Us comes from the mind of Oscar-winning director Jordan Peele, boasts an outstanding cast, holds several box-office records, and contains enough hidden meanings to keep us talking until Peele’s Twilight Zone premiere. And yet, the elements that continue to dominate the conversation are the relatively simple, but totally creepy old-timey scissors carried by the Tethered throughout Us.
Scissors: typical tool or twisted torture device? That is the question. And it’s exactly the terrifying quandary Peele invites us to explore as we follow the Wilsons on their idyllic California beach vacation. After returning home from the boardwalk, the Wilsons encounter a group of shadowy figures standing at the end of their driveway. The beings known as the Tethered are the family’s duplicitous doppelgängers. Each figure wears a single leather glove, and their leader carries a golden set of shears that she wields with steely decisiveness.
Cutting the Cord
In the realm of dream interpretation, scissors can have two meanings. On one hand, they can represent a severing or separation of life, but they can also signify spiritual unity and physical closeness. Repeated scissor imagery suggests the concept of paring away the non-essential elements of our existence. This may have to do with an emotional trauma that requires healing.
When we consider the true mental history for the scissor-wielding Red, who physically and verbally threatens the Wilsons, the film’s use of the scissor motif make perfect sense. Red still grapples with the trauma of being kidnapped during her youth. She’s been denied what she feels is her birthright ,yet she’s been tethered along in a separate and wholly unequal world, unable to fulfill the aspirations she’s built inside her mind. The scissors are figuratively and literally her way of snipping the cord and slashing the throat of what she considers the non-essential part of her existence.
Peele may have specifically chosen to use gold scissors for this film as they typically signify riches are nigh. To cut with gold scissors implies a pending monetary profit. This, too, plays well into the story of Us for if Red succeeds in using her scissors to slit the throat of her prey, she will have their enriched lives and the ability to control her body and mind as she pleases.
The Duality of Humanity
A single scissors is called a pair, much like each human in the Us universe is tethered to another being. Peele sliced into this imagery in an interview with Entertainment Weekly:
“There’s a duality to scissors — a whole made up of two parts, but also they lie in this territory between the mundane and the absolutely terrifying. I have a definite world of things that I am exploring and trying to say with this film all relating to our duality as human beings and the guilt and sins that we bury deep within ourselves.”
The sense of denial that comes with only seeing what we want to see about ourselves, manifests itself not only in the film’s narrative, but also in the film’s marketing. As far back as December of 2018, fans have taken note that the style of scissors Peele uses for Us look like mirror images of a person’s head and neck. This is especially prominent when the handles of the scissors are juxtaposed with the film’s early Rorschach-like poster. The fact that audiences made the correlation long before the film hit theaters shows how much the scissors imagery plays with the mind, attempting to split us on the idea of whether we can trust our own perceptions.
Scissors in Horror
Us fans should note that scissors are a common motif and a common weapon for the horror genre. Films like Dial M For Murder (1954), Inside (2007), Schizoid (1980), Rabid (1977), and The Dead Zone (1983) all place scissors center stage. However, Peele draws special inspiration from the 1991 film Dead Again — starring Kenneth Branagh, Emma Thompson, and a huge pair of shears. The couple play lovers who uncover repressed memories of their former lives where they had a tenuous relationship. Oddly, the duo seems destined to replay their murderous saga through the bodies of their reincarnated counterparts. Dead Again, like Us, plays with layers of the mind and the pairing of two people who find it difficult to sever the connection.
And to think, you thought Red carried around those scissors merely because she enjoyed the elementary task of cutting up those cryptic paper doll duos.
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