I don’t have to tell you, dear readers, that Jordan Peele’s Get Out is good; all other film review outlets have done that for me. But allow me to say that if you haven’t seen this film yet, do so as soon as you can. If you’re worried that this film is a Boo! Haunted House sort of horror, then let me soothe your fears. Get Out is absolutely a horror film, but it’s horrific more in its realism than in any sense of gore or otherworldly fiends (though there is gore to be had). More than horror, though, the film is clever in its message. Like Zootopia, Get Out relays the message that racism continues to be damaging in its persistence in modern-day culture, but unlike the Disney flick, Get Out doesn’t lose its message due to a lack of direction. Instead, Get Out focuses on exposing the subconscious racism that lingers in a portion of its audience. Get Out sets itself apart by subtly—and then not-so-subtly—showing that white people who consider themselves progressive can be just as racist as the blatantly racist, and that this liberal-coded racism can perhaps be some of the most damaging racism of all.
The film starts with something most people would find horrifying: meeting the significant other’s parents. Chris, an African-American man, is preparing to travel with his white girlfriend Rose to visit her parents; he’s nervous, but seems to relax after Rose assures him that her parents will be cool with him being Black. After leaving his apartment in the hands of his best friend Rod, a TSA agent, the two head off. Arriving at Rose’s parents’ home kicks off all the cringey “oh my god are you serious” things you would expect: typical embarrassing parental conversations with the added “I’m not trying to be racist, I love Black people” talk associated with lines such as, “Obama was the best president, I would have voted for him a third term if I could have.” As Rose’s father Dean takes Chris on a tour of their home, the two come across Georgina, their Black housekeeper. Chris tries to avoid saying anything, but Dean begins to self-deprecate, stating that he knows how it looks, but Georgina was hired to take care of Rose’s grandparents and they couldn’t bear to get rid of her, along with their Black groundskeeper Walter, after the elders passed away. Chris takes this in stride, later laughing along with Rose about how awkward her parents are being.
After a very uncomfortable dinner with the added presence of Rose’s rowdy (see: immediately aggressive and always seemingly drunk) brother, the stress of the night’s situation and the scheduled white person social gathering the next day leads Chris to sneak out of the house for a smoke. Startled by Walter as he jogs by, he re-enters the house only to be met by Rose’s mother, Missy. Missy is an acclaimed psychologist, and though the conversation begins innocently enough, it reaches uncomfortable territory as she starts prying about the death of Chris’s mother. Using this traumatic event as a catalyst, she hypnotizes Chris and causes him to disassociate, sending his consciousness to somewhere called “the sunken place.” He wakes up in his bed believing it was all a nightmare, but soon realizes that it actually happened.
During the party the next day, Chris tries to keep smiling as he is continuously accosted by racial microaggressions about his “superior biology”, but as soon as he spots a fellow Black man in the crowd, his hopes begin to rise. However, Chris immediately notices something off about this man, Logan: Logan speaks like a white guy from the 50’s and carries himself with an unnatural sort of posture. Later, when Chris tries to take a photo of Logan to send back to Rod, the flash from his camera causes Logan to break down and desperately scream at Chris to “get out”. Though everyone tries to tell him that what Logan experienced was a seizure, Chris is not convinced.
After a long talk with Rose, the two of them decide to head back to Chris’s apartment as shit’s gotten really weird. As the two frantically begin to pack, Chris starts to believe that Rose is involved with whatever is going on. This is confirmed when at the last moment Rose withholds the keys to the car, leading Chris to get assaulted and kidnapped by Rose’s family. Chris wakes up strapped to an armchair with the television in front of him telling him he should be proud: he’s been chosen as a participant in the Coagula Project! It turns out that members of Rose’s family lure Black people to their home and they end up subjected to Missy’s hypnosis. Once dissociated, Dean (who is also a neurosurgeon) performs a complicated procedure, melding the consciousness of one of the aging white folk in the town and forcing it to override the consciousness of the Black person. Finding a way to break free, Chris makes his way out of the house, has one last showdown with Rose, and then Rod arrives, saving Chris and taking them both back home.
One of the brilliant things Get Out does is showing a whole spectrum of subtle racism and uses the more egregious offenses to show that even if some racism is considered “not as offensive”, it still leads to a situation where lives are put in danger. At Rose’s family’s party, many of the guests are openly racist and don’t respect Chris’s personal space or his humanity at all. The microaggressions range from someone expecting Chris to be super into Tiger Woods and being disappointed when Chris says that he’s not really good at golf (because all Black people know each other and are good at sports, right?) to some woman blatantly feeling up Chris’s muscles without ever asking permission or realizing that she did something wrong. Each tiny thing builds up and wears Chris down more, but he’s expected to take it with a smile—he has to take it with a smile, because in a town filled completely with old, rich white people, where can he go and who would sympathize with him? Which is why it hits that much harder when Logan doesn’t interact with Chris like another Black man suffering through the same plight, but like a white person who is completely out of touch with this underlying struggle (because in the end, “Logan” is a white man’s personality and life experiences in a Black man’s body).
