9 December 2017

Get Out (Jordan Peele, USA, 2017)


It’s intriguing to think how Jordan Peele’s Get Out might have been received if released a year prior. With Obama in office and the post-racial myth still holding weight among contemporary white America, Peele’s thriller could easily have been written off as a well scripted but muted satire, playing on cultural fears now abating into the deep recesses of society’s collective unconscious (a theme evoked in the movie during several hypnotism sequences). An incendiary opportunity to reflect on past woes, at the expense of something more current.

Cometh the hour, cometh the man.

Donald Trump’s election at the tail-end of 2016, and his subsequent campaign of hate, have firmly underpinned the lie America’s been feeding itself for the last two decades. Racism is alive and well – ready to mobilise, ripping its vile creeds from toilet stalls, and planting them at the forefront of world politics. If anybody believed in a post-racial narrative before, that’s no longer the case. Santa really doesn’t exist, and the President of United States has worked damn hard for you to know it.

Peele’s film, executed in the style of an Ira Levin novel, is about a young black man who has to meet his white girlfriend’s parents for the first time. We’ve seen variations of this mix before (1967’s Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner springs to mind), but not within the paranoid, Stepford Wives framework Peele opts for here. There’s a sinister genre conspiracy at the heart of Get Out, but the film unnerves most in its authentic depiction of white, wealthy archetypes infantilising and demeaning the protagonist, using their cadence privilege and ignorance as lethal weapons. The father figure, played magnificently by Bradley Whitford, bangs on incessantly regarding his admiration for the Obama administration – a “get out of jail free” card for having black housekeepers and ultimately a clue toward his rationale for participating in the picture’s warped, but powerfully resonant third act reveal. Peele has the good sense to play these beats for chills and laughs (and he succeeds – the movie is both very suspenseful and very funny) but Get Out deserves plaudits for how it exposes audience behaviours and inbred perspectives. Believing yourself cleansed of prejudice does not mean you are cleansed of prejudice, and a culture populated with like-minded self-deception demands acceptance that racism remains rife, especially amongst the middle-classes.

Great performance pepper the piece, with lead Daniel Kaluuya and Allison Williams as his Caucasian sweetheart channelling pleasing levels of emotional depth and conflict, even as their arcs diverge. The set-pieces and narrative structure glow, before the feature reaches a fist-pumping (but also quietly distressing) finish. Peele entertains his audience throughout, but also insists they accept responsibility for the very content they so embrace. Why are you laughing? Why are you scared? These are the questions Get Out wants viewers to ponder in a post-viewing context. The answers may not be pleasant, but they are necessary.

Would this reading have permeated the zeitgeist quite so overtly had Get Out been released a year earlier? I don’t know. But in the current climate the film is so vital, so essentially reflective, that it cake-walks its way to the title of 2017’s best. Peele has major chops as a genre film-maker and satirist, but with Get Out he’s transcended those skill-sets, and produced something truly valuable. I guess we have Donald to thank for one thing, after all.