directed by jordan peele, starring daniel kaluuya, vanessa williams
4 out 5 organs harvested
Coming late to the uppermidclass white lawn party has its perks. Whether you like it or not, you were opted into the conversation long before hitting play on your virtual vcr. So when get out’s 3rd act finally arrives like a delayed freight train, you’ve already noted the pile of rundown moviegoers’ postracial remains and wisely stepped to the side of the tracks. Luckily, peele’s creepy film is both polished and bizarre enough that, even though you’ve missed the real weight of that (no longer) surprise train, you’re still breathless.
In the same way we struggle to separate art from artist, we can’t pry get out away from the obama-era versus trump-era, just-what-are-we-doing-about-this-race-thing conversation. Some reviewers have put it alongside 2016’s moonlight, a film that gathered up more academy award nominations than a scorcese wet dream and walked away with best picture, best supporting actor, and best adapted screenplay (based on an unpublished play called in the moonlight black boys look blue, a way better title I think we can all agree). LIke moonlight, get out set both critics and public all a-buzzin---not a common occurrence, and an indication that at the very least peele grabbed our racial radar and blipped it good.
But pause for a minute and consider the movie as its own little acorn, selfcontained. Acting? Great. Kaluuya shines whether relaxed or terrified; Williams is believable as a supportive partner and an exasperated daughter and a ruthless white slaver; the rest of the cast strikes a good chord between awkward and horrifying. Lighting? Great. Platonically moodycreepy. Cinematography? Great. Lots of meditative takes broken up with short, jumpy cuts that underscore the movie’s central theme of the normal cut jaggedly by the shocking (like a couple, dating, driving, joking, who suddenly hit a deer). Writing? Great. Witness the allegorical line as it widens and changes and acquires charge from said deer to chris’s mom to chris’s girlfriend-cum-betrayer, all chris’s responsibility one way or another, all left in the road to die alone and cold.
Comedy? Not so great. Howery as rod williams as the best friend and relief is great up until the very last minutes of the movie when he delivers some I told you so wisdom and a lame tsa joke. And boy, when I find my best friend in staring shock, bloodcovered, near catatonia and next to two dead bodies, one his partner’s who not only betrayed him but in fact curated him and led him along from the absolute beginning in order to harvest his body so her already-wealthy family can hook up some other wealthy white folks with a black man’s body and talents by not outright killing him but something worse, a complete suppression and usurpation of identity, boy, that’s when I decide to make a big, screenpleasing joke. This movie is already dark, already disturbing, already pointed. Why try to lighten the mood just before credits with some cheap, shitty jokes? It contradicts everything else in the movie, even the other comedy relief scenes which are the best friend’s honest attempts to help, not throwaways. One of the worst tropes of popular movies is their fear of dark endings, something so common it was observed by even justin timberlake and mila kunis in their romcom, so not exactly mr ebert when it comes to film commentary. Get out is never outright lighthearted, never violins and rainbows, just let it end on a long, deep cello in the minor key.
And maybe those flat jokes are peele’s way of saying, hey it’s just a movie. But nothing else in his hour-fortyfour says this is just a movie. Every glance, every line, every exchange is a very specific commentary on a particular slice of reality. This is not the public injecting meaning into a vacuum, this is peele’s creation, selfaware, screaming meaning at us, saying over and over that we are not postracial, we are not colorblind. Those jokes serve no other purpose than a single cheap shot that not only contradicts the characters’ relationship as good, caring friends, but doesn’t come close to fitting in with the rest of the movie.
Out of the acorn, into the world.
The real realness here is peele showing some of us what the word ‘microaggression’ means. Innocuous comments on a black man’s genetic makeup, appearance, ability, and “africanamerican experience” get an overtly sinister flavor when lined up in the same scene as a skincrawling silent auction that turns out to be exactly what you fear it is. The fact that the movie’s transplantation exaggeration is a wide, blunt hammer of social commentary doesn’t detract from its unsettling resemblance to our actual history. Even though we have to follow a shocking pivot from creeping commentary to action horror thriller whatever, it’s the buildup of that eerie displaced feeling that really sticks with us when the credits roll. A young, handsome, interesting man with camera talent and a sharp eye is consistently, uncomfortably alienated from his girlfriend’s banal, (initially) typical family all because he happens to be black and they white---nothing uncommon there. The clever touch was to take this quotidian setting and put it under gloomy blue lights to highlight the isolation while we watch courtside. Even if you happen to be *ahem* as majority as it gets, you can’t dismiss the gap between the young man and the family, or the reasons behind it. Wherever you watch the movie from---white, black, male, female, human, extraterrestrial---you’re uncomfortable. That “sunken place” is more than just a neat visual, it’s an illustration of powerlessness, a harsh reminder that some of us don’t have the voice we deserve.