Jordan Peele’s US: Symbolism Overload (Ending Explained)

Jordan Peele has brought us a new masterpiece that has a lot more to say than what’s on the surface. The spoiler-free version was Monday.

SUMMARY (SPOILERS)

In 1986, Adelaide Thomas (Madison Curry) wandered off at the Santa Cruz Boardwalk. While in an abandoned house of mirrors, she finds herself seeing a little girl who looks exactly like her. 33 years later, Adelaide (Lupita “I’m gonna get more Oscars” Nyong’o) is now Adelaide Wilson, married to Gabe Wilson (Winston Duke) and the mother of Zora and Jason Wilson (Shahadi Wright and Evan Alex). The family heads to Santa Cruz for vacation at their beach house, but Adelaide reveals she still has nightmares about her encounter from the past. That night, Jason sees another family of people clad in red in the driveway. Gabe tries to confront them, but they quickly attack and infiltrate the house. They are revealed to be doppelgängers of the four named Red (Nyong’o), Abraham (Duke), Umbrae (Wright), and Pluto (Alex).

US - 2Tethered

Red explains that she was the “shadow” of Adelaide who has been living underground for her entire life, forced to live a perversely mirrored existence of Adelaide’s life, having been forced into marriage with Gabe’s doppelgänger Abraham and forced to bear his children, one of whom, Umbrae, is a monstrous psychopath and the other, Pluto, is obsessed with fire. Red doesn’t speak well, but the other doppelgängers only communicate with animalistic grunts. Red handcuffs Adelaide around a table. Abraham overpowers Gabe who flees to the family’s boat. Gabe manages to kill Abraham with the motor. Zora tries to outrun Umbrae, but only escapes when Umbrae attacks a bystander. Jason manages to lock Pluto in a cabinet and Red goes to free him, allowing Adelaide to free herself. The family flees to their neighbors’ house, arriving only after their neighbors Josh and Kitty Tyler (Tim Heidecker and Elisabeth Moss) and their daughters Gwen and Maggie (Cali and Noelle Sheldon) are killed with scissors wielded by their own doppelgängers: Tex, Dahlia, Io, and Nix, respectively. Confronting the new versions of their neighbors, Gabe kills Tex on Josh’s yacht, Zora kills Io and knocks Nix over the bannister, then Jason kills Dahlia to save his mom and sister. Adelaide kills the wounded Nix with her own scissors.

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Nothing to see here. Perfectly normal family.

The four find out that this is happening everywhere, with the red-clad duplicates, dubbed “the Tethered” killing their originals and then joining hands in a long line. Gabe, Zora, and Jason want to just hide, but Adelaide insists they flee the country. Zora kills Umbrae by hitting her with a car and, the next morning, Jason tricks Pluto into setting himself on fire, killing him. Red then abducts Jason and Adelaide follows her to the boardwalk, going through the house of mirrors and into an underground facility. Red explains that the Tethered were created by the government to control the population, but were then abandoned underground. They have acted out the actions of their above ground counterparts mostly mindlessly. Red believed that her contact with Adelaide in 1986 meant that she was destined to lead the Tethered and that this was all a display for Adelaide, who ends up killing Red. It’s revealed that, in 1986, Adelaide met her doppelgänger, who choked her unconscious, crushing her windpipe, switched clothes with her, and chained her to a bed before taking her place. Jason realizes this, but says nothing. The Tethered are revealed to have made an unbroken human chain stretching into the distance.

END SUMMARY

Okay, this movie is two nested levels of story and corresponding allegory: Personal and social.

On the personal level, this story is about Adelaide and her family facing off against their doppelgängers. Now, the doppelgänger is an old concept literally meaning “double-goer” and it refers to seeing a non-biological double of a living person (so The Parent Trap doesn’t count, but The Prince and the Pauper does). Mythology tends to be inconsistent about what a doppelgänger represents. In older Teutonic Myths, they’re just a person out there who represents another you, typically an evil version, and seeing them is a sign of misfortune. Later, this was expanded to encompass another German myth, the fetch, which is an apparition of a living person, having form and mind but no soul. This film originally describes the Tethered in these terms, saying they have the mind and body but they don’t share the soul with the people they mirror, explaining their lack of speech and animalistic behavior.

