more subtle twist at the end of the movie that complicates it further. Jason looks at Adelaide in the car—who we now know is a Tethered—and some sort of acknowledgement passes between them.
This seems like an indication that Jason seemed to realize that his mother was actually one of the Tethered. Did he notice something about her? Or did Red tell him when she kidnapped him and brought him into the underground?
That’s not the only thing left to speculation. One additional wild theory that keeps popping up posits that Jason had actually been swapped with Pluto at some point. While there are a few out there like this, most of them seem to conclude that the real Jason was playing with fire on their trip the year before and started a fire and burned himself. But before he could be found, he was replaced by Pluto (although this doesn’t really account for Pluto acting like an animal). There is some compelling evidence, including why Jason is building tunnels instead of castles at the beach, and the boys’ interaction inside a closet when the Tethered first arrive.
Though this last one might be a stretch, the interpretations and conversations about the movie already taking place speak to the depth of Peele’s storytelling. Any and all of these can be true with a film as dense as this one filled with such lavish and elastic symbolism.