I am probably the last person in the country to see “Get Out,” except for the 50 or so other people in the theater with me last night.
My lame excuse: I’m scared of horror movies.
But there are so many notable things about this film that I’m compelled to point them out, even though I’m late. The movie sticks with me, and is going to stick in the culture, too.
Consider this: A thriller that makes us think about race because it places the viewer at the center of a racial conspiracy. That’s new.
“Get Out” grabs us with the shock of truth, cloaked in the thriller genre. The audience recognizes the danger for our hero, Chris, before he feels it himself, and roots for him to, well, get woke.
Early in his weekend visit to the wealthy parents of his white girlfriend, we know there’s something terribly wrong about the black folks that work for them. Chris’ (Daniel Kaluuya) wide eyes are wary from experience, but we want to warn him — “It’s way worse than you think!”
The Dad (Bradley Whitford) can be pegged as a racist right off, and the menacing son Jeremy (Caleb Landry Jones) might have stepped out of the plantation dinner scene of Tarantino’s “Django Unchained.” But girlfriend Rose (Allison Williams) and the open-minded Mom (Catherine Keener) reveal themselves more slowly.
The movie grabs us with the shock of the new. I can’t recall a movie told from the point of view of a young African-American man as he navigates a white-dominated world. That’s really different.
In doing so, writer-director Jordan Peele makes us feel what he — as an African-America man — has felt. All while entertaining us with the sinister beats of a classic thriller.
That’s what Peele is saying, I think: This is what it feels like to be me. In the age of Black Lives Matter, in the age of Trayvon Martin, in the wake of a two-term black president, Peele has created a vehicle that allows us to empathize fully with that experience — the constant measuring of oneself against expectations of others, the dull daily impact of small insults, little indignities, the wearing down of a person’s internal barometer of self-worth.
So much so that when our hero gets to turn the tables, the audience is fully on board with a black man (SPOILER ALERT) wreaking his revenge on an upper class white family using bats, balls and a well-placed set of antler horns.
I heard Peele call the movie a “social thriller,” and I understand that take. I heard him say that the idea has been percolating for years, and that it’s a direct result of the election of Obama. OK.
It hurts because the truth hurts. The film is an indictment of where we hoped we were in a supposedly post-racial society. It’s a statement on behalf of Trayvon Martin, whose hoodie gets a nod. It’s that opening scene when a twenty-something black man is walking down the street and he feels a car following him. “Oh, hell no,” he blurts out to himself, turning on his heel to walk quickly away from the confrontation. (Or so he thought.)
“Get Out” gives the lie to the belief that we are past vanquishing racial awareness, much less prejudice. Peele tells us that he’s not past it, and the millions of Americans who have gone to see the film validate his view.
For that matter, neither is Ava Duvernay, who tells us her truth with “13th,” her documentary about mass incarceration of black men. Barry Jenkins tells us his truth with “Moonlight,” the story that dared us to sympathize with a young man growing up in the crack-infested ‘hood.
To be fair, we are not nowhere on this path. We did elect Barack Obama, twice. As a country we did love him, and we loved his wife Michelle.
But it seems we are destined to struggle with our desire to become a society of equals. And the message of “Get Out” tells us how far we still have to go.