Us Jordan Peele (USA: 2019) Lupita Nyong’o, Winston Duke
Viewed Tyneside Cinema 24 March 2019; ticket: £10.75
Like eating yoghurt
The incorporation of diversity as an ethical value into the coda of Hollywood has been a long time coming and marks the beginning of the end of a long era of white monopoly of the movie industry. Diversity has some way to go into effecting significant change in Hollywood’s power structure, but its effect on scripting from the evidence of Us is predictably bleak.
As a scenario Peele’s ‘Us’ is a lazy formulaic piece of film making. Us, borrows ideas from Lynch, Invasion of the Body Snatchers and Zombie motifs, then in horror schmuck tradition overlays the material with a layer of glossy cool detached humour. The combo is stitched together through a rambling narrative line defined by inconsistency and incoherence.
The protagonists are a black middle class family. Once upon a Hollywood they would have been a white middle class family. In Us’ script Peele substitutes a black middle class family, as if is as if all the that has to be done, . So in his story, ironically about replicants, it is Peele himself who engages in a little script replication: replacing the white middle class family with a black middle class family; replacing in the resolving action a white male lead figure with a black female lead. Diversity in this creative mix, has no other meaning than a vacuous symbolic replacement of one set of its parts by another. Like the production of multi-flavoured yoghurts, the script manufacturers can now exploit the diversity ethic to churn out multiple copies of the same basic scripts, which in the case of Us turns out to be a mish-mash variant of the Undead plot line.
If the Us script idea of the replicants rising up out of the subterranean darkness to claim their rightful place in the light is supposed to be a metaphorical design referencing the black experience of exclusion, then it is obtusely suggested. Although Peele’s main characters are black, and it is a black child who sets events in motion, the white characters are also attacked by their doppelgangers. As if Peele were saying that metaphorical allusion to condition was a possibility, but he was uncertain about it or even what it meant, so he decided to cover his back.
The black couple are of course completely decontextualised. They are no more than ciphers in a plot, like their white counterparts pumping the rictus moments. Where they come from, what they do, is glossed over. We are presented with a completely assimilated couple whose outer signage in mores expectations food culture locates them as a family in the affluent bosom of middle class America. This is Walt Disney core value land, disconnected from everything except leisure and fun. The black experience in America, the insecurity of the black situation, are airbrushed out of what in the end holds up as little more than a horror/zombie romp half played for laughs, the which decompresses Peele’s scattergun attempts to suggest any deeper significance.
And why do ‘Zombies’ ‘replicants’ need deeper meaning? The ‘Zombie’ type motif simply projects onto an outward form, all the unnameable fears and insecurities that hollow out our lives.
Peele brings all the usual tropes into play: the rabbits (difficult to disassociate from Lynch), the attack on the house by other-under-worldly replicants (this picks up a familiar H P Lovecraft ideation), and the absorption of identity by otherlings (Siegel). Possibly in a time of accentuated individualised narcissism there is horror in the idea that we may be comprised or threatened by schizophrenic replicants. But Peele doesn’t take this psycho road, he seems to hover on brink of a schizo abyss, the idea of a full on psychosis, then draws back and opts for the mechanics of zombie nation.
The replicants/zombies/metaphoriks with their big scissor gimmick (cutting the umbilical, cutting the ties of life) are amusing in the way that their full on repetitive violent action becomes funny, obeying the law of diminishing returns and the basic law of film comedy ( show them what is going to happen – show it happen – show it after it has happened). Otherwise the scripted comedy is plumb out of sophomore film school as when Gabe wonders if the long line of replicants in brownish suits might be: “ …some sort of performance art shit?” All the humour is rather laboured and the more so in as much that in its cool iterations the humour leaves Us in a sort of detached limboid space. Neither one thing nor the other. The script is a missive of the lost to the lost.
When yoghurts began their path to infinite replication of sets, plain being supplemented first by strawberry, then raspberry then cherry and so on I thought it was wonderful. Burt in the end I understood it was all the same thing and at core just a device to encourage people to eat more ans more sugar with their yoghurt.