Written and Directed by: Jordan Peele
I live about forty miles from Charlottesville, one of the most socially and politically liberal cities in Virginia. Last week, in the unfolding Theater of the Absurd that is the daily news, neo-Nazis were grabbing their five minutes of fame. Dressed in white and carrying torches — like a terrifying parody of themselves — they gathered at a public park, protesting the removal of a statue of Virginia’s most beloved Confederate general, Robert E. Lee. Rumor has it they were joined by Richard Spencer, a vile lunatic whose blog has called for the genocide of Black people
On the positive side, these protestors were outnumbered by anti-white-supremacy demonstrators. But that doesn’t make the scenario any less horrifying.
In an era when bigotry has shed any pretense of subtlety and appears to be growing more virulent, it’s easy to forget the other side of the coin. “Liberal” whites who view themselves and people of color as equals, speak out against mass incarceration of young Black men, and deplore neo-Nazis. People who genuinely want equality — as long as it stays within their comfort zone. Folks with so much empathy for people of other races that it camouflages their tacit sense of superiority, even from themselves. This kind of racism tends to be subtle and difficult to define, and it makes many people uncomfortable. That isn’t me…is it?
This is the subject tackled by Jordan Peele’s Get Out. In the opening scene, a young Black man finds himself in the wrong side of town: a middle-class white suburb. This darkly comic, clever bit of satire culminates in a disturbing and baffling moment. What the f**k just happened there?
Then we move on with our story. Chris (Daniel Kaluuya) agrees to accompany his girlfriend, Rose (Allison Williams), on a trip to her parents’ house. Since he’s Rose’s first Black boyfriend, Chris has some trepidation about meeting them. But she assures him, “They’re not like that.”
And sure enough, Rose’s parents, Dean and Missy Armitage (Bradley Whitford and Catherine Keener), are lovely people who bend over backwards to make Chris feel welcome. Maybe they try a little bit too hard — to the point where the tension is palpable. But it’s all good. The Armitages are kind, liberal-minded people. Some of their best friends are Black. Well, maybe not friends, per se…people who work for them. But that’s fine, they treat the help just like family.
But never mind. Despite the awkwardness, which Chris handles with good-humored acceptance — and despite Rose’s brother, who’s clearly a few cards short of a full deck (what the hell is wrong with that guy?) — things go smoothly enough. But Dean and Missy give off an increasingly creepy vibe.
Then the Armitages host a gathering, a group of affluent friends who (with one exception) are all white. And all delighted to meet Rose’s Black boyfriend, in a way that kind of makes you want to clench your teeth. And there’s something a bit off about this group. Like they’re halfway between normal folks you might meet at a family reunion and Minnie and Roman’s coven from Rosemary’s baby. At that moment, all of us — including white viewers like me — know what it’s like to feel out of place, and intensely uncomfortable — in a gathering of nice white folks.
Then there are the Armitages’ Black employees: including Georgina (Betty Gabriel) and Walter (Marcus Henderson). Why do they give off a Stepford wives vibe?
Get Out is a difficult movie to define. Despite several funny scenes (Rod [LilRel Howery] and his coworkers provide comic relief), it’s not a comedy. And despite the film’s effectively creepy vibe, it isn’t exactly what you’d expect from a horror movie. It’s also a satire, of course — the brilliant blogger at Dell on Movies explained the subtext more clearly and eloquently than I could, and his comments have lingered with me for several days, giving me food for thought.
Somehow these disparate elements — occasional humor, unconventional horror, and satire — blend seamlessly into a solidly entertaining film that kept me guessing. Usually I find mystery and horror somewhat predictable, but this film’s insane climax surprised me in the best possible way. The climax is wildly over the top, yet it’s been properly foreshadowed through details revealed in the story and the tone of the film.
Despite an ending that felt a bit too abrupt (explained by Peele in his commentary on the alternate ending), this was one of the best cinematic experiences I’ve had in a while. It’s unlike anything I’ve ever seen, and it’s entertaining yet, at the same time, its underlying meaning carries enough weight that it’s continued to grow upon reflection.