Movie Review: It Was a Crime Get Out Didn't Win Best Picture

Now that most of the Oscar favorites have finally made their way to Indonesia (or I got off my lazy butt and pirated them) I feel confident saying Jordan Peele's Get Out was shafted at the Academy Awards. It did win lots of awards, including Best Screenplay and that is great, but it would have been nice to see it walk off with the big prize which instead went to the kind of safe whimsical fairy tale about fish-fucking that Hollywood always drools over. It's just that this film is so smart, so sharp and so relevant - it made everything else seem pretty tame by comparison.

It's not only that Get Out is a timely film, highly topical in the Trump era of racist dog whistles becoming full-throated howls of nativist rage. It is also an exceptionally well made film with mesmerizing images, superb acting and a story that unfolds at the right pace and in just the right way to be both supremely entertaining and extremely smart. As if all that wasn't enough, it's Peele's directorial debut, was made for peanuts and ultimately grossed over $250 million. For me this film was miles ahead of something like Three Billboards.

For a directorial debut, it is a strikingly accomplished work, full of gripping visual images that will stick with you. There is this iconic shot:

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This disturbing shot:

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And this scene of a man running like a maniac, which generated a whole host of its own memes.

These scenes are memorable for a lot of reasons, but especially because the way Peele shoots them is eerie, weird and off-putting. You know something is wrong, but you can't quite put your finger on it. The visual language of the film, coupled with the performances, creates and sustains this sense of offness throughout. Everything gives off a creepy, sinister vibe. But on the surface everything also kind of checks out.

Now, [spoiler] the big reveal is that the cookie cutter white family is transplanting the brains of old rich white people into black bodies so that they can live forever. You could of course plumb the symbolism here, but purely as a plot device it's very much a kind of standard horror climax complete with diabolical laboratory that wouldn't be out of place in an episode of the Twilight Zone. What makes this film stand out is not the actual horror elements. It's how the film takes the disturbing gestures and comments and creepy vibe mentioned above and uses them to make a point about race and society. To a white audience that stuff just tells us that we are watching a horror movie, like "Oh shit that guy made a weird passive aggressive comment and he's got shifty eyes, he's probably gonna chop everyone up later!" And that is the genius of the film. We think we are watching a horror movie, because all the white characters are giving off this vibe - but we are really just watching a movie about what it's like to be a black person every day in America. 

Until the very end (some light hypnotizing and a camera-flash induced freakout notwithstanding), this isn't explicitly a horror film. It's a film about white people doing and saying offensive and creepy and passive aggressive things to a black man, and him having to grin and bear it. The way Jordan Peele uses conventional genre tropes to get at and expose something much deeper in this film is really, really clever.

The idea for the film occurred to Peele because after Obama got elected he felt we started living in a post-racial lie. People like me wanted to believe that the election of a black President meant progress, but of course black people contending with daily racism before, during and after Obama always knew that was bullshit. This SNL skit right after Trump won was really a lot sharper and more observant than I think it got credit for. It's a group of liberal white people watching the election night returns, and as they come in the group gets increasing more bewildered until Aidy Bryant gets freaked out and yells in a shocked voice: "Guys, I think America is racist" while Dave Chapelle rolls his eyes on the couch. This would only be news to coddled white progressives.

So I admire the film for going there, and for doing it so intelligently. It is just such a smart film on so many levels - and originally it went even further. As the film ends the main character has killed all the bad guys and he is found holding a gun and covered in blood in the middle of the street - so the cops were going to gun him down. Peele held off on that one, thinking it would be too dark (I suspect the studio, no doubt at the behest of a wealthy white man, demanded he soften it), but that would have really hit the nail right on the head.

Either way, Get Out is great. It's just simply great filmmaking, so it can be enjoyed on the merits as a film. Laura loved it, and she doesn't know shit about racial politics in America. But it also has some really deep social commentary, framed within the familiar tropes of the horror genre, so it's the kind of thing that can work on a couple different levels. When you look at the totality of this film - how well made it is, the thematic depth, the social commentary, the whip-smart writing, the relevance and importance of the subject - I just don't see any other film from last year holding a candle to it.

Sorry Dunkirk.

