I have a scar about two inches long on my back that runs just perpendicular to my spine, and nobody can tell me where it came from. I have no memory of getting injured there and I've never had any sort of surgery (that I know of, cough alien abduction cough) -- I showed the scar to my mother recently and she didn't have a clue where it came from either. And so my brain fiddles with the past. It's like shuffling a deck of cards but the cards are neither-sided -- you flip them over and over and all you see are their backs. You're trying to make stories, a history, out of nothing -- there is a empty center to your creation, and it pulses and spreads.
Us, Jordan Peele's really very brilliant new horror film, is about a lot of things, but I feel like this absence at the heart of one's self, this unnerving feeling of otherness buried in our bellies, marked across our skins, is at its heart. Adelaide (Lupita Nyong'o) has a memory she can't make sense of, and it's haunted her for her entire life. But like with most repressed memories she finds it coming back to the surface once she revisits the site of her original trauma. More than the surface -- in the grand manner of horror films and why they matter Adelaide's trauma manifests itself with a miraculous and terrible form. Her scars take outward shape, legs, big awful sputtering eyes, a voice like tin cans.
And in expressing themselves, a perversion. We can't remember what happened to us -- the words don't come out right. The stories of our past somethings are mangled and misshapen. Our beautiful baby boys are burned up, the men we love become great big hulking monsters who bellow unintelligible nothings. Everything is flop-sided, funhouse mirrors.
And a randomness, a chaos, becomes intermixed with and undermines our selves -- an innocent thing that wanders in, a common housefly in the science-machine suddenly spliced into our DNA; little baby broods in snowsuits wielding play-hammers -- golden scissors all the better to snip out all the bad things and make us one again. The fable of a half-remembered charity event called Hands Across America becomes, in our poisoned retellings, a sudden and spectacular atrocity -- a plague we spread locust-like across the Earth. We have no control over this violence pouring out of us. It just comes. Oozes up from the sewers. Wrong, it makes of us. Unmakes of us. Nothing but secret scars; an intimate pandemic.