On Twitter, I wrote this:
I know the film states otherwise, but I think the tethered have souls. To be honest, my entire interpretation of the film kind of hinges on that fact. (Hope this tweet isn’t too spoilerish. If y’all think it is, tell me and I’ll delete it.)
— Max Weiss (@maxthegirl) March 29, 2019
Okay so now I’m going to elaborate:
There are basically two ways to interpret the ending of Us. There’s, “Oh shit, Lupita’s Adelaide has been the monster the WHOLE TIME! The family is screwed!”
Or there’s the way I interpret it: Adelaide is exactly as she seems: a loving and devoted mother and wife, the same Adelaide we’ve been rooting for this whole time. Our hero.
Once the tethered Adelaide swapped bodies with the untethered Adelaide she came into the light, and was afforded all the privileges of being in the light: doting parents, language, art, dance, music, love.
Meanwhile, cut off from the natural world, the “real” Adelaide became increasingly feral, rage-filled, dangerous. She essentially became the monster.
A lot of people have complained that the film touches on too many things: immigration, slavery, economic inequality, racism, etc. But those things are all subsets of the same phenomenon: Our ability to “other” people.
To me, bigotry, in all its forms, boils down to one basic thing: dehumanization. If you, consciously or subconsciously, convince yourself that other people are less moral, less devoted to their children, less capable of depth of love or feeling, etc. you can justify their abuse, oppression, or much, much worse.
This is literally how society does monstrous things. It’s how the Holocaust and American slavery works. It’s how Jihad works (in the film Hotel Mumbai, the terrorist mastermind convinces his soldiers that the people they are slaughtering are “soulless infidels”—note the word “soulless.”). It’s how, yes, Trump supporters can live with snatching children from their families at the border.
Just on a strictly logical basis: If the “tethered” don’t have souls, why did above ground Adelaide love her children and husband so fiercely? Why would she do anything to protect them? Was it all a charade? Of course not. (Similarly, the “monster” Adelaide loves her family, too. She just has to risk more to gain access to the above ground world of privilege.)
Viewed this way, the ending of Us is an exquisite irony (and, in its own way, genuinely horrific): We are the monsters. The monsters are us. It’s all just a matter of perspective.