*Contains major spoilers for Us*
Jordan Peele’s latest horror, Us, is out in theaters today and it’s great (read our review). A genuinely terrifying and also really funny political chiller, it stars Lupita Nyong’o and Winston Duke and sees a family tormented at the hands of a group of strangers who look just like them. The script is terrific and it’s packed with clever references and bits of foreshadowing, one of which is a reocurring image of a man holding a sign which reads “Jeremiah 11:11.” What that particular passage in the Bible says, and indeed what it means, is never revealed in the film.
So we’ll have a go at breaking it down…
The verse, which comes from the Old Testament, reads as follows:
“Therefore thus saith the Lord, Behold, I will bring evil upon them, which they shall not be able to escape; and though they shall cry unto me, I will not hearken unto them.”
Super dark times. But what does it mean?
Jeremiah was a major prophet in the Old Testament; he is sometimes referred to as The Weeping Prophet having had a right old time of it. He wrote the book of Jeremiah which is the 24th book in the Old Testament, as well as the Book Of Lamentations and the two Books Of Kings. Jeremiah was tasked with delivering word from God to the people of Judah, forewarning about the destruction of Jerusalem as punishment for breaking various rules including worshipping false idols. Jeremiah had particular beef with people burning their children as offerings to Moloch and bowing down to Baal (more on this in a bit).
God told Jeremiah to explain that Judah would be plagued with famine and captured and exiled by foreigners–essentially he was the bringer of bad news. You’ve all sinned, and here’s what your punishment will be.
11:11 is referring particularly to the bit about false gods–you’ve worshipped the wrong things, and if you come crying to me when everything’s a mess, I’m not listening. So how does this fit into Us?
In the film, the people of Santa Cruz are attacked by an uprising of “The Tethered”–dopplegangers of us created in some sort of bizarre experiment which has since been abandoned. The Tethered are essentially an ill-treated underclass, the “them” to our “us,” who both represent the sins we have committed and the retribution for those sins.
The Tethered are the evil brought upon the people of Santa Cruz (and by implication the privileged) which they (we) cannot escape, and later trying to make up for our digressions won’t help (“though they shall cry unto me, I will not hearken unto them”).
The second part of this prophecy is actually born out when Adelaide (Nyong’o) shows some empathy to The Tethered–it’s too little, too late, offering a kind word or a hand to fully grown people who’ve been treated appallingly their whole lives is not a solution.
There are further parallels with this verse. The people of Judah are being punished for worshipping false idols. In a modern sense, the sort of things that have become our false idols are money, celebrity, technology, media etc. We see Elisabeth Moss’ family who also have Tethered equivalents constantly worshipping these false idols, always on the phone, spending lots of money etc., relying on a digital butler named Ophelia. We’re worshipping these things while allowing a whole raft of people who started off just like us to suffer.
Another point of reference in Jeremiah is the people who were burning their children as offerings to Moloch. In Us, we see that Jason’s double, Pluto (note: Pluto is the god of the underworld), is badly burned on the face, and eventually Jason makes him walk into a fire, which kills him, after Pluto tries to burn the Wilson family to death.
The idea of sacrificing children has further resonance. In Us, Pluto often mirrors Jason’s movements in a way that the older Wilson doubles don’t do as much. Of all The Tethered family, he’s also portrayed as wayward but perhaps not as vengeful or sadistic as the others (until he, you know, tries to burn them to death). There’s a sense that he’s not quite fully formed, or not quite fully ruined if you like. Mess up or sacrifice your children, and they will grow into vengeful adults, the film implies (it’s got similar resonances to the whole THUGLIFE – The Hate U Give Little Infants F*cks Everyone – principle).
At risk of mixing our Biblical references, it could also be worth noting that Gabe’s shadow is called Abraham–biblical Abraham almost sacrifices his son Isaac because God asks him to before then intervening at the last minute.
Then finally there’s the very basic top level symmetry of the verse number, 11:11. Not only does Jason point it out to his mum Adelaide when his clock hits 11:11, during a sequence where Adelaide is noticing what she thinks are signs of impending doom, but it of course mirrors the family’s doppelganger experience, 11 mirroring 11.
He’s a clever guy that Jordan Peele…