ATLANTA – Written by M.L. Childs, Author, Screenwriter, Copywriter and Dramatic Historian
When it comes to film, we screenwriters know or should have an idea of when things should take place within a film to keep the audience’s interest. We refer to this as the story structure. Directors that adhere to the story structure deliver an outstanding product. Those that don’t tend to make us snooze or leave the theater. As a screenwriter, I like to watch and review films from a screenwriter’s perspective to see if the movie plays by screenwriting structure rules. This month, I am reviewing the film Us written and directed by Jordan Peele.
Does the first act introduce us to all of the essential characters in the film including the hero?
Yes. Act One introduces all of the people that we see for the rest of the film. Adelaide Wilson is the hero.
What is the want and need of the hero?
Adelaide’s want is for all of the doppelganger class to be free. Her need is for her to face her doppelganger and get rid of it once and for all and join the rest of the freed doppelgangers.
Was there an inciting incident at least 10-15 minutes into the film?
Yes. The inciting incident was when Adelaide wandered off from her parents while she was at the beach carnival and goes into “Merlin’s Forest – Find Yourself” hall of mirrors and sees a reflection of herself in the mirror that was her twin self.
Plot Point One and Act Two
How was the hero’s journey complicated?
Adelaide’s mission is complicated when the family shows up in the driveway. This scene is plot point one and the introduction of Act Two.
What is the point of no return or what is dramatically different now?
The midpoint is when the family turns on the television and sees that this is no longer just their problem but a problem that everyone is having with their “tethered” selves. The family realizes that there will be no one coming to save them and that they have to face these creatures themselves.
Plot Point Two
Is the hero’s journey complicated, even more, an hour and a half into the film?
Yes. When Adelaide’s doppelganger takes Adelaide’s son whom she vowed to protect, this raises the stakes, and she has to face her doppelganger fearlessly to save her son. This scene is plot point two and the introduction of Act Three.
Is the hero’s internal and external dilemma resolved?
Both the hero’s internal (need) and (want) external dilemma are resolved . Adelaide realizes her external want for the doppelganger race to be free when we see all of the people in red holding hands across American in the same way that the eerie commercial alludes to in Act one. Also, Adelaide fulfills her personal internal need when she defeats her twin and is finally “tethered” from her evil twin.
What seems to be the theme of the film?
The theme seems to be as follows:
In the U.S., everyone has an evil twin that is residing in dark, vacant caves, living terrible lives waiting for the opportunity to free themselves from bondage to kill and replace their twin so that they can live the perfect life that their good twin is living.
Overall Impression of the Film
All screenwriting technicalities aside, I think that Jordan Peele adheres to story structure very well. He is both the writer and the director for the film, so this places him in a strong position to ensure that the storyline stays intact. I was very impressed with how things unfolded and when they unfolded. I felt that from a screenwriter’s point of view, he nailed this film in terms of sticking to the rules of screenwriting.
Many are talking about the confusion associated with the end of the movie; however. For me, the only confusion I experienced was how the family would react to Adelaide being the true evil twin and their “real mother” being the one who was chasing them? I guess this is what will lead us into a sequel.
Other things that people are talking about is the color red that the tethered class wore. Jordan Peele seems to borrow this dominating color from the popular Hulu series, Handmaid’s Tale – played by Elizabeth Moth, the star of Handmaid’s Tale who also appears in Us as family friend, Kitty Tyler. In Handmaid’s Tale, the red cloaks that the women wear represents their fertility. I felt that the red in this film was chosen to represent the bloodshed that the tethered class would need to cause to be free. The jumpsuits are similar to those that prisoners wear and seem to symbolize the fact that they are all united in bondage. The red jumpsuits and the golden scissors seemed to go hand in hand symbolically representing the key to their freedom.
I’ve read where people are making comparisons of this film to Twilight Zone and Invasion of the Body Snatchers. While I can definitely see the comparison, this film reminded me of the Planet of the Apes because a lower life form is seeking to overtake the human race which is exactly what happens in Us.
Everyone also seems to be comparing this film to Jordan’s debut Get Out however, I don’t think there is a comparison. It seems to me that Jordan is trying to build a portfolio of horror flicks that maintain his macabre style but are completely different from his hit thriller Get Out, which I think is a smart approach. Avoiding being typecast as a certain type of director or writer will keep audiences wanting and wondering about what he will create next instead of assuming that they’ve seen all that there is to see with this developing director.
Will this film be Oscar-worthy? It’s hard to say but if I were to choose a category that this film could be nominated for, it would be Best Story and Screenplay. Will Jordan snag a win as he did for Get Out? I guess we will have to wait until early next year when the Academy Awards air to find out.
Video courtesy of Youtube.com.