Just two years ago, Jordan Peele was best known for his sketch comedy series
That’s the mark of a great genre film, which is exactly what
That’s a shortened version of the larger themes
The film is centered on the Wilson family—father Gabe (Winston Duke), mother Adelaide (Lupita Nyong’o), daughter Zora (Shahadi Wright Joseph), and son Jason (Evan Alex)—who are visited in their Santa Cruz vacation home by a family of doubles. Led by Adelaide’s doppelgänger, Red, this phantom family relentlessly stalks and tries to kill to the Wilsons. After multiple harrowing escapes, they eventually have a confrontation on the Santa Cruz boardwalk where Adelaide first encountered her double in a funhouse mirror attraction as a child. The event left her with PTSD, and has made the entire journey to this point especially personal for her, as if her worst nightmares have come to life.
But all is not what it appears. After leading her into an underground tunnel system, Adelaide’s double explains why these doppelgängers have suddenly appeared out of seemingly nowhere. All of Santa Cruz is even overtaken by duplicate people, including doubles of the Wilsons’ neighbors, the Tylers (Tim Heidecker and Elisabeth Moss), and others we have not seen before. Deep beneath the United States, Red says, is an intricate system of tunnels filled with duplicates of every single citizen. How they’ve come into existence and for what purpose isn’t really the point. What matters is that these duplicates live in captivity and act out the lives of their doubles on the surface world; every moment is dictated by them, an assault on free will. But Adelaide is different; unlike the rest of the world’s inhabitants, who are merely pawns in some grand simulation, she’s “special.”
After a brutal showdown between the two women, which involves flashbacks to a dance the two performed in unwitting synchronicity as children—one aboveground and on a stage, the other in the halls of her subterranean prison—Adelaide successfully kills her double. But her son, Jason, who’s also come into the tunnels with her, recoils in fear when she tries to hold him. As the family drives away from the boardwalk, having killed all of their evil duplicates, we see Jason and Adelaide share a disturbing look, and slowly realize why he recoiled. When Adelaide first saw her double all of those years ago in the funhouse mirror, the double leapt out and trapped the real Adelaide underground. That means the “evil” Adelaide, who stalks the Wilsons’ summer home, is the real Adelaide, and has orchestrated a grand revenge plan to recoup her life and set her fellow captives free.
As fake-Adelaide, now smiling with a devilish knowingness, drives her “family” to safety, we see thousands of red-jumpsuited doppelgängers spread through the mountains and forests, holding hands.
What is Hands Across America?The film opens with an analog TV flipping through the stations, landing on a commercial for Hands Across America, which was a publicity event that was staged on May 25, 1986, around the time the opening chapter of the film takes place. Little Adelaide is even wearing a Hands Across America shirt when she is abducted and replaced by her double. The charity event was meant to inspire peace and unity for Americans, who stood in solidarity with the famine in Africa. On that May day, over 6.5 million Americans held hands in a human chain across the United States. All together, Hands Across America raised about $15 million, far less than similar projects held across the globe.
So what is does it have to do with
The final images of the film—of thousands of doubles holding hands in a line, with helicopters flying overhead—conjure the Hands Across America logo. The hand-holding imagery is also apparent when the doubles first show up at the Wilson home, holding hands in the driveway.
What does the ending mean?
As Jordan Peele told the crowd at the film’s SXSW premiere, the idea behind
The Hands Across America imagery represents the visage of togetherness that is really speaking to something broken and ugly and absent of the peace it purports. If this is us—or the U.S., as the movie’s title cleverly intimates—we’re due for a reckoning.