Donald Trump is Basically Michael Scott from The Office, Only Even Worse at his Job

Imagine a boss who is an emotionally needy and incompetent simpleton, clearly unqualified for the job he has, beset by insecurities and who wants to be admired and liked so badly that he will do anything – and alienate anyone – in the quest to be validated. Imagine also that he frequently says things that are offensive to minorities and gays and women and seems generally oblivious to the impact his words and actions have on those around him. Now ask yourself: Who does that describe, Donald Trump or Michael Scott?

Perhaps a more detailed analysis will help us differentiate between them.

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1.       Both have held press conferences that made things worse, rather than better.

Donald Trump famously sent out human salt lick Sean Spicer to yell at reporters about inauguration crowds while his own suit swallowed him, thus turning Spicer, the White House and the inauguration into an object of ridicule for the rest of eternity. When Trump himself went in front of cameras to calm people after Charlottesville, he somehow wound up endorsing Nazis and white supremacists. When Trump sat for an interview with NBC after firing FBI Director James Comey, apparently in an effort to re-assure the nation about his intentions, he instead admitted that he fired Comey to stop the Russia investigation. The list goes on and on.

This is something that Michael Scott could commiserate with him about. In the season three episode “Product Recall” Michael convened a press conference after a rogue employee at the paper mill printed some paper with a watermark depicting a cartoon duck committing unspeakable acts on a cartoon mouse. The conference quickly went off the rails, however, with Michael losing his cool and calling a customer a bitch in front of the press, which he had inexplicably invited for some reason. Through is own lack of impulse control and poor decisions he somehow blew the story up into something much bigger that it originally was. Does this remind you of anyone?

 

2.       Both have been described by their co-workers as children.

In the third season episode “Initiation”, Pam notes that “It’s weird. Jan used to treat Michael like he was a ten year old. But lately, it’s like he’s five.” Michael then spends all day waiting in line for a pretzel, gets over-stimulated and falls asleep.

Donald Trump’s colleagues and co-workers have made similar comments. There are numerous examples, but the most straightforward one came when Senator Bob Corker, Republican chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, referred to the White House as an “adult day care center” recently. This is undoubtedly a sentiment Pam could relate to.

 

3.       Both are embrace and fear stereotypes of Muslim-Americans.

Donald Trump’s feelings here are obvious. He has called for a ban on all Muslims entering the United States, stokes the fires of Muslim resentment any time there is an attack perpetrated by a Muslim-American (while chalking those committed by whites up to mental problems), and frequently uses inflammatory rhetoric to talk about Muslims and paint them as dangerous aggressors. He is either afraid of them, or at least pretending to be so he can gin up resentment amongst his base.

In the second season episode “E-mail Surveillance”, Michael Scott observes a man wearing a turban arrive in the office parking lot and panics. He closes the blinds and runs around the office warning about an imminent attack. The man turns out to be the IT guy. I would be shocked if something similar hasn’t happened at least once in the White House.

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4.       Both have a tendency to offend pretty much everyone.

The Office’s second episode, “Diversity Training”, revolved around Michael Scott receiving mandatory counselling after an ill-advised Chris Rock impression. Later in the episode, he does a fake Indian accent and gets slapped in the face by Kelly Kapoor. In season three’s “Gay Witch Hunt” he outs Oscar as a gay man and then mounts a clumsy effort to make it right again. And of course, any attempt by Michael Scott to speak to a black person tends to be a disaster.

Donald Trump also has a special knack for offending. The examples here would be too numerous, and depressing, to count so I will just pick the most recent one when he appeared at an event for Native American veterans and referred to Senator Elizabeth Warren, a white female, as Pocahontas. Had this occurred in the fictional world of The Office, Dunder Mifflin would likely have made him undergo diversity training. Because this is the real world, however, instead of diversity training we elected him to be the president.

 

5.       Both of them tend to make things up and bloviate when they don’t know what they are talking about, which is basically all of the time.

Here is Trump discussing healthcare legislation.  And here, tax reform. And here, nuclear weapons? Do these sound like the words of a man who knows what the fuck he is talking about?

Michael Scott is hardly any better. In season three’s “The Convict” he tried to convince his staff that Dunder Mifflin was better than prison by dressing up like a convict and calling himself Prison Mike. He then went on to explain that prison was full of “Dementors.” In “Business School” from season two, Michael gives a speech in front of Ryan’s MBA class where he explains how he thinks the economy works: “There are four kinds of businesses: tourism, food service, railroads and sales. [Pause] And hospitals/manufacturing. And air travel.“ Incidentally, that could easily be a real Trump quote.

