conspiracy theories

Unpacking Reddit’s Wildest Theory About Us

Photo: Claudette Barius/Universal Studios

Beneath the surface of civil society live our mysterious, shadowy counterparts, feral and sun-starved: Redditors. Since seemingly everyone and their doppelgänger saw Us over the weekend, fan theories have popped up on Reddit like — uh — rabbits, with viewers following the copious Easter eggs scattered throughout the film by Jordan Peele. A lot of these are patently goofy, but one in particular — if true — would add a whole other dimension to the film. We’ve laid out the case, and the evidence, below. Because if the fingerless glove fits …

Spoilers ahead. And if you don’t know what the tethered are, you will not understand this theory.

The Setup

In the final scene of the film, the Wilsons are winding their way out of Santa Cruz in an ambulance, safe for now from the tethered doubles that took over their home and wreaked havoc all over their vacation. In our final moments with the family, the Protagonist Formerly Known As Adelaide (Lupita Nyong’o) turns to her son, Jason (Evan Alex), and gives him a smile that is definitely not not evil. The beat echoes the final twist of Michael Jackson’s Thriller, a piece of ‘80s American monoculture that looms over the film from its opening scene. At this point, it dawns on both Jason and the audience that they might not be free of the monsters after all. Of course, they aren’t. In this movie’s twist, we learn that Adelaide and her underground doppelgänger Red swapped places one night in 1986, meaning Adelaide — unbeknownst to her husband and kids — has been a tethered all along. Suspicions raised by that smile, Jason pulls his werewolf mask back down, and the family drives on.

The Theory

What some view as a look of suspicion on Jason’s face, others read more as a look of recognition. The theory? Jason and his tethered double, Pluto, also swapped identities.

On Friday, Reddit user hoopsterben posted in /r/FanTheories: “I believe the summer before the movie takes place, the boy and his ‘tethered’ also switched places … At the end, he has realized that his mother, at one point, has also switched bodies. She gives him a look almost like ‘I also know what you know’ and then he puts on his mask, as a symbol of the masks they will now wear for the rest of their lives.”

Whew! So the boy we knew to be Jason, like the woman we thought to be Adelaide, was a tethered the entire time. And if the swap took place during the previous summer, perhaps when Jason went missing after having locked himself in the vacation home’s closet, it would explain why he’s forgotten how to do a certain magic trick. Other variations on the theory suggest that Jason and Pluto swapped places years earlier, which would explain why Pluto scampers on all fours now and has reverted to a preverbal state. It’s a big claim, but consider …

The Evidence

The werewolf mask: If we read Adelaide’s final conspiratorial grin through the lens of Thriller, then the following shot, of Jason redonning the werewolf mask, can be seen in the same light: a tell that he’s also a “monster.”

The tunnels: As a couple of people on Reddit have pointed out, when the family is at the beach, Jason isn’t building sand castles. He’s making sand tunnels, which — in addition to being a feat of sand-engineering — could link the character to the tethered’s subterranean home.

The closet: Jason likes to play by himself in the confined darkness of the closet. The Tyler twins think that’s weird, to which Zora responds: He has trouble focusing. This could all just mean he’s a troubled kid … But that’s what Adelaide’s parents thought about her, too.

The drawing: At home, Adelaide discovers a drawing made by Jason depicting his encounter with the tethered form of the Jeremiah 11:11 man — the man that Adelaide spotted on the beach before descending into the maze in ‘86, and whose original was being carted away in an ambulance when the family first arrived in Santa Cruz. The style of the drawing, featuring the backs of Jason’s and the Jeremiah 11:11 man’s heads, alarms Adelaide, because it takes on the same creepy perspective of Adelaide’s memory of encountering her mirror image.

However, it also hints that the somewhat reserved Jason, like his mother in the flashback at the child psychologist’s office, has been encouraged to draw to express himself. We later learn that this was the case for Adelaide because, after leaving the tethered underworld, she was still preverbal. The connection might hint at a similar situation for Jason and Pluto.