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The guttural screaming. 

Usually, when the doppelgänger is used as a literary figure, they are intended to represent the duality of man. Where we are good, they are evil. Where we are peaceful, they are violent. Where the person fails, the doppelgänger succeeds, and vice-versa. One reason why this device has lasted so long and permeated through so many different cultures is because humans tend to naturally envision other hypothetical versions of ourselves, including the raw, feral version. Our dark reflection.

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Or our short-haired reflection, I guess.

This movie really tries to drive that idea home with its portrayals. Gabe is erudite, Abraham is brutish. Zora is snarky and somewhat lackadaisical while Umbrae is a psychopath. Jason masks himself to be scarier, Pluto hides his disfigurement under a mask. Kitty is vain, Dahlia mutilates her face. Even the names of the characters somewhat mirrors their counterpart: Gabe is short for Gabriel which is the angel that destroyed Jerusalem and the Temple, while Abraham is the longer form of Abram, the Biblical figure who entered into the covenant to create Israel. Zora means dawn while Umbrae means shadow. Jason means healer or life-giver while Pluto refers to the god of death. Pluto and Jason even tend to literally mirror each other, possibly due to the fact that, since they’re younger, they haven’t had as much time to diverge and therefore their connection is stronger.

Us - 5Pluto
This kid is amazing.

The only real exception is Adelaide, because even though Red calls her the shadow, the two have more traits in common than any of the others because they’ve each lived part of their lives as the other one, becoming somewhat more harmonized. This was one of the many things which first hint at the ending. This includes the revelation that Red is the only doppelgänger who can talk, even if her voice was damaged by Adelaide’s attack. “Red” likely isn’t even the fake Adelaide’s name, only a name that the real Adelaide gave herself, because the red exit sign, the red apple she dropped, and the red shirt all represent freedom and the life she lost. Meanwhile, the fake Adelaide suppressed the memory of the event completely.

The majority of the film is based around Red trying to send a message to Adelaide using the Tethered, although the first thing that triggers it is the image of a small real spider emerging from beneath another fake spider. This reminds her of how she first encountered the real Adelaide while she was singing “The Itsy Bitsy Spider,” a song about a creature who, much like the Tethered were supposed to be, keeps attempting to climb up only to be knocked back down (keep this in mind for later). The next sign was the outfits worn by the Tethered (presumably made over the last 20 years since Red became their leader). They’re red outfits with a single glove, which is the Michael Jackson outfit from Thriller, which was on the shirt that Adelaide was wearing that night. The last is the fact that the Tethered all join together in a human chain, reminiscent of Hands Across America, the last ad that Adelaide saw before her abduction. It’s all designed to remind her of the truth about the two of them: Hence, “us.”

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However, it’s the fact that either one could be the “real” Adelaide that makes the personal allegory work. The fact that the fake Adelaide took the real Adelaide’s place and lived a mostly normal life means that it isn’t that the doppelgängers are inherently evil or lesser, it means that they could go either way but their circumstances force them to be the way they are. Just like regular people.

The movie’s conclusion almost wants us to conclude that the Adelaide who is alive at the end is the “evil” one, but I don’t think it’s that simple. We only get a glimpse into what Fake Adelaide’s life was like before she took Real Adelaide’s place, but it is a horrifying bastardization of an existence, with most of her actions out of her control. We hear the Real Adelaide, as Red, recount her life, where she was forced to marry Abraham and bear his children against her will, which is implied to be exactly what would have happened to Fake Adelaide. So, is Fake Adelaide really evil for wanting to avoid a tortured existence? If she’d done it without putting Real Adelaide in her place, we’d call her a hero. But instead she chose to condemn a person to a tortured existence and then ignore her… which is something that, on a social level, the film accuses everyone of doing.

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As for the societal allegory, the Tethered are a fairly straightforward metaphor for The Other. They are a group that is defined by being “not us.” They could be any number of things, and the movie gives equal credibility to several interpretations.

