My pick for best picture and director (though it likely won’t win those), and original screenplay. How long has it been that any movie has tapped the cultural zeitgeist like Jordan Peele’s “Get Out”? Though others have remarked that the movie isn’t a direct reaction to Trump, considering it was written before he announced he was running for president, “Get Out” nonetheless is a reaction to what has been labelled “Trumpism,” which I think just means nativist racism. There are probably spoilers below, but if you haven’t seen this movie yet—it came out more than a year ago—go see it!
The story centers on a black man in New York City who agrees to visit the upstate home of his white girlfriend’s parents. The British actor Daniel Kaluuya gives a breakout performance as Chris. He is at once warm, easygoing, and open—traits that allow the audience to quickly take his side, especially when he asks his girlfriend if her parents know he’s black and she says no. His eyes are very expressive, from the glint of joy, to furrows of worry, and tears of terror. He carries the film, and his Oscar nomination for best actor is well deserved. Unfortunately for him, he’s going up against heavy-hitters Daniel Day Lewis and Denzel Washington, and the likely winner Gary Oldman, whose won a SAG, BAFTA, and Golden Globe for his role as Winston Churchill in “Darkest Hour.”
In “Get Out,” when we get to the parent’s house we see a large home and a well-off couple—the father’s a brain surgeon; the mother, a psychologist—that includes help who also live there and who are black.
The father seems to be a type of white person with liberal guilt who knows not how to speak in front of black people, as in saying something like, “I would’ve voted for Obama for a third time, if I could.” That he is played by Bradley Whitford is also a brilliant stroke of casting, considering he is probably best known for his role as Josh Lyman in the increasingly bittersweet liberal fantasy TV show “The West Wing.”
Peele has called his movie a “social thriller” (instead of a horror movie)—meaning that the true evil is society, as opposed to the immediate horror on screen—and he has aligned it within a history of such films as “Night of the Living Dead,” “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner,” and “Rosemary’s Baby.”
In that vein, Peele has given us “the sunken place,” which is where the psychologist mother sends Chris during hypnosis and it is shown on screen as Chris sinking into the cushion of an easy chair and then falling into a cavernous space in which he is aware of something horrible happening but from which he cannot escape. In some ways, that dislocation, or of being present but powerless, recalls both WEB DuBois notion of double consciousness—or of a divided identity—and of the election of Trump and how so many white people suddenly felt powerless, while some black commentators responded with welcome to our world.
The horror of the movie becomes clear in the great scene when Chris, realizing he needs to get out because things are too strange, tries to get his girlfriend and the car keys to get out of there and the girlfriend tells him: “You know I can’t give you the keys, right, babe?” Suddenly, he knows that she, too, is in on what is happening and which is revealed to the audience: The dad performs operations that transplant the mind of an ailing white person into the body a younger, abducted black person.
Such a brilliant idea. That the movie, which adheres to horror genre conventions and transcends them, is why I think Peele is destined to win Best Original Screenplay, even though he is going up against really good films in “Lady Bird,” “The Big Sick,” and “The Shape of Water,” and a movie that probably doesn’t deserve to be there, “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri.”
Another reason is the character of Chris’s friend, Rod. He is both Chris’s “phone a friend” and a stand-in for the audience; he’s the character that gets to shout to Chris the movie’s title, but with expletives, because he comes closest to figuring out that something wrong is happening during Chris’s visit. Rod has been called “the real hero” and “the G.O.A.T. best friend” and even the TSA is on his side. That a fictional character can achieve such distinction is a credit to Peele’s writing. I sure hope he wins.