Get Out (2017) - Can't Stop the Movies
Can't Stop the Movies

Get Out (2017)

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Chris and Rose are happy place.   They’re young, in love, and ready to take the next steps in their relationship by having Chris meet Rose’s parents.  But Chris is hesitant – do they know he’s black?  Despite Rose’s reassurances, Chris starts the visit uneasy and grows suspicious at the behavior of everyone around him.  Is Chris paranoid, or is Rose’s family setting him up for something sinister? Jordan Peele writes and directs Get Out, and stars Daniel Kaluuya, Allison Williams, Bradley Whitford, Catherine Keener, Caleb Landry Jones, and Stephen Root.

There was the usual theater-wide bustle of activity as my screening of Get Out started.  Onscreen, the camera cranes down from high above a suburban street and starts circling around a black man, on his phone, trying to figure out where he needs to go.  Behind me, there was the sound of shushing as we settled in, and one of the shushers gave a loud, “Quiet,” to our right.

No one was there, at least no one physically in the theater.  Director Jordan Peele crafted the sound in such a way that the conversation seemed to come from the rear of our theater before slowly making its way to the front to center on the nervous man.

Folks, that is one hell of a way to get your audience involved in a movie early on.  With this opening scene, Peele integrated one of the most common experience of our communal enjoyment of movies – the chatter – and redirected the audience’s attention in a way that let us know we were manipulated early on.  The formal visual qualities impressed as well as Peele used the crane to create an unsettled aura around the man, as if we and he are aware that someone will violate his personal space soon.

One of the biting details in Get Out, reinforced through the main plot and one key subplot, is not to assume someone is an ally just because they're not white.

Get Out is deeply intimate filmmaking.  No matter how goofy or absurd some of the plot elements are, Peele returns to the well of micro-aggressions black Americans face to reorient ourselves into his world.  Without Peele’s confident grasp of space, sound design, and trust in his performers, Get Out might have turned into a flaccid farce.  Instead he created an early front-runner for the best film of 2017.

I hope those liberals hoping to get their fear of white conservatives reinforced in Get Out are instead forced to examine their own prejudices.  Rose’s (Allison Williams) family is surface-level liberal through and through.  One of the lines repeated by Dean (Bradley Whitford), Rose’s father, and featured prominently in a trailer, is, “I would have voted Obama a third term.” This is a sentiment I’m sure many liberals share, but also assumes a position Chris (Daniel Kaluuya) may not have as it's not like 100% of black Americans were pleased with Obama.

Peele peppers his screenplay with tons of these little assumptions and micro-aggressions that make up daily life for many black Americans.  Dean constantly uses, “Thang,” in conversation, the family reunion has participants that compliment Chris’ physique and touch him without consent, cops ask him for his id when he hasn’t done anything, and his girlfriend keeps belittling his anxiety as though his fears are nothing to be concerned about.  Discomfort is the rule of Get Out with Peele keeping his dialogue focused less on what Chris thinks of himself and more on what the seemingly well-meaning folks around him want to impart.

This gets to the heart of the problem with many liberal-leaning folks.  Multiculturalism is swell! But when it comes to the ways liberals reinforce a racist cultural structure by appropriating black culture, manipulating black bodies without their consent under the guise of aesthetic appreciation, and telling black Americans what’s good for them - liberals are less than helpful.

No conversation in Get Out has only one meaning. This encounter with a police officer plays on at least three different layers of commentary. With some conversation, I'm sure I could add more to it.

If the dialogue is invasive, the camera is cold and unsettling.  The key to the visuals comes from a subplot involving Jim (Stephen Root), a blind relative of the family who seems to be the one person willing to level with Chris.  Sight ends up being a critical component of Get Out’s commentary as people want to acknowledge how black Americans see without doing anything about it.  The tendency to fetishize black suffering on film is one example of a well-meaning approach that doesn’t do any good.  Save for one moment of leather strapping, there is no fetishization in Get Out.  Chris frequently stares directly out at us in the audience, aiding Peele’s approach to intimacy in frightening moments, so that we’re with him as he falls and the nightmare begins.  The implications are clear;  trust black eyes, understand their anxiety, and listen to their suspicions as they’re the ones living this as liberals pick and choose what to interpret as needing action.

As Chris, Kaluuya embodies a weary optimism that seems ready to give way to the, “I’m too old for this,” mentality of his thespian predecessors.  It’s because of Kaluuya’s hesitation in his performance that my suspicions about Chris’ circumstances were held off as long as they were.  The way Kaluuya holds himself at an emotional distance also makes his work alongside Catherine Keener, playing Rose’s mother Missy, terrifying.  Keener is an actress who knows how to draw out the emotional punch in her dialogue, adding hesitation or energy in a way that leaves the impact clear but the follow-up uncertain.  From the first moment on Keener eyes Kaluuya like a hungry snake, letting her questions rise in energy at the end to get her cracking voice a bit of menace, and goes about her manipulation of Kaluuya like she’s bored packing a box.  Williams is stellar as Chris’ semi-oblivious girlfriend, but the moments between Kaluuya and Keener are part of what makes Get Out’s unsettling power so successful.

This leaves one performer, whose role and emotional function in Get Out I’ll leave for you to discover, who serves as a welcome release of tension at several points.  Lil Rel Howery, Chicago comedian, plays the reasonable best friend voicing the concerns of character we always have watching horror movies.  We’ve seen these situations involving frustrated and abused black Americans play out in tragedy time and again.  With one reasonable voice, someone willing to call the situation what it is, could we have a happy ending for once?  Maybe, and even the ending of Get Out leaves me uncertain anything is getting better.

I just had a damn tense and intriguing time getting there.

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Get Out (2017)

Screenplay written and directed by Jordan Peele.
Starring Daniel Kaluuya, Allison Williams, Bradley Whitford, Catherine Keener, Lil Rel Howery, and Stephen Root.

Posted by Andrew

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