First, they could represent the poor, as evidenced by the use of Hands Across America, which is one of the truly colossal failures among fundraisers, earning only $15 million of the desired $50 million and having many breaks in the chain of people. The Tethered are the people below the “real” people who starve and are ignored or forgotten, much like the poor and the homeless. During the initial scene of the Wilson doppelgängers confronting the Wilsons, the Wilsons are all wearing outfits representative of their prosperity, a college sweater from Howard University, a soccer mom outfit, a hoodie with an iPod, and a tuxedo t-shirt. When they later kill the doubles, it’s using a golf club, an expensive car, a decorative geode, a boat, and a yacht, things that are representative of the upper class. At the end of the movie, the Tethered actually make a continuous chain, seemingly representing a successful version of hands across America, representing America’s poor finally being noticed. The bible verse cited in the movie, Jeremiah 11:11, reads “Therefore this is what the LORD says: ‘I will bring on them a disaster they cannot escape. Although they cry out to me, I will not listen to them.” This could be either an interpretation of the Tethered as the evil which descend upon humanity as punishment for humanity’s evil, or the verse is reflective of the fact that the Tethered have been tortured and ignored by their creators. Either way, it works.

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The organized poor could do anything.

Second, they could represent African-Americans. The Tethered are essentially former slaves that have been released without giving them any resources or help integrating into the rest of society. They’ve been stuck in the same place for generations which is represented through a red-lined corridor, which I’d even argue is probably a reference to the fact that the act of excluding African-Americans from owning property was called “red-lining.” Red even forces Adelaide to spend the movie shackled so as to feel how she felt waking up having been abducted and shackled and transported into a different society against her will. I’m not saying that’s a metaphor, but if it’s not then I don’t know what is.

Third, they could represent the image of foreigners. They were created by the government as a way to control the populace, much how governments tend to play up the threats of foreign attacks as a way to manipulate their populace into giving them more power. If you need an example, I’m going to ask you to look at pretty much any government. While they seem to be a violent threat, the reality is that after they get through a period where they have trouble communicating (i.e. not being able to talk), they tend to acclimate and assume the same traits as their surroundings.

One thing that works pretty much regardless of the interpretation is the presence of “the itsy bitsy spider,” which is just a song about a futile existence of attempting to advance only to be knocked back down into your place. The only way Fake Adelaide breaks the cycle is by throwing another spider down the waterspout in her place.

Whatever the interpretation, the key is that Adelaide proves that they would be indistinguishable from the “normal” people if only they were given similar circumstances. While the movie suggests that the Tethered don’t have souls, the fact that Adelaide risks her life for her child while “Red” orchestrates a genocide indicates that perhaps that’s just how the creators justified their mistreatment of the Tethered. Under any of these interpretations, the allegory is a comment on America. Rather than “US,” then, the film is actually “U.S.”

Overall, it’s trying to cram all of this into the movie that is its biggest weakness. It’s hard to make this much allegory work within a cohesive narrative. It leaves a lot of questions for the audience which, while they mostly can be answered, require way more thought and observation than most people are willing to put forth to fill plot holes. This film was meant to be broken down and chewed by the viewer, but at some points it basically shoves a ton of stuff at you in quick succession and you start choking. I still thought this was an amazing movie, but I also admit that I understand why a lot of people won’t, and those people aren’t wrong not to like it. That said, I would tell everyone to at least give it a shot, because it does have something to say that might be helpful to you.

If you want to check out some more by the Joker on the Sofa, check out the 100 Greatest TV Episodes of All TimeCollection of TV EpisodesCollection of Movie Reviews, or the Joker on the Sofa Reviews.

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Jordan Peele’s Us: The Duality of Comedy and Horror (Spoiler-Free)

Jordan Peele is back behind the camera in his second film, a follow-up to the amazing Get Out, and while the social commentary is still there, the style and set-up are completely different.

SUMMARY

Film Title: Us
Wow, someone made the Scooby-Doo doorway make sense.

In 1986, Adelaide Thomas (Madison Curry) wandered off at the Santa Cruz Boardwalk. While in an abandoned house of mirrors, she finds herself seeing a little girl who looks exactly like her. 33 years later, Adelaide (Lupita “I’m gonna get more Oscars” Nyong’o) is now Adelaide Wilson, married to Gabe Wilson (Winston Duke) and the mother of Zora and Jason Wilson (Shahadi Wright and Evan Alex). The family heads to Santa Cruz for vacation at their beach house, but Adelaide reveals she still has nightmares about her encounter from the past. That night, Jason sees another family of people clad in red in the driveway. Gabe tries to confront them, but they quickly attack and infiltrate the house. They are revealed to be doppelgangers of the four named Red (Nyong’o), Abraham (Duke), Umbrae (Wright), and Pluto (Alex). The doppelgangers, named the Tethered, attack the family, determined to get rid of them all and replace them.

