Updated: Jul 20, 2019
Us was about the unsuccessful integration of the Jungian shadow in the western world due to our “American” (capitalist) lifestyles/culture. Sigmund Freud, an Austrian neurologist and the founder of psychoanalysis, talked about the unconscious desires of humans and how they control us without our knowledge. Freud had seen the tragedies of the first world war and began becoming more and more pessimistic about man. He believed that man, especially in groups, was vicious and sadistic. He believed that man could not control his hidden irrational forces. His nephew Edward Bernays took his uncle Freud's teachings and capitalized on them in the United States. Bernays invented propaganda and public relations, and he was the first person to use psychoanalysis as a marketing scheme to manipulate the masses and form a society of happiness machines focused on consuming products they don’t need to make them feel better. He changed the American masses (and eventually the world) from people who were only accustomed to buying things with practical use into buying products because of the feelings they bring.
Bernays took control of the unconscious desires and put them to use for economic profit. Bernays was quoted saying: ”The conscious and intelligent manipulation of the organized habits and opinions of the masses is an important element in democratic society. Those who manipulate this unseen mechanism of society constitute an invisible government which is the true ruling power of our country. We are governed, our minds are molded, our tastes formed, and our ideas suggested, largely by men we have never heard of…It is they who pull the wires that control the public mind.”
Carl Jung, a Swiss psychiatrist and psychoanalyst who founded analytical psychology, also talked about the unconscious desires of man, but he believed that repressing them wasn’t the way. He believed that you should be aware of your unconscious primitive desires and bring them into your daily life so you can self actualize and fulfill your potential. Jung believed that repressing the unconscious desires results in a negative outcome.
In his movie ‘Us’ director Jordan Peele talks about the shadow self hidden beneath culture, religion and the “American way”, which is why the family was a nuclear family. The shadow self is your primitive instincts and desires. Outside of societal rules and regulations. Jordan Peeles focuses on the idea that we have compartmentalized our “primitive/shadow self” and when it attacks it’s looking to harm us for not successfully integrating. Peele kept focusing on the image of the tethers being dragged along as the above ground people or ego selves enjoyed their lives. Things like eating food and sitting on a couch listening to music through Alexa would be contrasted by the tethers underground eating raw rabbit meat or sitting still and unable to move. The shadows were compartmentalized and dragged along in a life that wasn't catered to them. The Jungian elements were also why their connection and truth came out through art. Jung believed that creativity was coming from the collective unconscious which is where he believed culture and religion came from. It’s the superego where your ego and id intertwine.
Peele is saying we have compartmentalized the id because it doesn’t help us in our everyday lives. The ego is the mask we wear to guide us through our daily lives with other people. Which is why in the end the kid puts on his mask. He’s faced his own shadow and now understands that he must wear the ego mask like his “mom”. And Adelaide “seeing God” when she danced in the underground was a metaphor for seeing the higher self/superego.
Another example of the shadow self is when Zora was able to self actualize when she used her aggression to defeat the tethers. Once she hit them over the head and realized that she was able to cause damage, she became more confident/assertive. And that kept happening to all of them throughout the movie, where they would use their shadow and integrate it so it can help them in times of distress. They had to learn how to fuse their shadow instead of repressing it.
The movie also talks about double consciousness which is the internal conflict experienced by subordinated groups in an oppressive society. Jordan Peele is saying, we have compartmentalized the shadow and so have not been able to completely self actualize and the repercussions of that is the current Trump era. The American collective consciousness is riddled with primitive acts of serious darkness, violence and hatred. From the genocide of the aboriginals to slavery etc. The current system seeks to repress that darkness but sometimes it comes back, showing that ultimately the enemy is “us”. The shadow of Americans fighting back with a vengeance. That’s why in the last shot they built an actual wall of people along the American border. That’s probably why it’s US. United States. Jordan peele is a genius.