By Joseph McFarlane
Jordan Peele’s comedic horror, Get Out, begins with Chris (Daniel Kaluuya) feeling nervous about meeting his girlfriend’s parents; he thinks that they will likely disapprove of their relationship since both she and they are white, and they don’t know that he’s black. Chris’ worries that the colour of his skin is some kind of grand reveal, an unexpected complication.
The common comparisons for Get Out are Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner (a comedy about a white woman taking her black husband to meet her parents) and The Stepford Wives (a drama about a female photographer who moves to a new town and discovers that there lies a sinister truth behind the perfect behaviour of the female residents.). As reference points go, these are spot on. Get Out is both a comedy of manners and a parable of ugly truths in idyllic suburbia.
While Rose (Alyson Williams) is driving Chris to her parents’ place, they hit a deer. Rod (Lil Rel Howery), Chris’ hilarious, almost omniscient best friend, jokingly teases him about losing his “blackness” while poking fun at the dangers of entering their white territory, and immediately after discussing these worries, the deer situation strikes and doesn’t exactly help to calm his nerves. At this point, a white police officer asks Chris for his driver’s licence – causing Rose to question the officer’s intentions since Chris wasn’t the one driving. Chris complies as though being offended by his accusation is redundant at this point.
He may have a defeatist attitude towards prejudice now, but his mind is sure to change come the film’s close. In the tradition of screenwriting and character arcs, he, and in turn the audience, must learn that his inactions have as much consequence as his actions. Chris will discover the secret game being played under the facade of politeness, and is then given a chance to finally do something about it. From this point onwards, black and white racial tensions will only heighten to disturbing proportions.
[Spoilers from this point]
Towards the end we’re frequently paired with Rod, who comes to embody the persona of the audience itself – this is what I meant by omniscient – he is somehow aware of the other half of the film that even Chris hasn’t seen. Without breaking the fourth wall, Chris sits among the audience, shouting to the protagonist “Don’t go in the lion’s den!”, “They’re up to something!”, “What are you doing?! GET OUT!”, though not in those specific phrases – Peele saves that trick up his sleeve for later use. Rod is the comedic relief and the investigator, he knows how this is going to end, he has seen this movie before. Chris is the subject of fear, to him, this is not a movie, it’s a reality.
In equal parts, Get Out is as dense with paranoia as it is with humour. Our reactions to the fear and punchline, our screams and laughter, allow the film to deliver a message without friction. The fun of cinema remains intact; Rod is a wonderful icebreaker for the audience, and before the audience has time to think, he transforms their reactions into comedy, gladly diffusing the overbearing intensity at the most important times.
Even at the barbaric plot twist, Peele’s message remains consistently versatile. Blind art dealer and family friend Jim Hudson (Stephen Root) prepares for a brain transplant that will put his brain in Chris’ body – this is Get Out’s hyperbolic version of brainwashing, a problem of propaganda and forced perspective that created the initial conflict of viewpoints in today’s news heavy climate. As far as daringness goes, this is the most diabolical the film gets. So far, he has been quite understanding of Chris’ situation – outright disregarding the colour of Chris’ skin.
He simply claims to want his vision but not his perspective, “I just want those things you see through” he says while laughing with the egotism of a victor who has triumphed to win something he has no right in claiming. Of all the social commentary in Get Out, Hudson’s want to see through Chris’ ey
es while disregarding his race is the pinnacle of Peele’s agenda: to show the harm of double standards, how a lack of perspective, awareness and understanding of what minority races deal with can become a seriously harmful problem. In stealing Chris’ consciousness and forcing himself into his body, he becomes the ultimate example of liberal ignorance.
