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:
This disturbing shot:
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.