In Jordan Peele’s directorial debut, ‘Get Out,’ a young black man, Chris, goes to visit his white girlfriend Rosa’s family. “Do they know I’m black?” Chris reluctantly asks, as they pack for the trip.
Rosa lovingly, teasingly, tells him not to worry. She reassures him: “My parents are not racist.”
They are not racist
Chris and Rosa drive out to the Armitage’s remote estate, with its welcoming, sweeping front porch and — if you, like Chris, are attuned to such things — eerie plantation-style columns. And at first, Chris’s future in-laws seem nice, welcoming, a little socially awkward. Then they reveal the rotten heart of racism at their core, and Chris finds himself ensnared in a maze of horror.
In other words: maybe another day in modern America.
There are many things to appreciate about ‘Get Out’: Its humor, for starters. Jordan Peele is half of the comedy duo Key & Peele, whom my husband introduced me to maybe five years ago. (We even paid full price to see ‘Keanu’ in the theater — their very odd comedy about a straight-laced guy and his pothead friend going undercover as gangsters in search of a missing kitten [the titular Keanu!].
It wasn’t a great film, but we might have liked it if we were completely high. Alas, we were not.) In any case, Peele (right) has a terrific sense of the absurd, and impeccable comedic timing, so it’s no surprise that, in ‘Get Out,’ Chris’s suspicions about the family he’s visiting unravel at the perfect pace, with the occasional sighting of an apparently brainwashed fellow black person — accompanied by the iconic horror-movie violin screech!— making me laugh out loud every time.
The casting, too, is perfection. I don’t know if I have walked out of a movie in recent years and instantly blurted, “That casting was perfect!,” but I did here.
You’ve got British actor Daniel Kaluuya as Chris, playing a loving boyfriend who has some serious misgivings about his white girlfriend’s family, but bravely stays on the scene longer than he should.
He can’t shake the feeling there’s something weird about these people
His earnestness in getting along with these horrifying potential in-laws rapidly becomes preposterous, but that’s the fun side of the movie. It’s reminiscent of any of the “Look Who’s Coming to Dinner” genre, including the very silly but enjoyable (am I allowed to say that on a literary-type blog?) “Meet the Parents,” where poor Gaylord Focker (Ben Stiller) persists in his goodwill towards his insane, former-CIA father-in-law (Robert DeNiro) despite his fiance (Teri Polo)’s complete obliviousness to the acuteness of his discomfort.
Bradley Whitford makes no wrong character moves as the most smugly liberal of them all, Rosa’s father, a neurosurgeon in a black turtleneck and cords, whose head is so far up the ivory tower that he finds everything that comes out of his own mouth bemusing and wry.
“I would have voted for Obama a third time”
His wife, Missy, is a psychiatrist/hypnotist, played by Catherine Keener, whose soothing voice and occasional habit of spacing out and then all-too-quickly-recovering makes you wonder about her from the get-go.
Rosa has a brother, Jeremy (Caleb Landry Jones), who comes on the scene as a no-holds-barred, raging fuckup. He’s probably a cokehead or into some more evolved drug I don’t even know of, and he looks like shit. He is obviously the family embarrassment except that he is just stupid enough to be useful to them, latching onto their warped ideals with devoted, unreflective seriousness. He is horrid and despicable and almost sad. Another brilliant move, though I hate to say it myself: he has the freckled face and hands of the classic film slaveowner or overseer, all those Davises and Washingtons and Williamses who, sadly, once spread their slavers’ names in a persistent antebellum diaspora.
Dude, do not pick sharp things up
There’s the assemblage of strangely vacant-eyed black servants on the property, who spark Chris’s suspicions immediately although he’s oddly slow to feel real fear.
Mom always loved the kitchen
You can look forward to a hilarious dialogue between himself and the black groundskeeper, who speaks in an odd antiquated diction (the reason will become clear later) and who is just so bizarre I could not keep myself from laughing. But Chris’s response is befuddled and very modern; he mentions the groundskeeper to Rosa, speculating that maybe the guy likes her or something? he had a very weird vibe?
