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.


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).

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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.


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.

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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.”


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.


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.

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You should be very afraid right now.


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. 

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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.

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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 (, follow on Twitter @JokerOnTheSofa, and just generally give me a little bump. I’m not getting paid, but I like to get feedback.

Netflix/Oscar Review – Black Panther: The Importance of Breaking Barriers

Black Panther, the highest-grossing film in history with a majority black cast and crew, is also the first superhero film to be nominated for Best Picture.


Following his father, T’Chaka’s (John Kani) death in Captain America: Civil War, Prince T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman), the heir to the mantle of the Black Panther, returns to his homeland of Wakanda, a secretly hyper-advanced but isolated African nation, to become the king and rejoin his superintelligent sister, Shuri (Letitia Wright) and his wise mother, Ramonda (Angela Bassett). Along with his head guard Okoye (Danai Gurira), he rescues his former girlfriend Nakia (Lupita Nyong’o) from her undercover duties attempting to end human trafficking so that she can attend the ceremony. T’Challa takes on the only challenger to the throne, M’Baku (Winston Duke), and emerges victorious, but spares his life.

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This setting would be great for UFC. Just saying.

Meanwhile, thief and murderer of Wakandans Ulysses Klaue (Andy Serkis) and Erik “Killmonger” Stevens (Michael B. Jordan) steal a weapon made from Vibranium, a near-magical metal that is found almost exclusively in Wakanda. T’Challa’s friend W’Kabi (Daniel Kaluuya) asks T’Challa to capture Klaue, who murdered W’Kabi’s parents. T’Challa captures Klaue in South Korea, but Stevens rescues him… only to kill him shortly after and present his body to W’Kabi to gain entry to Wakanda. Stevens reveals himself to be N’Jadaka, the son of T’Chaka’s  brother N’Jobu (Sterling K. Brown), who betrayed Wakanda until being killed by the king. This makes Killmonger a candidate for the throne of Wakanda. He challenges T’Challa and wins, knocking T’Challa off of a waterfall.

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Like most cats, he jumps onto the least convenient place possible.

Killmonger, now the king, prepares to distribute Wakanda’s advanced weapons to secret operatives around the world with the plan of staging insurrections to institute black supremacy in the major world powers. Shuri, Nakia, Ramonda, and CIA Agent Everett K. Ross (Martin Freeman) flee to M’Baku’s territory and find that T’Challa is alive. They give him the heart-shaped herb that powers the Black Panther and he returns. While Okoye and T’Challa’s loyalists fight W’Kabi and Killmonger’s soldiers, T’Challa and Killmonger battle, with T’Challa emerging victorious. Killmonger, mortally wounded, chooses to die rather than live in prison. T’Challa realizes that isolation from the world has weakened Wakanda and chooses to reveal the nature of the country to the United Nations.

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Yeah, the villain chooses death on principle… and it does make an impact.


Well, this is the first Superhero Movie to be nominated for Best Picture for Academy Award. Is it a perfect film? Well, let’s Pro-Con this.

Here’s what the movie does well: First, it features a representation of African culture that has not often been seen before, particularly the Afro-Futurist aspects. Most depictions of Africa often ignore the developed areas and instead focus on the more tribal and poor areas. Hell, most movies treat “Africa” like it’s just one country, rather than dozens of countries with wildly different cultures, something that this movie makes a point of avoiding. Even Coming to America, which does depict a similarly wealthy and powerful African country like Wakanda, doesn’t particularly have an underlying representation of the nature of different African cultures like this movie. None of this is by accident, either, as Ryan Coogler spent a lot of time and effort working symbols of various countries and groups into things ranging from backgrounds and sets to costume choices.

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Oh my god, the costumes.

Second, the supporting characters in the movie are fantastic, particularly the female characters. Letitia Wright’s Shuri is the embodiment of the plucky genius to a degree that, appropriately, is usually found only in comic books. She’s been described by at least one Executive Producer as the single smartest human in the MCU, which means that she’s outclassed Bruce Banner, Hank Pym, and Tony Stark. Despite her intellect, or perhaps because of it, Shuri is one of the more relatable characters, being mostly a rebellious and creative teenager finding her place in the world. Okoye, on the other hand, is not necessarily relatable, instead being a well-crafted rendition of the Amazon archetype, a stoic warrior. However, her wonderful sense of humor keeps her from being too serious and her care for the country and the people in it make her stand out from being generic. Also, they cast Danai Gurira without having seen her in The Walking Dead, something that’s insane to me. Lupita Nyong’o is amazing, as she always is, although her character as the love interest sometimes seems a little underdeveloped, due to always sharing the scenes. In contrast, Winston Duke’s M’Baku, while he has little screen time, is well-developed because he’s always the focus.

