In February 2017, Jordan Peele (Key and Peele, BlacKkKlansman) hit us with his directorial debut. In preparation for his upcoming movie, Us, we wanted to give you our take on that film, Get Out, since we failed to do so when it first came out.
Get Out is all about shifting and experimenting with sources of anxiety for the viewer. It plays with some themes that are pretty universal causes of anxiety, like being randomly attacked/abducted, meeting your significant other’s family for the first time, being forced out of your element, etc., but it also brings forward anxieties that are specific to gender, race, culture, and all of these intersections.
The film begins with a black man who is walking around a neighborhood alone at night. He is on the phone with someone for a minute, as he is lost and trying to find an address. A white car drives past, then turns around to follow the man. A jaunty ‘30s tune is playing on the car’s radio. Someone gets out of the car, attacks the man, and puts him into the trunk of the car. The scene cuts to footage of trees and the opening song, “Sikiliza Kwa Wahenga,” which is a “Swahili phrase that translates to ‘listen to (your) ancestors’ and the song’s lyrics loosely mean ‘something bad is coming. Run’” (source).
The tension within these first couple of sequences is palpable. The anxiety in the opening scene speaks to the experience of black men, one where a white car approaches a black man who is doing nothing more than walking down the street. The first thing that comes to mind is, “Is that a cop car? Is shit about to go down?” There is a very real nervousness there that some injustice is about to take place. Once it becomes clear that this is not a cop car and that the man is being abducted, the source of the anxiety shifts into something more universal: the general fear that there are bad people out there who may want to hurt you for no reason.
With the transition into the next scene, the source of tension shifts again. Childish Gambino’s “Redbone” plays, and black-and-white photos come across the screen like a slideshow. The camera pans through an apartment where these photos are hanging on the walls, then switches between shots of protagonist Chris Washington (Daniel Kaluuya, Black Mirror, Black Panther) in the apartment getting ready while his girlfriend, Rose Armitage (Allison Williams, Girls), is picking out doughnuts and getting coffee. She arrives at the apartment with the food, and yet another kind of anxiety is presented in Chris, a more particular kind: the anxiety of meeting his girlfriend’s family for the first time and the anxiety of being a black man meeting his white girlfriend’s white family for the first time.
On the drive out, they hit a deer as it runs across the road in front of them. A white male police officer comes out to help them, and even though Rose was the one driving, the officer asks Chris for identification. Rose steps in and states that there is no reason for Chris to have to ID himself. She performs the role of an ally and a white savior in this moment, protecting Chris from possible harassment at the hands of the white officer. I say “performs” this role because she CLEARLY turns out to be a psychopath who preys on black men and women to bring home to her parents like hunting trophies, but she plays the part well.
Rose’s mother, Missy (Catherine Keener, The 40-Year-Old Virgin), is a psychiatrist, and her father, Dean (Bradley Whitford, Megan Leavey, Saving Mr. Banks), is a neurosurgeon. Rose’s younger brother, Jeremy (Caleb Landry Jones, X-Men: First Class, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri), is studying medicine like their father. In other words, the Armitages are oozing with white, class, and educational privilege. They have two black servants (for lack of a better term) in their employment: the groundskeeper, Walter (Marcus Henderson, Django Unchained) and maid, Georgina (Betty Gabriel, The Purge: Election Year).
Chris immediately knows there is something off about Walter and Georgina, but he can’t quite put his finger on it. He theorizes that they are either jealous of his relationship with Rose or that they disapprove of their interracial relationship. He tells Rose, “It’s a thing,” because she doesn’t seem to believe that either option is possible, but for him, his experience in the black community has shown that there are black people who disapprove of interracial relationships. The motivations behind the disapproval may differ than those of white people, but overall, he knows it’s entirely possible that Walter and Georgina are judging and hating them.
The gravity of the situation becomes more apparent when Missy forces Chris into a state of hypnosis, even though he’d previously expressed that he wasn’t interested in the treatment method due to its invasive nature. In this hypnotized state, he is paralyzed as his consciousness falls away into a dark abyss called the Sunken Place. All autonomy and control is taken from him as he is forced to silently bear witness as a passenger in his own body. The irony of the blind gallery owner/art dealer, Jim Hudson (Stephen Root, O Brother, Where Art Thou?, The Ballad of Buster Scruggs), being the one who explains how and why this is happening to him is not lost here.
The beauty of Get Out is that this film doesn’t just address the overt, in-your-face aspects of racism that people of color face; it also deals with the more subtle, harder-to-prove, more-difficult-to-call-out parts of racism that are often attributed to people being “too sensitive” these days. Peele calls out the microaggressions, the tactless jokes and comments, the cultural appropriation, the intraracial discrimination, the implicit biases, and the fetishization of people of color– just to name a few. He handles all of these topics in such a graceful and masterful way and manages to do all of this without compromising the film’s ability to incite fear and suspense in the audience.
Get Out was one of the best films of 2017 and is by far one of the best horror films to date.
Get Out is available on DVD, BluRay, and digital formats.