“Get Out” (2017)

Comedian Jordan Peele made his directorial debut this year, and it is as assured a first movie as I’ve ever seen.   Technically it is very nice, even beautifully done, but it is in dealing with the internal logic of the film that he shines.  I’ll try to avoid spoilers, and so will stick with what we know or can conservatively infer from the trailers, even in the “spoiler” section.

Oh, and man, this entire review needs what I call a “Sambo Alert” because it deals with race as honestly as any movie I’ve ever seen in my life. But note something: there are two core philosophical questions in life: “what is true?” which deals with objective reality, and “who am I?” or “who are we?” which deals with the inner realm, opens the door to discussion of our subjective experience.

“Get Out” has what I would consider some logical lapses on the “What is true?” level. But on the level of “Who Are We?” especially the “how do we see each other?  What do we FEAR is true?”   Man oh man…this is a movie that couldn’t possibly have been made by a major studio just twenty or even ten years ago.  It is a movie that deserves dissection, debate, criticism and praise.  It will trigger laughter and outrage and deserve both.

It is not “could this happen?” or “is this logical?” but “do whites and blacks really have these feelings about each other?”

My experience says: our history would be very very different if they did not.  Our history is what it is.  The feelings and fears are real, even if our head says “this makes no sense!”

I love it.

Chris Washington (an amazing Daniel Kaluuya) and his girlfriend Rose (a terrific Allison Williams), are an interracial couple taking their relationship to the next level: home to meet her parents (Catherine Keener and Bradley Whitford also stellar).   Chris’s ABC (“really good friend.”  Ask a black friend if you don’t know) comic relief Lilrel Howrey warns him not to go off to White People Land for this meeting. Once Chris arrives in the secluded little town, he almost immediately senses something is off.  The parents are enormously open and welcoming…but make a few too many positive references to race.  The dad would have voted for Obama a THIRD term, don’t you know.  The black groundskeeper and housekeeper are just like family, don’t you know.

Let’s just say that your guess is correct: Chris and Rose will face challenges. Yes indeed they will.

“Get Out” is beautifully directed, tightly structured. I’d call it a satire of racial stereotypes masquerading as a horror movie…except that these stereotypes have been the cause of such pain and fear and death and  guilt and denial for centuries that if there is a greater horror in American history,  save for the Native American genocide, I don’t know what it is.   Continues to poison us to this day.  And Chris, and the audience, will have to ask themselves over and over: is there really anything wrong here?  Or is it just the over-defensiveness that most black people feel, the questioning of what is behind white smiles.   What do we really think of each other?  And can love really conquer all?

Oh, boy.

Saying anything else would spoil the fun. Again, I can find flaws, but if you go with it, plunge into the “dream world” through the doorway opened in the first act, the rest of it flows beautifully.   On the level of that fear and hope, it makes more sense, speaks more directly to certain issues than any film I can think of that didn’t have IMPORTANT OSCAR BAIT appended to the title.

It is fun, it is scary, it is entertaining, it is made with skill and passion…and ultimately it is important. Not Oscar Bait, thank God.  But its very pulpiness is a kind of genius.

See it with an audience!  Preferably an integrated one.  Then go for coffee and discuss.

 

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Warning: Spoiler AND Sambo Alert territory.

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The ultimate reveal strikes me more as an expression of Jordan Peele’s personal angst about the cost of assimilation that black people pay, every day.  More about his own biracial identity than anything strictly logical and reasonable.

The racial aspect, in other words, isn’t totally connected to the theme: logically, it could have worked as well with class.  But in the minds of black people AND white people…in the view of America, especially those who buy the Southern Apologia concerning genetics and history, class and race are inexplicably intertwined.  I’ve had too many conversations with people of a certain political orientation, politely afraid that blacks will be permanently locked in the underclass.  Not because whites are especially evil, of course, but because black people, well…just don’t have enough little gray cells.

That’s the balancing poison, don’t you know?  Blacks are stupid, whites are evil.  Don’t act surprised: that’s the privately held assumption by racists on either side.

That lie, that one group is less worthy or valuable or capable than another, is the secret fear behind so many polite conversations. The thing rarely said.  And it corrupts the narrative.   An example: let’s say you suggest an Italian restaurant for dinner. Your girlfriend says no: she doesn’t like pizza. You mention a wide menu.  She says she doesn’t like the decor. You say they’ve redecorated.  She says she doesn’t like that neighborhood at night.  You say let’s go for lunch instead.

For an hour, she gives objections, you give answers.  Things get tense. And you start realizing: THERE IS A REASON SHE DOESN’T WANT TO GO THAT SHE ISN’T SAYING.  And finally, after an hour of wasted time, she confesses: she doesn’t want to go because her ex-boyfriend owns the place, and she doesn’t want to see him.

Ever had an argument like that?  Where what is REALLY thought isn’t said, and once its said all the odd conversation makes sense?

Race in America is like that.  Between people who have the same attitudes about Nature and Nurture, everything, all our history makes sense.  But if one person thinks “Nature” and won’t speak that unpopular opinion, and hides it behind polite obfuscation and political slight-of-mouth?   You’ll argue for hours and never, ever come to a conclusion.

Blacks aren’t as smart, whites aren’t as sane.   Innately.  Genetically

That’s the hidden belief behind the PC argumentation. And people are “PC” to both the Right and the Left.  Anyone who says different is pimping an agenda.

“Get Out”  is indeed “Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner” meets “The Stepford Wives.”   There’s another, pulpier B-movie I could throw into the equation, but that would be telling.

Let’s just say that I’m sure I’ll have a lot of conversations about this.   I’ve heard complaints about how the movie has too many evil white people. I haven’t noticed those people complaining about   the endless films (“The Green Mile”, “The Mist”, all the Dirty Harry Movies, etc) where all black characters are evil, or frickin’  die.  I personally have enjoyed some of those movies, and grasped that that’s just the way the world is: people play those games and expect you to smile and take it.  Well, here what was done t’was done consciously and with serious intent.  If you complained about “Captain Phillips” you have the right to complain here.

Otherwise, IMO, you can shut the hell up.

Oh, this one is gonna make a ton of money.  Like most great genre filmmaking it takes a very real emotional powderkeg, dresses it up in distracting clothing and blows it up in your face.  And when it explodes, it will open the door to other filmmakers to create successes and  cultural conversations that have never taken place in our history, just as “Django Unchained” and “Creed” did.  In many ways I am enormously happy with the 21st Century, really.

Problems?

Sure.  But if you think they’re the worst problems we’ve faced, you rather obviously haven’t been listening to what black people have been screaming for 400 years.

To reference a particularly nasty joke, everybody takes their turn in the barrel, lads and lasses.

Welcome to the struggle.

Namaste,

Steve

(Afrofuturism indeed!  Can’t wait to discuss THIS one in our class.  If you want to be a part of that discussion, be sure to join us at http://www.afrofuturismwebinar.com!)

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