The “I don’t care what race you are, I don’t see colour” attitude can only go so far. Ultimately, it is empathy, understanding and taking a stance that will stop marginalisation, something Jim adamantly ignores. He claims a lack of racism while reaping the rewards gained by forcing Chris to suffer the consequences. Dean Armitage (Bradley Whitford), Rose’s father, says “I would have voted for Obama three times if I could”, yet his entire lifestyle is funded by forcibly making slaves out of black people, turning them into property to be auctioned off – they become, simply, a commodity for the privileged: they are an enslaved companion, an object to do physically intensive work or something to extend the mortality of white elders. Chris asks why they are targeting black people, and Jim doesn’t know or care why, he’s only interested in how it benefits himself.
Up to now, Chris has been too late to realise this. Even before, as a young boy waiting for his mother to come home, he ignored signs of danger – she died in the streets from a hit-and-run accident while Chris continued to watch TV. Chris is consumed by this guilt, haunted by his regrets and doubt. Here Peele creates the question: rather than watching TV while senseless tragedies occur, could you take action and help? I wouldn’t say that the question is spoken outright, rather it comes with the territory of Chris’ guilt. People’s motivations always have answers. However, most of Get Out’s characters evoke more introspective questions like “Am I like that?” “Could that be me?” and “What would I do?”. We can ask these questions in every moment of the film without ever leaving the story.
Peele pushes audiences to see this in the cinema; he wants everyone to enjoy the communal experience. Different audiences may start watching this in different emotional places, on a path of two halves, but he hopes that their paths will merge in the finale, that they cheer for the protagonist’s fight for survival. There is catharsis in seeing the protagonist rebel (I will not spoil if he does or not, you will have to find out for yourself), and that is something only a great filmmaker can achieve. People can unite to cheer Chris on because that is the power of a great cinema.
At the moment, I wouldn’t call Jordan Peele a great film-maker. There is potential, he just needs to endure the growing pains. For as great as Get Out is, it is apparent that this is his debut. Example: Rod tells his theory to the police (white people are brainwashing black people to be their sex slaves – it’s obviously ludicrous), which takes about a minute in total to explain, then she pulls in two other detective and he explains the theory once again, padding on another minute or so, and then the scene ends with the detectives laughing in his face. When you see this scene coming go pee or something, you will have a spare three minutes.
Get Out is a rare film hindered by wasteful moments that really stick in your craw; a few jokes don’t quite land, and a few more that could use the finesse of a great Key & Peele sketch – that said, the big laughs easily outweigh the stumbling gags. In addition, while Peele has been tremendously careful in nurturing the story for complexity by fine-tuning the balance between the paranoia and suspense, you’ll then see Blumhouse (the production company) tinkering under the hood, throwing in a handful of contrived jumpscares for no good reason.
In the end, Get Out is a film-like Black Mirror episode (where you can also find Daniel Kaluuya in season 1 episode 2, Fifteen Million Merits). Jordan Peele claims to have four new scripts he’s raring to produce with Blumhouse. I propose that if he were to concentrate these scripts into the Black Mirror series, or something alike, he would fare to do much better. In addition to having a wider audience, he could better distil his stories to their bare essentials – on more than a few occasions, Get Out could definitely benefit from some refinement and reconsideration.
Consider why the parents are slaves to their children – they’re played as the stereotypical black servants to the rich white family, but wouldn’t it make more sense to have the white people in black bodies be the ultimate elite, the ones who undeservedly sit atop the society, profiting from the slavery of their bodies? Wouldn’t that be in keeping with the film’s message? Despite this problem (among others), Peele chooses to cash in on a massive pay off, leaving any complaints redundant by way of immediately redeeming itself with the fun thrills and pulpy violence of classic 80’s horror movies. How you feel about Peele’s compromise is up to you.
Future film history books will likely cite Get Out as a representation of racial issues in society. It unpacks all the tensions, jumps from issue to issue, digs deep into on both sides’ flaws and problems – all without feeling like a soapbox for a preacher. There’s no dictator, no ego, just a fun, full of frills horror-comedy that intuitively draws from the real fears of minorities in America – all that Peele asks is don’t forget to enjoy the entertainment, and then don’t be afraid to talk about the issues herein.
Get Out is still showing at local cinemas.