Full disclosure: I dislike horror movies. I don’t like being jump-scared, I don’t like watching terrible things happen on screen. And while often being ahead of their time, I also believe that a lot of horror movies have a tendency to be regressive (e.g. with regard to their portrayal of premarital sex as inherently evil, mysoginistic tropes and their treatment of minorities). So although I had heard that Get Out was an amazing movie, it wasn’t exactly on my list of must-see releases.
But then, on a rainy summer weekend a couple of months back, a friend of mine and I wanted to go watch a movie, and rather than ditch that idea and stay home after all, we settled on seeing Jordan Peele’s cinematic masterpiece.
Get Out is about Chris Washington (Daniel Kaluuya), an aspiring photographer, who has recently started dating Rose Armitage (Allison Williams). They’ve been together for a couple of months and have been invited to spend the weekend with Rose’s parents on their vast estate somewhere in a non-descript suburbian area. Chris is initially nervous about going there, because Rose hasn’t told her parents that he is black, but Rose reassures him that there is absolutely nothing to worry about. At first, everything seems to be going very well and Rose’s parents do what they can to make sure Chris feels at home. Slowly but surely, however, things start to feel wrong. Rose’s parents, her neurosurgeon dad Dean (Bradley Whitford) and her psychotherapist mom Missy (Catherine Keener), have a black housekeeper and a black gardener, who act ever so slightly out of place. In fact, all of the non-white people Chris encounters at the Armitage estate seem to be acting weirdly. On top of that, Missy is all too keen on using hypnotherapy to help Chris out with his smoking habit.
If you haven’t seen the film yet, I’m sure you now think you have an idea of where the plot is going, but believe me, you’ll be in for an enjoyable and unpredictable ride. I for one was genuinely surprised by some of the twists in the movie (and I pride myself in being fairly literate when it comes to movies). Although marketed as a horror film, it falls more into the realm of a psychological thriller with some surprisingly humerous moments. On the whole, Get Out is an intelligent movie that offers social commentary on multiple levels, and I for one whole-heartedly recommend it. It is no longer in theatres, but has already been released on Blu-Ray and DVD.
(For spoilers and a more in-depth analysis scroll past the trailer)
Just so we’re all clear, this is the part where I spoil the twist ending. You have been warned.
In the end it turns out that all of the black people Chris meets are actually white people whose brains Dean has transferred into the bodies of young, strong black people (after Missy hypnotizes them into cued submission so that they’re unable to fight back). The family’s gardener is actually Rose’s grandfather, a former sprinter who was almost – but not quite – as good as Jesse Owens in his prime, and the maid is Rose’s grandmother. Rose herself, of course, is in on the family business, and seduces black men and women into joining her on trips back home, where the family then holds a “neighbourhood get-together” each time, which is, in reality, an auction for the body of the latest victim.
Although the family’s rationale for choosing black people at first glance isn’t overtly racist, their reasoning is firmly rooted in systemic as well as individual racist practices. There are three main motifs that stand out, namely a) police brutality and discrimination against people of colour in the United States, b) Black bodies that are used to fulfill white needs and wishes (aka dehumanization, objectification and slavery) and c) how Blackness and Whiteness respectively are viewed and framed.
While each of these motifs deserves an analysis of its own, the way the film addresses the history of dehumanization of black bodies and, by extension, how that dehumanization leads to the justification of violence are of particular interest to me. Missy’s hypnoticism leaves Chris’s mind in a state of perpetual darkness. He’s trapped inside his mind, unable to get out, unable to control his body. His body becomes an object.
The movie implies that there is a small part of the Armitage’s black victims that survives the process, a part that exists somewhere deep under the surface, unable to escape. That part is accessible through the flashlights of cameras, an allusion to being seen as who you really are (as you become the camera’s subject rather than remaining an object).
The film explores different types of objectification of black bodies: Both Rose and the potential buyers at the auction exoticize Chris’s body and comment on his virility and strength. Rose’s fetishization of black bodies even goes so far that she is able to regularly exchange one black body for another without any emotional qualms.
Rose’s brother Jeremy seems to incorporate the most standardized views of racism and what racists are that prevale in the U.S., i.e. racists who view themselves as superior, racists who fear the potential of the Other. His disgust for Chris is blatant, even before the movie’s twist is revealed. He wrestles him at the dinner table in an attempt to assert his dominance, and implicitely and explicitely views Chris as an animal, as less than human.
To Rose’s parents, Chris is a means to an end. Their standard of living and the continuation of their lives after their deaths are more important to them than black lives. Just like Rose, they seem to admire certain properties they associate with Blackness, but there is no sexual connotation to that admiration. In a way, their disregard for black lives belies a certain privilege and mindset that has been passed down for generations; they feel entitled to use black bodies as they please when it serves them. Even though they are not overtly racist, this difference in their racism to e.g. Jeremy’s does not matter for the actions they take and the ultimate outcome.
The way societal practices shape the process of objectification is commented on by the film, as well. For example, the Armitage family is able to continue murdering and abducting black people because it is expected for black people to go missing in certain neighbourhoods and be out of place in others, because, all things being equal, a black cis-male is viewed as a (super) predator much more readily than a white family of high social standing and particularly a white, young female.
At the very end of the movie, Chris almost gives in to the process of his own dehumanization. He becomes the predator he is told to be, going on a killing spree in order to escape. The camera starts focusing more on his movements and his body language, shifting away from close-ups of his face and eyes to full-body shots. One of the last scenes has him almost choking Rose to death after a life or death struggle. In the very last minute, he decides against killing her, reclaiming his humanity (Some might argue that Rose manipulates him into not killing her by reminding him that it is, in fact her, and asking whether he doesn’t remember her, but I would maintain that what she reminds him of is actually his own humanity and that letting go of her is a form of self-actualization).
During all of this, police sirens can be heard in the distance. As they come closer, Chris gets up and lifts his arms above his head, reminiscent of course of the Michael Brown police killing as a very clear allegory to the “Hands up, Don’t Shoot” protests in the context of Black Lives Matter. Rose starts pleading for her life, positioning herself in a way that portrays her as a victim of black violence, and the audience expects a grave injustice in the form of a police shooting or at the very least an arrest to follow (and in fact, this was how Jordan Peele originally envisaged the ending before he decided against it due to the changes in sociopolitical landscape during the film’s production). But then Chris turns around, and sees that it’s actually his best friend Rod (who is also black and provides the weirdly not out of place comic relief in the film) in a TSA vehicle who has come to rescue him after suspecting foul play.
They leave the scene in relative silence on Chris’s part while Rod ignores the immediate situation, choosing instead to focus on the banal. Of course there is no need to say much and Chris is exhausted after his ordeal. But the film also seems to yet again pose the question whether there is a safe space for minorities to speak up, whether their voices can be heard even by their closest friends and allies.
Of course, there are many, many other facets of the movie that warrant additional discussion and analysis (e.g. the different roles of Blackness portrayed by other cast members, Uncle Joe stereotypes, mutual distrust, the performance of Blackness to name just a few), and I am sure that many scholars have got their eyes set on the film for their upcoming masters’ and PhD theses. And of course, the portrayal of women in the film as manipulative seductresses is not without its problems, and even though its main focus lies on the fear of Black men as a result of their dehumanization in the United States it could have done better in that regard.
For now and for this article at least, let me close by stressing the importance of films like Get Out, particularly in the horror, thriller and slasher genre, where POCs are often still the first to be killed off. After all, to get out of racial disparities in real life, a thoughtful potrayal of these issues in film and fiction is arguably one of the first steps.
Simone was listening to “Wavvy” by Mykkie Blanco.