MPAA Rating: R | Rating: ★★★★
Release year: 2017
Genre: Horror Director: Jordan Peele
I’ve noticed a pattern in recent years, where a filmmaker makes their directorial debut with an ambitious, well-crafted horror film which speaks to the cultural zeitgeist while also being scary as hell. In 2014, it was Jennifer Kent’s The Babadook. Then came It Follows the following year from David Robert Mitchell (not his first film, of course, but perhaps the first to receive such box office success). Last year, it was Robert Eggers’ deliciously creepy The Witch. Now there’s Jordan Peele’s Get Out, a horror/mystery about the horrors of racism, where turning people into objectified stereotypes brings deadly consequences. The best horror films take our individual fears (death, sex, loneliness, the unknown) and cultural sins (greed, lust, apathy, hatred) and manifest them into material monsters, turning abstract unease into concrete terror. The material(istic) monsters of Get Out are rich, suburban white people. I know–they freak me out too.
Get Out follows Chris (Daniel Kaluuya) and Rose (Allison Williams) as they prepare to spend a weekend with Rose’s family. Its opening scene sets the tone as a young black man (Lakeith Stanfield) is abducted by a masked figure driving a Porsche in the New York suburbs. Based on this introductory moment, as well as the spoiler-ish trailers and the film’s very title, the trajectory of Get Out is not particularly surprising as the weekend spirals into creepiness and violence. Akin to The Stepford Wives or Rosemary’s Baby, the film focuses less on jump scares and more on psychological dread compounded by weird social behavior. Chris feels like there’s something amiss the very moment he sets foot on the property, yet social propriety and his desire to please his attractive girlfriend keep him from saying or doing anything. There are awkward conversations about race with various family members and party guests, as well as bizarre behavior from the few black folks in the neighborhood, namely the maid Georgina (Betty Gabriel) and groundskeeper Walter (Marcus Henderson). Despite being surrounded by so many people, Chris’s isolation becomes increasingly pronounced, his only source of hope and comfort coming from his goofy friend Rod (Lil Rel Howery), a TSA agent who suspects that Rose’s family is up to no good. When Lakeith Stanfield reappears midway into the film with a much different demeanor and outfit than we saw in the opening scene, the audience wants to scream the titular phrase at Chris before it’s too late.
I loved the excellent narrative pacing, strong performances from the entire cast, and Peele’s use of horror movie tropes and present-day racial tensions to heighten the audience’s unease and expectations. The film will be deeply uncomfortable and scary in different ways for different audience members. For the black community, they will likely empathize with Chris’ entire unsettling experience, perhaps reveling in the final moments of vengeful violence. For a white audience, their discomfort may come from recognizing the white characters’ racist tendencies in themselves, as well as the devastating finale. For myself, as a Hispanic man who is more often than not recognized as white, I found myself somewhere in the middle, deeply aware of the rift between ethnic communities and unsettled by the film’s conclusions about such rifts. As someone who holds to a Christian ethic of nonviolence, yet also appreciates many tenets of liberation theology, the film forced me to wrestle with personal questions about seeking and promoting justice and liberation through peaceful means when the systems in place only compound the violence and seem to demand violent upheaval to be changed. Are violent means ever appropriate for achieving peaceful ends? What does justice look like in such situations? Regarding justice, there are two a key scenes in Get Out involving police cars approaching Chris and Rose, and a tension arose in me: what would the police officer do in that moment? Peele’s decision to include those scenes at significant moments in the story is such a smart directorial choice, as well as a reminder that the conversation around civil rights isn’t always very civil.
Spoiler Alert: I’d like to examine the ending and the themes of Get Out, so I discuss those in the following paragraphs:
What I think is most interesting about Get Out is that it’s not as much about racism as audiences may think, even after the reveal of the monster(s). The wealthy white people, led by the Armitage family, are not as interested in hurting or enslaving black people, per se, as they are in simply using healthy human bodies for personal gain. The white people objectify and use the black people’s bodies, a new system of slavery and bodily abuse. I was reminded of Ta-Nehihi Coates’ Between the World and Me, his thematic focus on the view of the abused black body in American history. Yet the motives for the white people in Get Out, as explained by Stephen Root’s blind character, are to be cool and fashionable, to be athletic and strong, to have what they currently feel like they’re lacking (despite seemingly already having everything). “I want your eyes, man,” Root tells Chris. “I want those things you see through.” It’s a misguided reverence towards Chris, a recognition that the black experience is distinct from the white experience, a unique resource/knowledge which, in the elite class’s view, needs to be appropriated for their own advantage. Yet Root makes it clear that it’s not because Chris or the others are black (though how much should a person believe in a white wealthy megalomanic’s worldview?), but that they have assets, resources, even freedoms that the Armitages and their community feel like they lack. I think Get Out‘s cultural critique is not so much of American racism as it is American capitalism, a system which, regardless of its ideal construct, continues in our present context to benefit the wealthy elite while stifling the middle and lower classes, especially people of color. This is a critique of waging war and invading Middle Eastern nations for their oil, of running a pipeline through Native American lands for the sake of jobs, of claiming to only “buy American and hire American” while building a personal empire and brand on foreign funding and backdoor deals, of promoting capitalism as inherently liberating when it enslaves human beings to the market and turns them into consumers rather than persons. Racial injustice and rampant capitalist consumerism certainly are not strange bedfellows; one only needs to examine slavery in the Antebellum South to see the connection. I think the most subversive message of Peele’s film is not simply turning the tables on white people–it’s upending the entire American cultural system and myth of progress. The protagonist is named “Chris Washington,” linking the Messiah of Christianity and the first American President in one moniker. In this, Get Out compels the viewer to consider his or her own Sunken Place, the arenas of life where they live with a sense of powerlessness, feeling stuck because “that’s the way things are.”
Get Out invites audiences to open their eyes and wake up from the hypnosis of distorted cultural narratives. Yet the question remains: what should we do when we have finally woke?
IMDB Listing: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt5052448/