Monday, March 20, 2017

Get Out

* spoilers *

The film opens with an African American man walking through a wealthy neighborhood at night, obviously lost. A white car blasting an out of place and cheery 30's song, Run Rabbit Run. The man immediately decides to leave, but he's attacked, bludgeoned, and dragged into the trunk of the car. This scene is reminiscent of most slasher movies where a woman is killed at the outset of the movie walking alone at night to show that danger is imminent. This scene functions in the same way, making the racial tension in the forefont without the attacker's skin being seen with the clean white car and rabbit hunting song that makes it apparent that he views the black man as prey. It's odd because a man alone at night isn't seen as that vulnerable, but men of color have different worries of police being violent and trigger happy.

Then the story goes to the main characters Chris Washington and Rose Armitage who are preparing to meet her parents together for the first time. Chris is apprehensive, but Rose reassures him. On the way, she hits a deer with her car, obviously shocked but otherwise unaffected. He finds the injured animal and stares, lost in thought about his mother who died in a similar fashion after a hit and run. Obviously saddened by the incident, he waits with Rose for the police to arrive. The police officer tells them who they should have called and then demands to see Chris' ID. Rose resists because he wasn't even driving even though Chris doesn't make any complaints. The officer relents and leaves. This scene shows an interesting power dynamic where Rose has the luxury of arguing with a police officer as a white woman while Chris knows that it's safer for him to comply with what they say even if their actions are questionable.

Rose and Chris finally arrive at the house to be greeted by Dean and Missy Armitage and her brother Jeremy. Small talk quickly becomes awkward when Dean tries to sound hip, Missy is rude to Georgina, the Armitage's maid, and drunken Jeremy tries to fight Chris while making racist comments about his genes. All of this contrasts with their attempts to seem inclusive by showing artifacts from their travels around the world and sharing their family history that includes Rose's grandfather almost reaching the Olympics, but being beat out by Jesse Owens. This film could have featured an overtly racist family, but the Armitages could be any upper class white family. Dean condemns Hitler and praises Owens, but reveals that his father never got over it. Their cultural artifacts show that collecting items doesn't mean that they understand different cultures beyond using those aesthetics to make their home more beautiful. Rose condemns their behavior and identifies it as not usual.

At night, Chris gets up to smoke and regrets it. He sees Walter running at him and Georgina eerily staring. Both of them seem a little too perfect like Stepford people, especially in their endlessly cheery attitudes and careful, dated speech. Missy forces him to undergo hypnotism supposedly to quit smoking, but he's compelled to talk about his mother dying. He sat watching television for hours, afraid to call anyone to help because she might actually be hurt. He blames himself for her death because no one was looking for her while she lay in the road like the deer from the beginning of the film. This moment was so human and realistic, but the fact that it was being ripped from him involuntarily was horrific. Missy forces his subconscious in "the sunken place" where Chris is aware and able to see what's going on, but unable to act. This is one of the most frightening concepts I've seen in film and it's well illustrated here.

The next day has numerous members of the Armitage's family and close friends flocking to the house for a yearly get together. Chris is conspicuously one of the few people of color there, further shown as out of place as the only person wearing blue. Literally everyone else is wearing white and red in some way. He feels increasingly ill at ease as he has uncomfortable conversations with numerous people. Some are a little awkward like when they latch onto his race as a talking point to make him feel comfortable but it has the opposite effect. One man sings the praises of Tiger Woods while another asks him if he plays basketball. Others are outright rude and racist like when a woman feels his bicep appropos of nothing or an Asian man asks how the "black experience" is. These events, while cringeworth, rang true coming from uneasy white people trying not to seem racist. The only person acting remotely normal is a blind art dealer Jim Hudson who praises Chris' eye for photography.

