With Jordan Peele's Us breaking box-office records and blowing minds on the internet, we can safely declare that the Oscar-winning director has created a fascinating new monster mythology through the introduction of the Tethered. But while most of us are still wrapping our heads around those voiceless doppelgängers, some fans believe they've unlocked every cultural reference our dastardly doubles have to offer thanks to the chilling meaning they bring to the film's twist ending and Hands Across America imagery. However, we urge everyone to take a second look.
Peele recently revealed to The LA Times that the movie's opening sequence, set on a Santa Cruz boardwalk during Summer of 1986, provides a major clue as to why the Tethered wear a single fingerless leather glove on their right hand. The answer surfaces the moment young Adelaide's father (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) wins her the Michael Jackson "Thriller" t-shirt. Peele explains, "It's no mistake, it's no coincidence that the Tethered are wearing red and have one glove." For those who may not be familiar, Michael Jackson was a pop-culture juggernaut during that period not only due to the 1983 "Thriller" video, but also thanks to his single sequined glove. The iconic handwear debuted during a 1983 television performance of "Billy Jean" for Motown's 25th anniversary celebration. The lone white glove would become synonymous with Jackson throughout his career — and ultimately, provide a cryptic image for the Tethered to incorporate during their exodus from the underworld.
By using the kidnapped Adelaide's childhood memories as a template for a rebellion, the Tethered adopt a uniform reminiscent of Jackson's Thriller wardrobe with red jumpsuits and a lone leather glove. And yet, the thematic significance of this correlation is even greater since Jackson plays both man and monster in the music video. In this way, Jackson's cultural image acts as one of the film's first moments of foreshadowing — an extreme true-to-life example of how what we see on the surface may not truly reflect the darkness that lies within.
Peele spoke about this dichotomy with Mashable: "Michael Jackson is probably the patron saint of duality. You know, the movie starts in the '80s, and the duality with which I experienced him in that time was both as the guy that sort of presented this outward positivity but also the "Thriller" video which scared me to death. The irony and relevance is not lost on me now that, you know, the discussion has evolved to one of true horror."
But even without the added nuance of Jackson's personal demons, the fingerless leather gloves command their own duality as accouterments of the privileged and a utilitarian vestige of the poor. Yet another hint toward the film's final conceit of how our country grapples with an overall inability to acknowledge the growing divide between the disenfranchised lower class and the self-perpetuating elite.