I saw Jordan Peele’s second film Us recently, and it blew me away. I basically loved everything about it. The superb double performances from its actors. The mind-bending and surprising story. The photography. The terror. The near-constant suspense. That haunting music. It got a little bit silly in the last twenty minutes or so, but for the most part, this movie was totally my jam.
And one thing I absolutely loved about it? The part that made me get comfortable in my chair knowing I was in the hands of a master filmmaker who knew exactly what he was doing?
The opening sequence of Us, which takes place in 1986, is a masterclass in tension.
After a brief glimpse at a television screen that tells us the year, we cut to a young girl and her two parents walking through an amusement park at night. It seems harmless, that is until the mother leaves to use the restroom, and her daughter wanders off by herself, seemingly pulled to something down by the beach.
Nothing moves quickly here. The camera slowly follows the girl as she passes other people, walks down a staircase, wanders around a beach, and then steps into a house of mirrors. You sit there minute after minute in the theater waiting for something terrible to happen, because you know something terrible is going to happen. This is a horror film, after all.
Finally, at the end of this nail-biting sequence, the little girl turns around in the house of mirrors and sees the back of a girl who looks exactly like her.
And then director Jordan Peele cuts to the girl’s face, as she opens her mouth, a scream about to unleashed.
Cut to the opening credits.
Us’s Prologue Truly is a Thing of Beauty
At this point not only are you, the viewer, completely in tune with the visual and auditory aesthetics this film will deliver over the next two hours but you also have an introduction to a major character that is going to pay endless dividends later.
To miss this opening prologue, or to cut it from the film entirely, would rob Us of its power.
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To just start with the modern-day story and then maybe have a flashback to this sequence later in the movie wouldn’t be as satisfying.
Because a great prologue like this one has the ability to draw you into a world while at the same time only hinting at things that are to come. A great prologue can entice the reader or the viewer, and you know what? Sometimes that’s not only welcome, but necessary.
Another great film prologue takes place in Jordan Peele’s Oscar-winning debut from 2017 — Get Out.
I still think about the ingenious way Get Out begins.
Instead of focusing on the main characters of the story, Peele’s roaming camera follows around an African-American man who’s lost his way in a mostly white suburban neighborhood, only to be suddenly followed by a driver who makes a u-turn, pulls up next to him, gets out and cuts off his air supply, and then throws him into the back seat of his vehicle.
This scene tells you everything and nothing. It gives you, again, a hint of the premise, and the menace, to come. Could the film work without this scene? Some might argue it could.
But I still stay no.
This scene sets up the world of the story. It gives you in a brief couple minutes the tone, the mood, all the aesthetics to come. It tells you exactly what kind of film this is, and that director Jordan Peele, again, knows what he’s doing.
So whether you’re filmmaker or a writer, don’t be afraid of prologues.
Many suggest you remove your prologues. Some say to cut to the chase, get to your protagonist. Sometimes that is the case. Sometimes it’s better to start with your main character.
But sometimes prologues can be truly awesome, the way they are in both Us and Get Out.
I can’t imagine either of these two films without them.
Prologues shouldn’t always be used in stories. But they shouldn’t always be dismissed either.
Think about the story you’re trying to tell, and maybe give a prologue a try. You just never know the kind of power it might bring.