Mirroring: As has been pointed out on Reddit, Pluto is the only member of the tethered family who does not try to murder his double. In fact, when they’re sent to “play” together in the closet, they engage in a mirroring game, almost communicating through matching each other’s movements. (Kitty — who went to Stella Adler, after all — would be shook by the dramatic technique.) They appear to have a much closer bond than Zora or Gabe and their respective doubles, bringing them closer in our understanding to Red and Adelaide.

Control: We learn that in the world of Us, the tethered are a failed underground experiment, intended to be used to control the untethered population above ground. (Who is choreographing the control? That’s a question for another Reddit thread.) This suggests that the tethered have some element of power over their counterparts — we can even see how they anticipate, predict, and parry the untethered’s movements — and drives home the unsettling idea that above-ground humans might not have as much agency over our lives as we think we do. It would also explain how Jason is able to manipulate Pluto into walking backward into the fire: it’s both a reference to their mirror game, and a sign that Jason — the real tethered — can exert control over his untethered.

Speaking of fire: In a popular, related theory, fans claim that the lower half of Pluto’s face isn’t just covered in burns because he likes to play with matches. The theory supposes that every time newly swapped Jason tried and failed to do his “magic trick,” holding the trick lighter right up to his face, Pluto matched the movement and suffered burns because of it. Which is further proof that Pluto is the original, untethered son, controlled by Jason.

The rabbit: Redditor Verdyz has suggested that if the rabbits are meant to symbolize the tethered in any way — a connection we understand from the opening credits onward — then the rabbit in Jason’s lap at the end of the movie suggests that he, too, is an escaped tethered.

The tuxedo shirt: This one is bonkers but I love it. From redditor CuriousPetie: “Everyone has been mentioning how Jason wears a tuxedo pajama top. In the friend’s house, he grabs a statue (reminding you of an Oscar). First, I thought this was Peele doing a self-insert, showing how he won an Oscar. Now, I interpret it as Peele showing us that Jason has been the best actor in this all along.”

“Kiss my anus!”: Kids say the darndest things … or the tethered mangle the darndest phrases?

The snapping: In an early scene, Jason has trouble snapping on the beat, and Adelaide “helps” him, although many have pointed out, in a Get Out–ish detail, she herself is snapping closer to the first and third beats — an early sign that something isn’t quite right, and another hint at the characters’ special connection.

My Evidence

In addition to what’s been found on Reddit, I had to get in on the conspiracy. Here are some additional potential clues:

The Lost Boys: In the opening scene, young Adelaide’s mother notices that they’re filming something on the Santa Cruz boardwalk, which Jason Bailey pointed out to be the 1987 vampire film The Lost Boys. “Lost Boys,” you say? There are coincidences and then there are coincidences.

Jason Voorhees: Bailey noted Us’s many similarities to A Nightmare on Elm Street too, but there’s something to be said for the movie’s connections to Freddy Kruger’s one-time rival, the other patron slasher of the ‘80s and the youngest Wilson’s namesake, Jason. In the first Friday the 13th movie, the slasher is revealed to be Jason’s mother, Mrs. Voorhees, avenging her son’s death. In the many (many) sequels, Jason himself emerges from the murky depths to go on a killing spree, wearing a mask. The connection to this film’s Jason — who wears a mask and has close ties to his potentially nefarious mother — suggests something darker lurking beneath the surface.

Jaws: Jason wears a shirt emblazoned with the famous Jaws poster, which shows a monster hidden underneath an unsuspecting human.

The Verdict

Toward the end of the first act of Us, Adelaide confesses to Gabe that she’s scared, that since coming to Santa Cruz she’s noticed coincidences everywhere, enough to seem like they’re part of some larger scheme. Jordan Peele wants his viewers to be alert for clues and Easter eggs, to notice his deliberate planning. Whether this means these clues add up to Jason being a tethered, or Peele just wanting to sew paranoia, is up to you. As a friend who is firmly in the Pluto-is-Jason camp told me after seeing Us this weekend: “It’s Schrödinger’s rabbit.”

Unpacking Reddit’s Wildest Theory About Us