As Above, So Below: The Nature of the Tethered

By Jordan Gerdes
MASSIVE SPOILER ALERT: In case anyone has not seen US, do not read any further as I discuss some intimate plot points that will spoil the film for you. I am sorry, but that is the nature of this article. 



Jordan Peele’s sophomore outing Us has spawned dozens of think pieces chronicling every detail of the film, hoping to glean some information or meaning out of it. This piece is no different, as I am equally enamored by the web that Peele has spun over this story.

One constant question that has been nagging me is “Why doesn’t Red and Adelaide (Lupita Nyong’o) puppet one another like Jason was able to control Pluto?”

The first hints of this answer lie in that unlike most of the Tethered, Red and Adelaide are different. We get the story about the government program that was created to control those above with their tethered counterparts below. Everything about them was an exact replica, except for the fact that they weren’t able to replicate or manufacture a soul. Without the soul, those above were unaffected by the clones below, leading them to simply mimic underground. Red begins to tell Adelaide how they were special and how God had a plan. But what is really happening here is that Red is telling Adelaide that the government experiment worked on them and them alone. With Red and Adelaide, they shared a soul, giving both parties partial will and independence. The one above would control the one below for as long as they allowed themselves to be controlled.

When Red was dancing, it showed her mimicking Adelaide above, showcasing that the experiment had worked, and as above, so below. Adelaide makes a comment to her husband at one point that she “peaked at 14” when it came to dancing. She was so good because her entire soul was working to dance, but at some point, the connection was severed. This left Adelaide to dance with only half of herself, and never progressed much as a dancer after that. Once the tether is broken, we see Red realize her free will fully, which progresses much of the Hands Across America plot.

Furthermore, Red/Adelaide show emotion, which the other tethers don’t show. She is able to scream, laugh, and cry. She laughs at Adelaide’s attempts to console them at the beginning of the night. She shows full emotion as her husband and children are killed off one by one.  Adelaide screams when she finally kills Red. Her face contorts, and she becomes whole again, regaining the part of her soul that is split. This is also when she is able to see the memories that she had buried all along, showing that she is truly tethered and not the above ground version of Adelaide.

Further examples of this are when Tethered Josh (Tim Heidecker) kills Josh, he reaches down to help Kitty up, only to slick his hand back over his hair in a “too slow” movement. It seems that when Tethered Josh killed Josh, he gained some piece of personality that belonged to Josh. Much like Tethered Kitty looking disheveled before killing Kitty, then wanting to put on makeup, suddenly caring about her appearance.

I believe that for most of the Tethered, the way to regain their identity and soul is to kill their above ground version of themselves. They are hunting for their soul, and once they get it, they go and join the line. You never see a Tethered kill another person after their own doppelganger.

I may be fully wrong on this, but after sitting on this for the last few weeks, this makes the most sense to me on how the Red and Adelaide relationship works. Neither is the puppet necessarily, as they both share their soul. They are the one part of the experiment that went as it should, only they never accounted for the Tethered wanting independence as well. They aren’t out to decimate, they simply want to take their turn in the light.

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