(Get Out of this page if you don’t want any spoilers.)
Yes, the Armitage family is cool. So hip! Rose (Allison Williams) is a knockout AND willing to stick up for her black boyfriend, Chris (Daniel Kaluuya), when a white cop gives him a hard time. They arrive at her parents’ estate where her parents don’t disappoint. They have created an environment where their kids are comfortable swearing in front of them. And talking about sex! Hell, Dean (Bradley Whitford) and Missy (Catherine Keener) even let them stay in the same bedroom. So chill! Despite Dean’s clumsy (but genuine) praise of Obama as opening conversation with a black man, their coolness is still intact by nightfall. Should we be worried yet?
(Note: Boblius is rarely invited to studios’ critic screenings therefore at Get Out he found himself seated near an older couple with a 4 year old girl. Yes, these grandparents brought their granddaughter to Get Out. More on this later.)
But fissures in the Armitage façade begin to show. Georgina (Betty Gabriel) and Walter (Marcus Henderson), the only help on the estate are also black but cool (in the unfriendly sense) to Chris. And weird. Like “someone slathered an uneven coat of
Pleasantville on them that morning” weird. Dean explains: they were hired to care for his parents then transitioned to traditional domestic duties (cooking and grounds-keeping) after they died. But no one – other than Chris – is phased when Missy orders Georgina to take a nap. But Rose does mention it when she needs to convince a shaken Chris to stay. Should we be suspicious yet?
Maybe. Dean and Missy’s guests arrive. They’re as white as their hosts but a generation older. However, the odd thing is how all of them seem to have anticipated Chris being there. They’re sure to mention the few things they know about “black” culture around him like the elderly golfer who brings up Tiger Woods quick as possible! Another refers to how cool it now is to be black. Implicit in all of these interactions is the expectation of Chris to be a spokesman for all black people and a confirmer/debunker of the guests’ impressions of the African American community. Oh, and they keep remarking on Chris’s physique – feeling his body like an apple for soft spots before throwing it in the cart.
Yes, there’s one source of respite for Chris: Logan (no claws on this one), the only other black man at the party. But Logan – not even 30 – treats Chris like a curiosity as much as any other guest… including his 60 year old white wife. He rattles Chris who recognizes him from somewhere. Chris returns the favor by taking a flash picture of Logan which triggers Logan to implore that Chris “get out.”
(By this point the 4 year old is in her grandfather’s lap. He holds her head away from the screen as he coos and shushes into her ear like Meryl Streep distracting her kids in Sophie’s Choice.)
Yes, Rose is still with Chris… for now. She shows sympathy by promising to leave with him when he flees to the estate’s pond. But after a mysterious art collector (Stephen Root) praises Chris’s photography (How does he know about the work of a barely known photographer who attended the party accidentally?) he wins an auction where the item up for bids is unmentioned but the auctioneer stands next to a giant picture of Chris. (Thank you, Mr. Peele, for “showing, not telling, ” us.)
“Maybe Chris will get out alive?” you’re asking yourself. Sort of. If all goes according to plan, he’ll be “alive” but only technically. After he discovers a stream of romantic photos featuring Rose and several black men – including Logan and Walter (Plus one
black woman. Remember, Rose is cool. She probably uses every opportunity she can to call herself “bi-curious.”) – despite having assured Chris he is her first black boyfriend, she helps her family subdue Chris. The last words he hears before losing consciousness are Rose insisting, “You were one of my favorites,” as one could imagine a plantation owner telling a teenage slave just sold faraway from his family.
Yes, Chris is in it pretty deep. The art collector explains via FaceTime on a Zenith television circa 1973 what’s happening: Chris’s soul will float unmoored within his body while the collector assumes command of his motor functions. Simply put, it’s a Frankenstein-ish “brain transplant” but into a living body (provide your own Abby Normal reference here, Boblius doesn’t have time). The Armitages have created a way for a human to add comfort to his life by exploiting another. The difference between the Armitages foisting their “enlightened” opinions on Chris and foisting another man’s consciousness into his body? Degrees. When a person can’t wait to tell you how enlightened they are, it’s because they will feel good knowing you know how enlightened they are. It will also feel pretty damn good to steal another 50 years of life from another man’s body. In both situations, the other person be damned. Why do the Armitages et al get away with their brain transplants? Less questions are asked when a black person disappears in America.
(The Sophie’s Choice comparison to the Grandpa/Granddaughter combo sitting next to Boblius falls apart once you realize the irony of that title: Sophie never had a choice while the guy sitting next to Boblius did choose to take a 4 year old to Get Out when there were probably some animated creatures putting on a show or saving a farm on another screen down the hall.)
No, please don’t think the political and social messages in Get Out are the only good parts. For all the creepiness, thrills, and violence, it has genuine laughs. Mr. Peele’s comedy background comes through when he dances on that knife’s edge of discomfort and diversion where so much comedy sings for its supper. In Get Out he happens to spend a few more steps on the “discomfort” side of the knife – particularly on a very long take of Georgina’s bizarre apology to Chris for unplugging his phone. Watch it again. A different tone, editing, or emphasis by Ms. Gabriel herself could have made that moment into a comedic beat.
Maybe the subtlest feat Mr. Peele pulls off is Rod (Lil Rel Howery). He starts out as the superstitious, hysterical, and verbose sidekick often assigned to black actors in the films of yore. Look for black characters pre-
1970 not played by Sir Sidney Poitier. See Boblius’s point? Rod delivers laughs so well that you don’t dread the exposition he sneaks in too. But he moves beyond being an amusing archetype like one of Shakespeare’s fools. He doesn’t give up when he’s almost literally laughed out of a police station. Following his instincts lets Rod earn the role of cavalry at the end of the film as he delivers a skillful storytelling head fake/payoff just before the credits roll. It’s as if Jack Benny’s Rochester finally got his due.
All of the themes, tones, and thrills discussed above are woven with so few visible seams. Bravo, Mr. Peele. Bravo.
(Oh, and after a few airplane-esque “let’s walk the aisle to distract our kid” laps, the granddaughter was eventually sent out of the theater with some other family member – at least I hope it was a family member. I hope her parents find a way to thank Grandpa properly for a daughter now too terrified to sleep alone for the next 4 to 8 years.)
Questions for our health:
-How worried should Boblius be that his Mom owns the same exact cup and saucer Missy uses to hypnotize Chris?
-What’s the scariest movie you would bring a four year old to?
-Do you think Bradley Whitford’s character is what will eventually happen to Josh Lyman from The West Wing or Roger Latimer from Revenge of the Nerds II: Nerds in Paradise?