US - 2Tethered.jpg
You should be very afraid right now.

END SUMMARY

Some reviewers of Get Out seemed surprised that Jordan Peele was so good at horror, but I think that’s because most people don’t realize how close humor and horror are. They’re both about altering the norm, both are usually accomplished by playing on the audience’s expectations, and both are usually used as part of satire or social commentary. A scary moment is based on something being said or done that surprises the audience in an unnerving way, while a funny moment does the exact same thing in a relieving way. The only real key difference is whether the moment is being used as catharsis or revulsion. One person who has pointed that out repeatedly through his work is… oh, hey, JORDAN PEELE.

So, it really shouldn’t have been a surprise that a guy who was half of a 5 season comedy show which mostly focused on parody of societal hypocrisy or subversion of expectation (and was on MAD TV for 5 years) also has a decent number of ideas for how to make solid horror movies lined up. It helps that this movie actually has a lot of solid comedy beats in it that manage to break some of the tension, giving the audience a chance to breath so that the scene can be stretched a little bit longer. One of the last sequences, however, averts this and that allows the tension to be even higher than it normally would be, because you keep waiting for the tension to break and it doesn’t.

It happens partially in a hall of mirrors, so I couldn’t help but think of this.

Since I’ve already brought up Get Out twice, I suppose I should address one of the bigger concerns people seem to be having: This movie is very different than that one. I was extremely worried from the advertisements that this film was going to address the same themes and kind of go down a similar rabbit hole as Get Out, but, full credit to Peele, this one is much more ambitious and therefore much larger in scope. It also has a much larger budget (roughly 4x as much), which raised the production value significantly, losing any of the elements of the prior film that seemed like a B-Movie. The only thing which the film does much worse is that the script has more plot holes due to being a much more abstract metaphor. 

US - 3Comparison.png
He doesn’t abandon a good shot just because he used it, though.

The acting in the film is all top-notch, mostly because everyone plays two roles which are wildly different. I can’t even give special recognition because everyone does it so perfectly. The shots are all packed with symbolism that would probably take many repeated viewings to dissect. The cinematography is top-notch, particularly the use of framing the characters. Basically, everything was amazing. The grand allegory of the film, sadly, requires spoilers to analyze, so I’m going to do that tomorrow.

US - 4BlowUP
He’s got “Blow up a Car” money.

Overall, I just really have to recommend this film. It’s a work of art that reminds us that social commentary can be an integral part of the genre. 

If you want to check out some more by the Joker on the Sofa, check out the 100 Greatest TV Episodes of All TimeCollection of TV EpisodesCollection of Movie Reviews, or the Joker on the Sofa Reviews.

If you enjoy these, please, like, share, tell your friends, like the Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/JokerOnTheSofa/), follow on Twitter @JokerOnTheSofa, and just generally give me a little bump. I’m not getting paid, but I like to get feedback.

Rick and Mondays – S2 E1 “A Rickle in Time”

Rick and Morty is back for a second season that they probably didn’t think they were gonna get. AND WE ARE SO LUCKY FOR IT.

SUMMARY

Rick (Justin Roiland), Morty (Roiland), and Summer (Spencer Grammer) have been taking advantage of time being frozen for the last six months and are finally cleaning everything up from the epic party at the end of last season. Rick unfreezes time, but reveals that their time is “unstable,” so they can’t interact with Beth and Jerry (Sarah Chalke and Chris Parnell). Rick sends the parents to Cold Stone for ice cream so as to avoid any issues.

S2E1 - 1Fight
How power and water work while time is frozen, I don’t know.

