Thursday, March 09, 2017
GET OUT (Jordan Peele, 2017)
In GET OUT Chris (Daniel Kaluuya) is right to be a little worried about meeting the parents of his his girlfriend Rose (Allison Williams). She’s not told them that he’s black, although Rose shrugs off his concern about his race mattering to her family. Things can be a little uncomfortable when they arrive at the private estate, but the tension is more because of Rose’s mom Missy (Catherine Keener) and dad Dean (Bradley Whitford) awkwardly conveying their ease rather than signaling objections to the interracial relationship. They even try to smooth over any wrong ideas Chris may get from spotting two black servants working in their home.
While there doesn’t appear to be any reason for alarm, the weekend gets weirder for Chris after Missy hypnotizes him to help him stop smoking. Chris and Rose have unknowingly come to the Armitage house when Missy and Dean throw an annual party, so he also feels out of place among a bunch of monied older white people. He’s relieved when he sees another young black man, Andrew Logan King (Lakeith Stanfield), in attendance, but his atypical behavior heightens the sense that something isn’t right.
With comedian Jordan Peele as writer and director, it wouldn’t be unreasonable to expect that GET OUT might be a humorous update of GUESS WHO’S COMING TO DINNER. It’s been fifty years since the then-controversial movie about a white woman accompanied by her black fiancé paying a surprise visit to her liberal, upper-class parents. After all, a lot has changed in American society in the intervening time. While there are satirical and comedic elements to GET OUT, most notably with Lil Rel Howery as Chris’s suspicious friend, Peele guides the situation to play as horror. The monster of racism hasn’t disappeared; it’s just hidden itself better.
Peele has fun playing with appearances. Kaluuya goes to great pains to be agreeable as Chris. He doesn’t want to create a stir when a police officer presses him for his ID after they hit a deer even though he wasn’t driving. Rose pushes back strongly, calling out the demand for what it is, but her insistent response is also a function of the privilege she has because of her race. Chris would have every right to protest too, but the situation might not play out the same. Rose’s parents and the party guests overdo it in trying to show their enlightened viewpoints or interest so that their politeness is laced with offense. Chris’s amiable and unassuming behavior, which has helped him in code-switching until this situation, proves to be what makes him most vulnerable.
Peele’s directing debut displays a strong visual sensibility and a great amount of forethought. The way one character runs initially reads as a broad joke, yet it carries a larger meaning. There are numerous other examples that demonstrate the care with which seemingly insignificant details are pregnant with implications. GET OUT isn’t a scary movie in that it doesn’t induce armrest-gripping. Rather, the terror in it comes from perceiving the way Chris experiences the world differently from the white characters.