 

6.       Both suffer from a pathological need to be liked and admired.

Donald Trump is vain beyond belief. Foreign leaders have found that by simply appealing to his vanity with lavish parades and ritualistic worship ceremonies, they can score easy policy concessions. He frequently bathes himself in plaudits and self-congratulatory praise. He constantly refers to himself as the best at all things, seeking affirmation from the world of his own self-evident greatness. Narcissism and emotional neediness on this scale are, of course, rooted in deep insecurity, but that’s neither here nor there.

Michael Scott shares Trump’s need for admiration, although it stems less from vanity than from loneliness. He constantly demands to be the center of attention, as in season two’s “The Injury” where he burns his foot on a George Foreman grill. But it was in the season four premier, “Fun Run”, that Michael truly captured the nature of this pathology when he turned to the camera and said: “Do I need to be liked? Absolutely not. I like to be liked. I enjoy being liked. I have to be liked. But it’s not some compulsive need to be liked… Like my need for praise.” If only Trump was capable of such introspection.

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7.       Both will stick with a terrible plan no matter what, and see it through to its terrible conclusion.

Michael Scott will stick with a hare-brained scheme and often see it through to its inevitable cataclysmic end, simply because he gets himself into things and doesn’t know how to get himself out of them. The most cringe-worthy example from The Office was the episode “Scott’s Tots”. This is not a good episode, as The Office was already into its sixth season and had enough of an episode backlog for a lucrative syndication deal, which is typically the time when everybody stops caring and all the good material has been exhausted. Nevertheless, this episode is about how a younger Michael agreed to sponsor a bunch of black high school kids to go to college, assuming that by the time they were college-aged he would be rich. Of course, this wildly unrealistic promise back-fires on him and he is eventually forced to admit he cannot follow through on his pledge.

Donald Trump shares a similar failing, in that he makes wild and impossible promises, and then refuses to give up even when he has cooked up idiotic plans and gotten in way over his head. Even when Donald Trump is clearly in over his head and on track for a major disaster, he will see is through to the end simply because he doesn’t know how to extricate himself without losing face. Case in point: Donald Trump is still the President of the United States.

 

8.       But only one of them can actually close deals.

While Michael may be a terrible boss and manager, one of the great subtle element of this show is that he was also, quietly and in his own uniquely bumbling way, a great salesman. There was some Rain Man-like quality to him that, despite his failings, also gave him a peculiar type of emotional intelligence that allowed him to close big deals. “The Client”, from season two, showcased this brilliantly, as he worked Tim Meadows in the local Chili’s and eventually persuaded him to sign a big contract with Dunder Mifflin. Similar instances are scattered throughout the show’s run, subtly indicating that even though he is needy and offensive and clueless and kind of bigoted, Michael did show up and deliver when he needed to.

Donald Trump on the other hand, has yet to close a single big deal or achieve a major legislative accomplishment after 10 months in office.

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Based on this comparison, it seems clear to me that Donald Trump is basically Michael Scott from The Office  - only in addition to being rude, offensive, clueless, thoughtless, needing constant attention and being unqualified for his job, he is also not even good at doing the one thing he campaigned on which is closing deals. Even Michael Scott can close deals.

And lastly, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that because Steve Carell is a talented actor, and because the writing staff on The Office was excellent, they managed to imbue Michael Scott with a certain vulnerability that made him a sympathetic character. Most of Michael’s faults were rooted in good intentions. He truly loved his friends and co-workers and cared for them, and he just wanted that sentiment returned in kind.

This was frequently expressed in a bungled way because he lacked the requisite social skills to get there, but his heart was in the right place and this is why America came to embrace and love Michael Scott. Trump’s bungles, on the other hand, are not rooted in good intentions. They are rooted in an all-consuming and virulent narcissism that is both dangerous and appalling, all the more so because he is a genuine idiot who only cares about himself. In that sense, the true Trump analog in the universe of The Office may not be Michael Scott at all, but the character Scott was modelled on.

That is to say, Donald Trump isn’t Michael Scott, because although Michael was boorish he had redeeming qualities. Donald Trump is far worse. He is actually David Brent.

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