Summer and Morty start fighting over who Rick will treat as his new sidekick, which results in them being uncertain about their actions, splitting the universe into two separate timelines and sending the trio (or sextet, now) off of the traditional time-axis and putting them in a void dimension surrounded (and not surrounded) by Schrödinger’s cats. Rick tries to use a Time Crystal to fuse the timelines back together and re-enter the timestream, but it doesn’t work because Summer and Morty aren’t completely synchronized. Both Ricks become paranoid that the other Rick is trying to kill them to eliminate one timeline and each tries to kill the other, but this results in Rick becoming uncertain and splitting the timelines yet again, creating four simultaneous timelines. Morty knocks Rick unconscious.

S2E1 - 2Shooting.png
I hope neither of them hit one of Schrodinger’s cats.

Beth and Jerry hit a deer on the way home from ice cream. Jerry accidentally implies that Beth, a horse surgeon, can’t heal the deer, leading her to burst into a veterinary OR and take over. However, they discover that the animal was already wounded by a hunter, who shows up with his attorney claiming that he is legally entitled to the deer as the first person who injured it, based on “Brad’s Law.” The hunter is not stated to be Brad, but he looks like a Brad, and he admits that he’s not a very good hunter so he might have had this situation before. Undeterred, Beth continues to save the deer, but Jerry finds out that the only way they can save the deer is for Beth to admit she can’t save the animal and have it transferred out of the state. Beth is furious at having to say she can’t do the surgery, but agrees. However, Jerry reveals that this was a ruse and he, along with Cold Stone, arrange for Beth to finish the surgery successfully, releasing the deer back into the wild.

S2E1 - 3Lawyer.png
A lawyer walks into a vet’s OR… I forget the punchline.

Back at Schrödinger’s House, all 4 Ricks apologize to each other, when a testicle-headed Fourth Dimensional being named Schleemypants (Keegan-Michael Key) arrives and gives the team collars that re-synchronize the timelines. However, Schleemypants tries to arrest the three for Rick’s possession of a stolen Time Crystal, which Rick admits he IS guilty of. Rick then tricks Schleemypants into looking away and destroys Rick’s gun “Chris.” He then takes the collars off and splits time across 32 different timelines, resulting in him being able to attack Schleemypants from every direction without him being able to respond, due to his 4-D nature. Rick wins, but accidentally splits time again, resulting in them only having a short time to bring the 64 timelines back to 1. All of the versions of Rick fix the collars and Summer’s works immediately. One of the 64 Mortys, however, is not able to close their collar. The floor collapses, so that Morty’s Rick jumps after him into the void and gives his own collar to Morty, saving his life. Rick prepares to die, saying he’s okay with this, but then sees the broken collar, changes his mind, fixes it, and survives.

S2E1 - 4Testicle.png
He’s a timecop, but not the one you think of when you hear that.

Beth and Jerry, unusually happy thanks to Jerry’s actions earlier, arrive home and start mocking the collars, annoying the three. Meanwhile… or not meanwhile since it’s outside of time, but whatever the equivalent of meanwhile is in that case, Schleemypants is joined by another testicle monster (Jordan Peele) who tries to help him take revenge, but they mistake Albert Einstein (Roiland) for Rick, beat him up, and inspire him to formulate Mass-Energy Equivalence and, implicitly, special relativity as revenge.

END SUMMARY

This is another Rick and Morty episode that demonstrates how efficiently the show can use the transitions between A and B plots, but in a different way than in “Meeseeks and Destroy.” In the former episode, the cuts allowed each plot to skip all the boring stuff and just go to the next interesting thing. In this episode, the cuts serve to heighten the tension between each of the storylines by basically forming a series of cliffhangers. It also makes it less obvious when both stories have sudden left turns, like the entrance of the testicle monster or the hunter’s attorney.

The multiple timeline aspect of the A-plot is unbelievably well done, given that the audience has to be able to watch several things happening at once in order to really get the effect of the structure. By having them mostly synchronized but slightly offset or altered, the viewer is able to follow the differences between the two despite the speed with which some of them are appearing. The overlaid dialogue manages to sound simultaneous while still being discernable independently. That’s impressive.

S2E1 - 5Multiscreen.png
I mean, it still can be followed at 64 timelines pretty well.

The fourth-dimensional being who simultaneously interacts with all of the timelines is a brilliant idea, even if it’s very difficult to really conceive of without thinking about it. However, Rick is able to quickly determine what’s happening, despite not being able to see through the fourth dimension, and manages to actually beat him. Since fourth dimensional beings generally are considered almost incomprehensible to three dimensional beings and nearly godlike, this would be akin to a stick figure outsmarting you and beating the hell out of you. It’s tough to envision, but that’s the best thing I can compare it to.