In showing this alongside Dean’s self-deprecating “the Black man is so amazing” conversation pieces, Rose’s brother’s outright aggression towards Chris, and Missy’s lack of respect concerning Chris’s boundaries in respect to hypnosis (he didn’t want it), it more clearly brings to light Rose’s own racism. From the start Rose is depicted as the cool girlfriend, the “woke” girlfriend. She has no issue pointing out that her family is probably going to be a little racist and she even stands up to a policeman—who the two call after hitting a deer on the trip over—who tries to unfairly profile Chris, even though he wasn’t even driving the car. She and Chris are clearly comfortable communicating with each other and appear to be very in love; she listens to him and seems to give him what he needs in response to his growing discomfort. The twist that she, too, is working with her family for this horrendous project is still shocking after it becomes obvious because she has shown herself as a good “ally” for the rest of the film. But looking at it closer, her racism persisted, but in much more subtle ways.
Though she listened and sympathized with Chris and his discomfort, she never did anything to stop it from happening. She rolled her eyes and groaned about it behind closed doors, but Rose never spoke up and said, “yo dad, that’s kind of racist of you. Stop it.” When Missy kept trying to push her hypnotism on Chris, Rose never told her to stop, but instead said that well, her mom is a professional. Even when the people at the party continued to verbally and physically manhandle Chris, Rose never stepped in—she stood beside him, arm around his waist, and tried to bear it just like him. However, there was no reason for that. As a “woke” liberal woman, she should have been aware of the privilege she has and used it to step in where he couldn’t. She could never bear that alongside him, because it wasn’t directly affecting her in any way. While one could look at these examples and say that these all happened because she was in cahoots with her family from the beginning, that would be ignoring what the film is trying to say. Up until the end, Rose is one of the “good guys”. A white liberal audience would project themselves through Rose, patting themselves on the back each time she “supported” Chris, more than likely convinced that such things were not only right, but also what they would do in the situation. Rose’s end game is a shock to those people, telling them that they better check themselves because they may be just as bad in the end—racism cannot so easily persist without the people willing to let it slide because it wasn’t “bad” or “obvious” enough. Rose didn’t use her privilege to help Chris unless it was a situation in which she could look socially aware (like with the policeman), but Get Out’s ending reveals to its white audience that you can’t have your cake and eat it too. You can’t say that you’re aware when you don’t use the privilege you have to knock down injustice, even with the people you’re closest with.
This message also comes up again with the character of Jim Hudson. Excusing himself from the party for a bit, Chris runs into Jim chilling out on a bench. Though Jim is a well-known art dealer, he is also blind, and though Jim and Chris don’t experience the same prejudices, the two share a moment of “these fucking white people, am I right?” Their tentative friendship is ruined, however, when Jim reveals to the captured Chris at the end of the movie that it’s his consciousness that will be placed into Chris’s body. Jim tells Chris not to “lump [him] in” with the rest of the people in the city, and that he doesn’t care that Chris is Black, he just wants his functioning eyes. In the end, though, the reason doesn’t matter. What Jim represents is how white people who reject and don’t participate in racism still absolutely benefit from it. Even though Jim seems to abhor what the town is about and the mindsets that most of its residents hold, once the opportunity presents itself, he has no problem reaping the benefits.
One other interesting aspect in this film that I wanted to bring up was its use of light. In horror films, scary things happen in dramatic shadows and darkness, and reaching the light means that you’re safe. The opposite seems to hold true in Get Out. Each horrifying thing that happens to Chris happens in light. The party occurs during the afternoon and ends right as night falls; Missy takes advantage of Chris in the comforting glow of incandescent light bulbs; they even hit the deer in broad daylight. It’s at night where Chris begins putting the pieces of this mystery together, and it’s even in the dead of night where Chris is saved by his friend. To me, this reads as light having no safety for Black people; racism is prevalent no matter what time of day, and perhaps especially in the light where people can see you and still ignore what is being done against you. Whether or not this was the intention, I don’t know, but it’s a very powerful stylistic message nevertheless.
On an episode of Buzzfeed’s Another Round podcast, director Jordan Peele revealed that the film originally had a much bleaker ending—instead of being saved by Rod, Chris was arrested by the police for the assault and murder of Rose. However, given the amount of real-life tragedies caused by police brutality, Chris was given a much happier, more cathartic ending. In these times that’s what we all, but minorities especially, need: hope. Hope that not every resistance against their oppression will be met with more deaths and more people feeling vindicated in those deaths. Hope that allies who claim to fight with them will use their privilege to bring to light these normalized racial microaggressions and not allow them to slide, all while not forgetting to check their own internalized racism. Theoretically, everyone knows racism is bad. But instead of confronting racism, many white liberals instead find ways to say that they themselves are not racist, because we’re not “bad people.” As such, it’s especially important that Get Out finds a way to grab its audience’s attention and makes them really feel the importance of its message. Get Out doesn’t attack its white liberal audience, but it doesn’t hold back in showing them how their complacency leads to different, more insidious forms of racism. It doesn’t allow them to feel good just because they know and do the bare minimum; it demands they do more. Get Out is a movie that we sorely need. As we move further into this time of social unrest I can only hope that the critics and reviewers (myself included) who took pride in pointing out how expertly the film called out a breed of racism which usually goes uncriticized will work just as hard at fighting against this lazy liberalism, rather than being content with being aware and leaving it at that.