What Do The Tethered In Jordan Peele’s Us Represent?

Photo: Courtesy of Universal Pictures.
Warning: Slight spoilers for Us ahead.
In 2017, Jordan Peele introduced us to the sunken place and made us afraid of spoons and tea in his directorial debut Get Out. Two years later, Us, Peele’s new psychological horror film, promises to bring new fears and terms to audiences for them to dissect.
Us follows a family whose vacation is cut short when a group of doppelgangers appear at their home and attack them. These look-alikes are deemed “The Tethered,” a phrase that will surely be a trending topic soon. But who exactly are The Tethered and what do they want? Lupita Nyong’o and Winston Duke star and, like all the other main actors in the film, portray family characters as well as their villainous, twin counterparts.
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The Tethered perfectly represent the film’s tagline: “We are our own worst enemy.” Peele further elaborated on the meaning of Us' doppelgangers being the antagonists in an interview with Entertainment Weekly. “I think the main idea that went into writing this film is that we’re our own worst enemy, and that idea created this monster, The Tethered,” he said. “I wanted to forge this new mythology that explored our duality and the duality of the characters. To the actors, I knew this was the ultimate fun because who doesn’t want to play two roles in a movie; when you’re tired in one, you get to jump into the other. But I think what was a fun challenge for actors, was finding the connections between the characters and their counterparts.”
Of course to connect with the characters, the actors had to know what was motivating The Tethered. Peele told Vanity Fair, without giving too much away about the societal connections the movie makes, that the doppelgangers are tired of being “shadows” want to take what they feel they deserve. They are on a mission for vengeance. Forbes theorized that The Tethered represent, “a self-destructive tendency,” we all possess that could be considered our darker sides.
As if it isn’t creepy enough to have a strange doppelganger show up announced, The Tethered style make them even more chilling. As seen in the trailer, The Tethered wear red jumpsuits and one glove and their weapons of choice are scissors. Based on the gore shown in released clips, The Tethered use the scissors to slash the throats of their victims. So, how did Peele develop the unique look for his villains?
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Just like its influence on the imagery and symbolism in Us, duality also played a role in the The Tethered’s appearance. In an interview with the LA Times, Peele spoke about how the 80’s, Michael Jackson, and “Thriller” impacted Us. “We address a few of the phenomena that were happening at that time,” Peel said. “For me, growing up, it was a very confusing time.” He explained how Jackson played pop the popstar and a villain during his “Thriller” era.
He continued, “But [when] you [talked] about things like Hands Across America and even the Challenger disaster, there was this kind of almost Stepford-creepy sense of American hope that we can do anything as long as we just hold our hands together, that we can reach the moon if we want.” Peele saw a dark side to those ideas and he wanted to capture that message in his film through the double meanings.
In an interview with Refinery29, Us actor Shahadi Wright Joseph explained that the lack of eyebrows on The Tethered was all Nyong'o's idea. "Lupita actually suggested that the makeup artists take out the eyebrows [on the Tethered characters]. That was such a great idea because it's a slight change, and that's what gets you really uncomfortable because you've fallen in love with the Wilsons and their look," she said.
If the trailer is just a taste of the horrors we can expect in Us, then moviegoers will certainly see the darkness Peele wishes to convey. We’ll never look at a red jumpsuit or scissors the same way after seeing this film.
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