S2E1 - 6Chris.png
His “gun” turns you into a fetus, which is a hilarious attack method.

Beth and Jerry’s B-Plot is so ridiculous that it really perfectly balances the seriousness of the A-Plot. It even starts with insanity by revealing that Jerry managed to tip the Cold Stone staff over $400. Actually, this episode really highlights Jerry’s incessant need for approval from others, from his tipping the Cold Stone crew enough to merit them transporting a deer for him to his asking Beth about putting the deer out of its misery despite being unable to do it. However, it equally highlights Beth’s own massive insecurities, represented by her going to unbelievable lengths to save the deer just because people consider a horse surgeon to be incapable of working on cervine. At the end, Jerry plays into Beth’s fantasy, which apparently makes her willing to overlook his flaws more than usual.

Summer and Morty are also dealing with their own insecurities over the future of their relationships with Rick, which Rick responds to not by indulging, but by attempting to devastate and mock, including his famous claim to be able to prove mathematically that both of them are pieces of shit.

JOKER’S THEORY CORNER

It’s no secret that Rick’s appearance is a reference to Doc Brown from Back to the Future. Hell, he originally was Doc in Justin Roiland’s Doc and Mharti. But Doc Brown’s appearance was modeled, at least somewhat, on the image of Albert Einstein. In this episode, we see this come full circle when the fourth-dimensional testicle monsters confuse Einstein with Rick. But what if that’s not an accident?

S2E1 - 7Doc.jpg
Roiland’s art style was… unique

Rick stole a time crystal from somewhere or somewhen, that much is obvious. He immediately shows that he is aware of the fact that this is a crime when confronted. Given that fourth-dimensional creatures by default can find you at any time, I think that Rick has made himself resemble a famous scientist so that, in the event that the testicle monsters are hunting for him, they might end up finding someone else in a different time. After all, hairstyles are one of the things that Ricks are most willing to vary, and Rick used to have different hair, so it makes sense that he might have had a motive for his current “look.”

S2E1 - 8Einstein.png
Granted, Einstein clearly was more sedentary.

Overall, I give this episode a

B+

on the Rick and Morty scale.

Wubba-Lubba-Dub-Dub, I need a drink. See you in two weeks.

PREVIOUS –  11: Rick-sy Business

NEXT – 13: Mortynight Run

If you want to check out some more by the Joker on the Sofa, check out the 100 Greatest TV Episodes of All Time or the Joker on the Sofa Reviews

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BlacKkKlansman: Some Anvils Need to be Dropped (Spoiler-Free)

By the Grouch on the Couch

SpoilerFree

Obvious fact: Spike Lee is not subtle about the state of America’s race relations. Whether you agree with him or don’t, the man has made his opinion on the treatment of black people within the US damn clear for about 30 years. Hell, he says people call him the “angry black filmmaker.” Ten minutes on Reddit will tell you that’s the nicer version of what some people call him. BlacKkKlansman will not change that, because he’s clearly still black and angry.

BlackkKlansman-1JordanPeele
I mean, not all the time. Nobody’s angry around Jordan Peele.

And the movie’s a strong case that he’s justified in being that way.

Now, add in the fact that he’s got a true story like this and Jordan Peele producing and you have a recipe for a film that’s gonna piss a lot of people off. However, they’re the people who deserve to be pissed off.

BlackkKlansman-2ClaytonBigsby
Clayton Bigsby gave this movie a series of horrifying slurs, including “that’s my story!”

SYNOPSIS (SPOILER-FREE)

Ron Stallworth (John David Washington) is the first black police officer in Colorado Springs, Colorado. He’s first sent to infiltrate a speech by Black Activist and creator of the “Black Power” movement, Kwame Ture (Corey Hawkins), where he meets anti-police Black Student Union President Patrice Dumas (Laura Harrier), who he begins to date. At the same time, he answers an ad in the newspaper conducting a recruitment drive for the Ku Klux Klan, talking to the members over the phone. With Jewish Detective Flip Zimmerman (Adam Driver) as his surrogate for in-person meetings, Stallworth works his way into the organization, eventually striking up a fake friendship with David Duke (Topher Grace).

