Where to start?
“A woke-ass horror film,” as my buddy dubbed it, Get Out is a doozy on a number of levels.
Social commentary couched as a thriller. You probably already knew that.
So, what do I have to contribute to the conversation about this movie? The movie was f'ing brilliant - phenomenal on so many levels, why don’t I just talk about all that made it so awesome?
Warning: contains one very minor spoiler.
First, the casting was incredible…or was it just the acting? Maybe their auditions were all so good they became no brainer choices for all their respective roles. One thought that occurred to me watching the movie was that if the actors are relaxed, chemistry happens. The indelible chemistry in all of Kaluuya’s interactions are not arbitrary or lucky. He’s that good.
Next, there is a really brilliant visual metaphor introduced early in the film, during the first hypnosis sequence where our paralyzed protagonist sinks, or recedes – perhaps, into an unreachable recess of his own consciousness. Catherine Keener’s character calls this the sunken place. The editing cuts back and forth between a closeup of his eyes and a shot from his POV as he falls into the sunken place, away from what looks like a card board cutout - his only window to the outside world. The cuts between the closeup of his face and the shots of him falling into the abyss bring a sinister sting to the phrase, “the eyes are the window to the soul.” Keener peers into this window as he falls and wishes him happy dreams. The further he falls from the fore, the more inaudible he becomes, the more unseen. It’s an unsettling visual metaphor, or depiction of what it means to feel invisible, to feel unheard. As he falls, he is screaming, and reaching for his window as it slips away, and away, and away.
Catherine Keener’s presence in the film feels anything but coincidental. The POV from the sunken place is eerily similar to that of the characters in Being John Malkovich when they are inside Malkovich and the way in which, only with practice, can they come to truly control Malkovich. In both stories she pulls the strings, the difference being that here, Kaluuya’s character is the Malkovich, stripped of his capacity to assert himself and relegated to a backroom of his own nervous system.
Another thought to inject here, regarding both the above paragraphs: Despite what I said regarding his capacity to assert himself, I would rather not put a specific label on what the image is a metaphor for. Maybe it’s more powerful if left up in the air, to be decided upon on a more subjective basis...
The most threatening engine of racism is not hate, but indifference: the absence of empathy, recognition. Slaveholders were not all mean, hateful men and neither were the white people in this film. The lack of hate is the most unsettling aspect of the race relations depicted by Peele. Despite their plans for Chris, Rose and her family genuinely like him, would genuinely like for him to know that "it's not personal!" This, not hatred, is what makes the horror so affecting. Hatred is a crack in the wall – and opportunity to redirect the energy and bridge a gap to empathy and understanding. Where there is indifference, however, there is only the sunken place that Chris finds himself falling into – a place of invisibility, inaudibility, where there is no chance that one’s humanity will be recognized with the fullness necessary to avoid the horror Peele sheds light on. They don’t hate Chris, they just don’t see him. He’s not as human as they are.
Peele uses humor terrifically, eliciting bits of knowing laughter from his audience that serve as helpful narrative clues for an audience, clarifying story and opening the door for a more lucid experience of the protagonist’s POV.
There is also something to be said about the nature of entitlement and how that affects our ability to empathize. If you have yet to see the film then this rather banal, platitudinous statement may not ring with much poignancy or resonance, but it is empathy that incapacitates sociopathic and psychopathic thinking. When someone wants something and feels, from the outset, entirely entitled to that thing, it is emotionally impossible not to begin devaluing the obstacles in one’s way. Whether they be pebbles (kick them), boulders (dynamite), or someone’s humanity (no spoilers, here), if they are in your way you may be sorry that it had to be this way but this thing is mine to have and, well...you’re sorry it had to be this way. This brand of disconnection, this indifference is one that enables the use of men as means to an end, as pawns in a scheme. Dezmond Tutu said it best, “my humanity is bound up in yours, for we can only be human together.” Shout out to the wokest of white men, Mr. Charlie Layton for dropping that knowledge on the whiteboard a couple weeks ago.
Last thought, I don’t like when people talk during a movie. A couple guys in the row ahead of us kept yelling things out throughout the film. They were the only ones doing this, and a couple times I thought of voicing my discontent, figuring it would be greeted with unanimous appreciation from the rest of the audience. I never did, and in retrospect, I'm glad; maybe it wasn't my place to dictate appropriate movie watching etiquette; maybe this wasn’t my movie.
Questions worth examining:
What is the most insidious element of sociocultural ignorance you have ever witnessed? That you witness regularly?
Does your behavior change depending on who is in the room, ethnicity wise? Feel free to keep this answer to yourself; this is for each of our own edification.
Milk and Dirty Dancing soundtrack? Mull this over after seeing the movie…
I want to write more about this, and want to talk more specifically about the casting of the film and what made Kaluuya such a perfect fit for this role, but I fear that in doing so, given what this movie is ABOUT, I may unavoidably cross the line into what is no longer an appropriate contribution from a white guy…..