When Rose and Chris go off for a walk, the insidious nature of those awkward conversations becomes clear. They were engineered to be that way to get Chris to leave. In a chilling, silent scene, Dean conducts an auction for Chris (next to a large picture of him) where the participants use bingo cards already marked with bingo as paddles. This of course parallels slavery auctions. Chris tries to leave, but is incapacitated by hypnosis. Rose reveals herself as a villain, making her previous actions much more sinister. She fought the cop seeing his ID so there would be no record of him there. She didn't care about the deer they hit and gaslighted him about the awkward party situation. He wakes up tied to a chair in front of a television, just like he felt when he was a child, too afraid to move.

In a side plot, Chris' best friend Rod works as a TSA agent and recognizes that his friend is in danger. His first line is complaining that he was reprimanded for patting down an old white women as if she couldn't be a threat, which is an interesting view of the wider plot. He researches the missing black men in their area and approaches police when necessary. His voice is the one of reason and humor that simultaneously tells the truth, gives excellent advice, and breaks up the very tense film with humor. Jordan Peele is so adept at humor that it would have been a shame to omit it from the film. Rod uses his intelligence, TSA training, and research to view the Armitage's as a legitimate threat.

The whole process of putting him in "the sunken place" and having an elderly white person implanted into his brain is explained to him by a retro style video and Jim, the winner of the auction. The video shows that it's been a family tradition started by Rose's grandfather, presumably started as revenge for his loss against Jesse Owens. Jim wants his eye for photography, but it comes from his perspective, history, and culture. Jim would still be taking mediocre nature photos in Chris' body. This process is a science fiction version of cultural appropriation. Some of the partygoers said that "black is in fashion" and view African Americans as being stronger and faster, showing that they want these perceived benefits without having any of the drawbacks. That's why Georgina, Walter, and Logan (the man who breaks out of the hypnosis to warn Chris to "get out!" at the party) seemed so unnatural.

Chris stuffs cotton in his ears to keep from being hynotized and proceeds to attack the enture family. For the first kill, he takes mounted head of a stag on the wall (a symbol of the other victimized black men and himself) and kills Dean with it. In a very satisfying slasher fashion, he dispatches each of the family except Rose, who is eating fruit loops and drinking milk separately (to segregate them), listening to "Time of My Life" from Dirty Dancing, and scouting out her next victim. Her appearance has completely changed from relaxed to a severe ponytail, a white and khaki hunting outfit, and riding boots showing her true predatory nature. Chris tries to escape in the white car, but hits Georgina. He sees his mother in her as she lays on the floor and saves her, but she forces them to crash and dies anyway.

A fight ensues involving Rose, Chris, and Walter that leaves Walter with a hole in his head and Rose with a hole in her gut. Chris goes to leave, but a police car rolls up. I was cheering Chris on in his quest for vengeance and escape, so I was so scared for him in this moment. Police, who are notorious for targeting and abusing people of color, would look at the situation and probably throw him in jail no matter how much evidence was in his favor. The presence of dead white people in their rich neighborhood with a living interloper and an injured "victim" makes his situation dire. However, it's actually Rod in his TSA car, coming in to take Chris away and leave Rose bleeding in the street. I heard others in the crowd breathe a sigh of relief.

Get Out is an incredibly complex and well written film that has no unnecessary scenes. It's a powerful film to watch that shows what fear looks like from an African American perspective when so very many movies are from that of upper middle class white people. The reaction to it has been overwhelmingly positive except for a vocal minority that deem it anti-white and racist. Welcome to how people of color have felt throughout film history. They are very often villains, supporting characters, the first to die (specifically in horror films), or lesser in some way to show that the white hero is better. It seems that some white people who are used to being depicted as heroes can't handle the one film critical of them. Get Out shows run of the mill white people gaining wealth and prestige at the expense of people of color, showing the insidious effects of white privilege and institutionalized racism. This is my favorite recent horror film because of its topical and relevant themes as well as being well constructed at every level. If you haven't seen it, I highly recommend it and I wouldn't be surprised if it was my favorite film of the whole year.

My rating: 5/5

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