And I can’t go without mentioning Rosa herself: Allison Williams, who is perfect for her role as the classy-but-sexy girlfriend, loving toward Chris, believable and chipper and sweet. She’s the perfect girlfriend for a photographer; you cannot imagine a bad picture with her in it.
“I would never let anyone talk like that about my man”
Rosa is always rolling her eyes, apologizing for her embarrassing parents, and she tries, rather lamely, to buffer the more uncomfortable conversations. She seems to be on Chris’s side. But when the whole thing flips, her sudden change in manner is impeccable, almost robotic. Within seconds of selling Chris down the river she ties her hair back in a pert ponytail, almost unconsciously, and she’s down to business. It’s a great, tiny gesture on the part of Williams. And you have never seen anyone eat dry Froot Loops and drink milk out of a straw with such a strange and chilling precision.
Any lover of film or fiction feels an instantaneous joy learning that a party scene is on the horizon. Yes (nerd fist-pump!), the dinner party!: from The Last Supper on, a hotbed of intrigue, spilled secrets, unholy alliances making themselves clear. Someone is gonna get drunk. Someone is gonna feel a burning desire for someone else, or a burning hatred, and some fool has just got to make a speech….
Peele writes his own party scene with a nod to probably half a dozen others, but this one is funny and horrifying in its own, new way.
The brilliance of the party scene in ‘Get Out’ is that every white person Chris meets — all the Armitage family members — seem supportive and well-meaning. Instead of blurting anything obviously racist or hostile, they appear so embarrassingly thrilled that Chris is there that they speak to him without any semblance of a filter.
Look, here comes Chris!
It’s somehow both hilariously awkward and, if you are white, gallingly incriminating at the same time. “He loves Tiger Woods!” one sweet-looking, gray-haired Armitage family member gushes, pointing to her elderly husband. And the man, seeming relieved that this is out in the open, smiles and nods. “I do!” he says. “I do!”
Another woman with a gorgeous Isabella Rossellini vibe, in a slinky dress and accompanied by a far-too-old-for-her husband, asks Rosa point-blank if “it’s really better with…,” then squeezes poor Chris’s bicep.
Rosa, getting to play the good cop at this point, appears horrified. “Let’s go for a walk,” she says, leading Chris away.
Time for Bingo, sparklers, and a lobotomy!
Peele’s genius move is that the members of the Armitage family are, in general, not saying anything inconceivable. They just seem incredibly un-self-aware. The first words out of their mouths go from zero to sixty and spatter whatever closet curiosity or uncouth soft racism they think of, things no “woke” person would ever say aloud.
And plenty of people would not, I imagine, even think these sorts of things at all, at least not “seriously.” But enough of them have, or might someday, or occasionally do. Let’s remember, as Kendra James points out in her piece for Cosmopolitan (“‘Get Out’ Perfectly Captures the Terrifying Truth About White Women”), that 53% of white American women voted for Trump. (BARRRRRF! -Editor) And that’s what makes this scene’s supreme discomfort so pointed and so sad and, maybe — let’s hope not, please let’s hope not — so accurate.
“What Becky Gotta Do to Get Murked?” asks professor Kinitra D. Brooks, in a piece on the blog VSB (Very Smart Brothas). (And no, this is not a blog I will even pretend to have been familiar with before now, but it’s really, really funny and, as advertised, very smart, and certainly makes my own blog look like the looseleaf notes of a middle-schooler.)
Brooks points out that, though most of the film’s characters die in gruesome ways (it lives up to its “horror” genre in just the last third), Chris cannot bring himself to kill his ultimate betrayer, Rosa.
This reluctance on Chris’ part is particularly notable in the horror genre, in which it is commonplace, expected even, for white women to be killed in increasingly graphic ways. As pop culture scholar Janell Hobson says of this moment, “It’s almost as if brothers are still scared they’ll get lynched if they demonstrate any violence towards Becky—even cinematically.” Why does the film depict a black man so unwilling to pull this trigger?