BlackkKlansman-3DavidDuke
It takes place in 1979, who did you think would be in it?

END SYNOPSIS

So, the movie definitely plays up the fact that a lot of the slogans which have resurfaced recently like “America First” and “Make America Great Again” were previously used by groups that were less than subtle about their racism and xenophobia. By that, I obviously mean the f*cking Klan. Granted “Make (insert country) Great Again,” and “(insert country/empire) First” could be derived from translations of a ton of cultural movements throughout history, but generally they were movements that were based on some form of intense discrimination. I’m sure there’s a cave painting somewhere that translates to “Eagle and Goat Tribe First.”

BlackkKlansman-4CavePaintings
Notice: All the same color. 

They also point out that the real success of the Klan was that it tried to suppress its more violent members, instead replacing the leadership with images of respectable-appearing people such as David Duke. Kudos to Topher Grace, his version of Duke is actually kind of charming. It’s believable that he could convince a group of violent racists that the real success of racism would come from making it more acceptable to the common people, by framing it under things like “crime statistics,” “red-lining,” or “drug use.” While many of the Klansmen are portrayed as completely insane or degenerate racists, it’s the ones that aren’t that are more intimidating, because they seem relatively reasonable when they’re talking, even trying to keep the others in check. The more insane ones at times seem almost cartoonishly over-the-top in their racist crusade, but, well, I’ve known people who are like that, so… can’t say it goes too far.

BlackkKlansman-5DavidDukeReal
Oh, and David Duke exists, so, clearly, these people are actually that crazy.

In a moment of balance, the movie also calls out some of the problems with the Black Power movement, by having some of the members completely reject Ron’s attempts to be a police officer as “being part of the problem,” despite the fact that he saves their lives and prevents the KKK from committing atrocities. Oh, and is a good police officer, something that everyone should support. But, of course, their criticism of him for being a police officer kind of pales in comparison to all the stuff that the Klan does.

One of the scenes that’s most interesting in the film is that they show a Klan initiation intercut with a telling (by Harry Belafonte, no less) of the 1916 Lynching of Jesse Washington, one of the most brutal acts of mob violence in US history. Jesse Washington, a black man, was found guilty of sexually assaulting and murdering a white woman, then was dragged outside, beaten, stabbed, dismembered, castrated, burned alive, and hung. A crowd of ~10,000 people watched, including the Mayor, Police Chief, and a professional photographer, making it a well-documented event. Even if he was guilty (which the physical evidence did suggest), HE WAS TORTURED AND BURNED TO DEATH PUBLICLY. There should never have been a time when that was okay, but the event was more condoned because of the recent release of Birth of a Nation (a movie that puts a nice, positive spin on white supremacy and the Klan). Like I said, it’s a solid scene, reminding us of exactly how much we try to erase from our nation’s history.

BlackkKlansman-6LynchingOfJesseWashington
A bunch of these people later said “we thought about stopping it.” Assholes.

The cinematography and soundtrack (with score by Terence Blanchard, who does many of Lee’s films) are amazing. The images of the cast looking directly into the audience are chilling, almost accusatory, and the effect is profound. The performances are all great, although special credit to Washington, who balances a lot of character traits within his portrayal.

Overall, it’s a solid film. It’s a little preachy, sometimes feeling like Lee’s dropping a moral anvil on your head, but, dammit, sometimes the anvil needs to be dropped. I recommend seeing it, but, *Spoiler alert* you do want to brace for the final shots of the film, because it moves from the movie to just news clips of the last 2 years, and… well, you will hear a f*cking pin drop from 3 theaters over as the credits start to roll.

If you want to check out some more by the Joker on the Sofa, check out the 100 Greatest TV Episodes of All Time or the Joker on the Sofa Reviews. If you want more from the Grouch on the Couch, maybe he’ll actually finish that piece he was supposed to publish 2 months ago.

If you enjoy these, please, like, share, tell your friends, like the Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/JokerOnTheSofa/), follow on Twitter @JokerOnTheSofa, and just generally give me a little bump. I’m not getting paid, but I like to get feedback.