Editor’s Note: Get Out opens in wide theatrical release today, February 24, 2017.
Jean-Paul Sartre was wrong. Hell isn’t other people. Hell is white people, specifically white faux-liberals, in Jordan Peele’s (Keanu, Key & Peele) writing-directing feature-length debut, Get Out, a horror-comedy mash-up of Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner?, The Stepford Wives, and The Puppet Masters that ruthlessly satirizes the misguided, dangerously naive idea/myth of a post-racial America irreducibly shattered by the shocking, unexpected result of the 2016 presidential election and its immediate (and long-term) aftermath. The presidential election might have decisively put the lie to the idea of a “post-racial America,” but it also exposed the inherent racism (among other ‘isms’, phobias, and anxieties) that motivated more than 62 million Americans to vote for the Republican Party’s presidential candidate regardless of his fitness for the office or his temperament. In short, Get Out – though made long before the election – couldn’t have come at a more welcome time.
Ultimately, Get Out may be a message movie, a cautionary tale/wake-up call, but more importantly, it’s an indictment of surface-deep, faux-liberalism.
In just the first scene – homage, perhaps to Scream – Peele introduces the existential dread, not to mention physical danger – faced by a black man walking alone in a white suburban neighborhood. While the man, later identified as Andre (Lakeith Stanfield, Atlanta, Short-Term 12), fumbles with his phone and an offscreen companion, attempting to find sanctuary amidst so much whiteness, a car pulls up next to him. He tries to play it cool, change direction, and walk away, but there’s no escaping his fate: He’s easily subdued, thrown into the trunk of the car, and driven away. When we next encounter Andre, he’s dressed like a man several decades older and whiter, the companion of a woman thirty years his senior, at a lawn party populated by the area’s richest, whitest, and oldest people. Something’s obviously wrong with Andre, but Peele doesn’t reveal the “what” and the “why” until the last, horror-filled half-hour.
Before the late-film twist that literalizes the idea of possessing black bodies, Peele segues to the central story and Chris Washington (Daniel Kaluuya, Sicario), a twenty-something photographer, taking the next, necessary step in his relationship with Rose Armitage (Allison Williams): Meeting Rose’s affluent, suburban parents, Dean (Bradley Whitford), a neurosurgeon, and Missy (Catherine Keener), a therapist. The virtual embodiment of white privilege, Rose waves Chris’ concerns about her parents and their attitudes toward interracial romance by claiming her good liberal father would have voted for Obama a third time if he could have, a claim Dean happily shares with Chris within moments of meeting him for the first time. It doesn’t put Chris’ mind at ease (quite the opposite, actually), but he’s willing to give them a chance for the sake of his relationship with Rose.
Jean-Paul Sartre was wrong. Hell isn’t other people. Hell is white people, specifically white faux-liberals, in Jordan Peele’s writing-directing feature-length debut.
Chris’ constant unease – just as constantly assuaged by Rose’s carefully timed interventions (she’s the white ally Chris supposedly needs) – never disappears. With the little we learn about Chris’ background – abandoned by his father, a long-dead mother, no siblings or other relatives – it’s clear that he’s driven by more than just a desire to be accepted by Rose’s parents: He wants to be accepted as a member of the family. The promise of a family repeatedly blinds Chris to the increasingly unnerving, disturbing events that unfold around him. Dean and Missy’s comments may be well-meaning, but they also betray unease about Chris’ entry into their life, let alone their family. Intentional or not, the comments and glances pile up, leaving Chris feeling like a stranger in a strange land, an alien or other. The robotic behavior of the family’s servants, Georgina (Betsy Gabriel) and Walter (Marcus Henderson), do little to ease Chris’ fears and anxieties. They do the opposite.
A dinner with Rose’s brother, Jeremy (Caleb Henry Jones), an obnoxious, lacrosse-playing frat-bro, who openly talks about Chris’ “genetic makeup” and his potential fitness for a mixed martial arts career (Chris would be a “beast”), puts Chris on slightly firmer ground. He knows a racist when he hears one, but it also adds another layer of doubt to Chris’ fraying mind and his fears about Rose and her family’s not-so-hidden attitudes and beliefs about African-Americans in general and Chris in particular. To Peele’s considerable credit, Get Out plays with whether Chris’s increasing paranoia – and by extension, the moviegoers’ – is based on reality or Chris gradually losing his mind. Of course, just because Chris’ behavior tends toward the paranoid doesn’t mean it’s justified. The spoiler-heavy marketing for Get Out as a horror-comedy says as much.
Peele adds welcome humor through Chris’ African-American friend, Rod Williams (LilRel Howery), a TSA agent with delusions of grandeur who functions as the audience stand-in/conscience. He repeatedly warns Chris about the dangers inherent in dating a white woman (specifically her family). His jokes about Chris being turned into a “sex slave” sound flippant, even glib, but they also more than hint at a truth about the African-American experience and the weight/recognition of history on everyday interactions. Rod proves to be Chris’ constant, long-distance companion. For every call Chris makes to Rod from Dean and Missy’s home seeking a reassuring word of comfort, Rod does the exact opposite (as in “get out while you can”). Get Out’s politics, however, aren’t as clear-cut as Rod’s constant warnings: One interpretation would suggest voluntary segregation might be better than the alternative (i.e., living among duplicitous whites). That might be too literal an interpretation, however. Ultimately, Get Out may be a message movie, a cautionary tale/wake-up call, but more importantly, it’s an indictment of surface-deep, faux-liberalism.
While Get Out may be a message movie and a cautionary tale/wake-up call, it's also, more importantly, an indictment of surface-deep, faux-liberalism.