It’s a great question, and one that’s answered remarkably well in its comments section (there’s something refreshing — a smart online comments section!). One reader, “Vanity in Peril,” has this analysis:
As the protagonist puts his hands around Rose’s throat (somebody in my theatre screamed, “curb-stomp that white bish, crip-walk on her azz!”—to a round of applause) she begins to smile. I saw this initially as her trying to use her white feminine whiles to disarm him but I also interpreted it as whiteness feeling self-satisfied that their assumption that the black man is inherently violent, even when 100% justified, is correct. In that moment I saw a switch over wherein Chris decides to let the white woman die cold and alone on the side of the road. A death that she owns, caused and escalated by her own actions. I saw it as implicating whiteness.
Holy shit, that’s just a blog commenter there.
I agree with “Vanity in Peril’s” take: that in ‘Get Out,’ the burden of guilt needs to remain firmly on the white people. In this film they are the bad ones, and the story works that way. To show Chris as some kind of a monster at the film’s end, even if horrible Rosa deserves it, would muddy the film (which is otherwise quite complex) in a way that it resists being muddied.
Secondly, and this is just speculation here, while Peele may have wanted to make Rosa the true villain of the film, he does not appear to have some heart full of hatred toward white women, and he has a sort of chivalry toward women in general. Dude, I can respect that. (Although now that I think about it, Anna Faris’s character in ‘Keanu’ — a blonde “Becky” if there ever was one — bites the dust pretty hard and graphically in that movie!) Both he and his comedy partner, Keegan-Michael Key, are biracial; their standup bits about their “white moms” are hilarious and affectionate.
Peele is also married to a white woman, Brooklyn Nine-Nine‘s Chelsea Peretti (another show my husband introduced me to! That man has his finger on the pulse!). Peele and Peretti are expecting their first child. (By the way, while I guess this is neither here nor there, Peretti is a childhood friend of SNL‘s Andy Samberg; maybe you’ve seen this picture of him sitting in the back of her mom’s car in middle school; it’s always made me chuckle, because I like little historical tidbits like that.)
Comedians Chelsea Peretti and Andy Samberg, back in the day
In any case, this is not about trying to prove that Jordan Peele actually loves white women, and so we should feel okay about ourselves. No, no, no (to quote “Georgina” in the film) — we are fully culpable in every bit of soft racism that Peele suggests. BUT, going back to the film itself here: the script sides so unequivocally against the Armitages that the viewers will hate Rosa whether Chris kills her or not. She is a despicable fake; her professions of love for him as she lies dying ring almost laughably false. Even I wanted her to die, if only because she is such a TERRIBLE GIRLFRIEND!!!
Chris’s character remains unsullied, and Rosa is left like the deer on the side of the road that they hit on their way to her parents’ in the first place.
I am going to be completely honest here. There were moments when, watching ‘Get Out,’ I felt bad about being a white person. I felt like I must be an oblivious, steamrolling, uncool loudmouth, making anyone of color feel uncomfortable, blasting my way through the space around me. It was not a good feeling. But I guess I can just sit here and play my tiniest-violin-in-the-world about it, because in the big scheme of things, what do I have to lose?
“Why black people?” Chris asks Jim Hudson (played by Stephen Root!!!!), a gallery owner who’s apparently “scouted” him for the Armitage family’s nefarious plan, and whose cerebral cortex will be implanted into Chris’s brain.
“Who knows?” Hudson replies. And then he goes into a whimsical but rather stunning mini-monologue: Maybe white people just want to be what they cannot. They want to be cooler, stronger, faster. Who really knows?
Just like the Armitages, blurting whatever taboo racist assumptions come into their weirdo heads, Peele puts assumptions about white people out there, too. He lays it all on the table. It’s pretty brave.
But maybe not as brave as going into your future in-laws’ house in the first place, against your better judgment, when your friend told you to just…. GET OUT.
p.s. One of my favorite Key & Peele skits is “Continental Breakfast,” which is just nerdy and punny enough, with a dash of physical comedy, to delight the likes of me. I can almost promise that you will laugh. Please enjoy: