The ‘Twilight Zone’ Episode That Inspired ‘Us’ Will Unsettle You As Much As It Intrigued Jordan Peele
Jordan Peele's second feature Us has been hotly anticipated since the eerie trailer dropped. Featuring a family on vacation, menacing scissors, and home invasion, the details were otherwise kept vague in the clip, save for one: doubles. The family, including mom Adelaide (Lupita Nyong'o) and dad Gabe (Winston Duke) are confronted by themselves — wearing red and utterly other — but identical. Peele's been open about his love of anthology show The Twilight Zone — going as far to actually helm the upcoming reboot. And one particular Twilight Zone episode directly inspired Us, according to the filmmaker.
In an interview with Rolling Stone, Peele said the inspiration for his latest film came from his favorite television show. Yes, an original Twilight Zone episode called "Mirror Image" is to thank for the Mar. 22 release... Well, a Twilight Zone episode and some herbal enhancement. "Thanks, high me!" Peele added. He went on to say that Us began as one of four social thrillers he brainstormed after Get Out's success, morphing from social commentary to more straightforward horror as he developed it. But the film's original inspiration of suddenly confronting yourself remained at its core.
If you want to see the roots of Us, you can catch "Mirror Image," episode 21 of the show's first season. It's streaming on Hulu, Amazon Prime, and Netflix. Spoilers for the episode below.
In "Mirror Image," a young woman named Millicent Barnes (Vera Miles) waits for a bus. When she asks the time at a ticket counter, the clerk gets annoyed, saying she's already asked him several times. Millicent protests that she hasn't. Odd moments keep piling up where people insist she's already been places or done things at the depot that she knows she hasn't, culminating in her catching her exact double's reflection in the bathroom mirror, waiting on a bench outside. Millicent's convinced what she saw is her doppelgänger from a parallel dimension, bent on taking her place in this one.
The unfortunate young man (Martin Milner) who strikes up a conversation with her, as well as the bus depot employees, think she's disturbed. When her bus finally arrives she's eager to board and leave, but as she walks up, sees herself already on the bus grinning malevolently at herself. Millicent faints and when she comes to and insists on her alternate dimension theory, the young man calls the police to take her away. The episode ends with the young man seeing a man run out the door with his suitcase. He chases him down only to see it's himself, before his doppelgänger disappears into the night.
Twilight Zone creator, writer, and host Rod Serling said that "Mirror Image" came from his own real-life experience. Speaking in a short film explaining The Twilight Zone to Nordic viewers, Serling related an incident at the airport. Sitting quietly, he saw a man with his back to him across the waiting area, his exact height, wearing his same suit, with the same suitcase, hair color and cut. "I kept staring and staring, with this funny ice-cold feeling that if he turns around and it's me, what'll I do?" For Serling things ended better than for Millicent: "Well in point of fact he did turn around, and he was 10 years younger and far more attractive," he concluded the story.
Though the root of its inspiration should make it clear, Peele has reemphasized that Us is first and foremost a horror film. IndieWire reports that when he introduced the trailer at a press event in December, the filmmaker said, “While it was important for me to have a black family at the center of a horror film, it’s also important to note that this movie, unlike Get Out, is not about race.” At the same event, he reiterated it was the idea of idea of facing yourself objectively and tangibly that first intrigued him in "Mirror Image" — the same concept that intrigued Serling in the first place — that was central. "When I decided to write this movie, I was stricken by the fact that we are in a time where we fear each other. We’re pointing the finger, and I wanted to suggest that maybe the monster we really need to look at has our face. Maybe the evil is us," he said.
The Twilight Zone became a classic presenting the deep well of its era's anxieties as entertaining thought experiments. With Us, Peele is looking to draw audiences in the same way.