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GIVE SHURI A MOVIE. Actually, give her a buddy comedy with Spider-Man.

Third, and let’s be honest about this, Killmonger is the best part of this film. It’s rare for a film to go out of its way in presenting a villain’s ideology in this way… as having so much of a point that the hero actually has to change his way of thinking in response. Throughout the movie, T’Challa, like all of the kings of Wakanda, is mired in tradition and isolation. Wakanda has never needed allies, nor has it wanted them, but this has limited their way of thinking. For example, they still use TRIAL BY COMBAT as a way to select their leaders, something that is, on every level, freaking ridiculous for a sophisticated society (as the movie even points out implicitly).  Additionally, their refusal to help others has resulted in a much more awful world for everyone, particularly their neighbors. Killmonger points out that Wakanda could have helped stop the slave trade or made Africa technologically advanced enough to prevent colonial exploitation… but just chose not to because of their insular nature. Killmonger points out that they could easily have solved so many of the injustices which have been levied upon black people over the centuries which have resulted in the countries doing the exploiting gaining wealth and power… but, again, chose not to. So, he decides that it’s their obligation now to try and undo that mistake. Unfortunately, he also has a big chip on his shoulder from having his father murdered, which leads him to believe that the only just action is to literally reverse everything that has happened and create a world where black people are subjugating everyone else. Still, it’s telling that, at the end of the movie, T’Challa is forced to admit that isolation has weakened Wakanda and that things need to change.

BlackPanther - 6Killmonger.jpg
Marvel: Now with better villains!

Also, the music was great, most of the action sequences were solid, the locations were all interesting, and the writing was amazing in most of the scenes. So, yeah, lots of good stuff.

As for the things that the movie didn’t do perfectly: Pacing in the movie isn’t great. The first time I saw it I didn’t really notice, because I was kind of caught up in the clever writing, but yeah, there’s a lot of scenes in the second act that feel a little slow.

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The Stan Lee cameo was cute, though.

Several of the action sequences didn’t have the best CGI, particularly of T’Challa. The stunts were great, but when you do a CGI sequence in the middle of a live-action film, particularly one where the CGI figure is close to the camera, you get a lot of uncanny valley action and some of it doesn’t hold up well.

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Is this a movie scene or a video game cut-scene? And could you tell the difference?

Mostly, the biggest problem with Black Panther is Black Panther. T’Challa is well portrayed by Chadwick Boseman, but the character itself is actually a little blunted because of the number of other great characters in the movie. The other problem is that he’s genuinely too overpowered in this film against anyone other than Killmonger. The armor that Shuri gives him is completely invincible against almost anything, so even during the major chase scene in Korea, T’Challa is never really at risk. Also, the final fight just isn’t that interesting, since it’s two nearly invulnerable people punching each other. The best parts of the performance are when it’s Boseman as T’Challa, not the Black Panther.

So, no, this isn’t a perfect movie. I don’t think it’s the best superhero movie of last year… in fact, I don’t think it’s the best superhero movie of last year featuring a black lead (Into the Spider-Verse takes the gold), but it’s still a good movie. Mostly, though, it’s an important movie. A few years ago, the Sony leak confirmed that, within film studios, the myth that “black films don’t travel,” i.e. that black films can’t make money internationally, was still going strong. This movie kicked that myth in the nuts. It proved that representation does not necessarily mean falling into stereotypes or trying to remove the characters from their cultural roots. It showed that a diverse cast and crew can produce a different feel to a film and that a film could address race relations within a structure of a normal action movie. If you don’t think that’s significant, let me remind you that Hattie McDaniel, the first black person to be nominated and win an Oscar, wasn’t allowed to attend the premier of Gone With the Wind due to Georgia’s segregation laws. THAT WAS IN 1940.

BlackPanther - 9Othello
Oh, and my dad got his driver’s license the year this came out.

Overall, I don’t know that I think this movie deserves to win Best Picture, but I do think it deserved the nomination. It’s a well-done film on many levels, even if it has its flaws, and I think it represents something much bigger than itself.

One complaint I do want to address right now is that superhero films aren’t deserving of this kind of accolade. I see a lot of critics online complaining about the idea that this is “legitimizing” superhero films, which are just popcorn flicks. To that I say: Good. Legitimize them. They’re genre films with a lot of rules and shortcuts that can be taken, to be sure, but you know what else that applies to? Westerns. Mob movies. War films. All of which are constantly given critical accolades as art, when they deserve it. So, let’s encourage people to make artsier, more impacting superhero films, and stop treating them like they are just there to grab the box-office.

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 (, follow on Twitter @JokerOnTheSofa, and just generally give me a little bump. I’m not getting paid, but I like to get feedback.