Clearly Us (2019) director Jordan Peele is as interested in the craft of costume as a tool for storytelling as any means available to him (props, sets, score, bunnies). Peele’s costume designer for his film, Kym Barrett, is highly proficient, a veteran, with such memorable titles as Romeo and Juliet (1996), The Matrix (1999) and The Nice Guys (2016) under her belt. Her contribution is specific and considered – the ‘cut like’ jagged edges in Lupita Nyong’o’s blood soaked attire as Adelaide testament to Barrett’s knowledge of the subtle communication costume can achieve. It is, then, somewhat of a shame that Peele insists on everything in his story being so literal that we as an audience are actually given too many answers when much could be left open to interpretation.
Really, we come to learn everything we ever need to know about The Tethered: who created them, how they lived, why they cannot form words, even what they ate (bunnies). We don’t know the ‘how’ as such, the science, but a ‘cloning machine of some description made by the government’ is a more than satisfactory answer. With Us clarifying its world so completely this conversely works against audience fulfilment and instead provokes even more questions – questions we would probably not even have considered were everything else not explained so explicitly. Which leads to an issue of costume, which for a less literal world would be a meaningless and pointless one: where on earth did Red (Nyong’o again) procure thousands of perfectly cut red jumpsuits with matching custom made sandals for her mammoth uprising? It shouldn’t matter, it perhaps doesn’t, but with so many of the film’s themes spelt out it remains a puzzlingly unanswered question. There is no practical way Red could source, alter and fit the jumpsuits for her doppelganger army, not to mention find all the Michael Jackson inspired leather gloves and gold sewing scissors. There is such a thing as too much information. The more you give an audience the more it wants.
Us is just a movie, but it does need to exist within its own boundaries. The red jumpsuits that Barrett employed to such creepy, demonic effect are so symbolic that they would function more effectively in Peele’s world with less literal motifs surrounding them. Possibly the lab workers in the government experiment left the jumpsuits behind when they abandoned the tunnels? Seems a stretch. Maybe these were The Tethered’s original ‘uniforms’? Actually that just provokes even more questions. Sure, we can all hazard a guess but Peele told us everything else that matters in the movie so why not this, too?
The costume design of Us is a feat of accomplishment for Kym Barrett. It is just a pity that her director felt the need to disclose so much – so much and yet not where the film’s lead character came across a job lot of identical red jumpsuits. Still, we’re sure he’ll put it top of his list if there’s a sequel.
Us is currently on general release.
© 2019, Lord Christopher Laverty.