Imagine a thriller-comedy combo that is clever, engaging and well-acted that offers intellectual stimulation while it entertains. This is GET OUT by the inspired and multi-talented director, screenwriter and producer Jordan Peele (of the comedy duo Key and Peele). With wit and irony, Mr. Peele engages us in a conversation as old civilization itself: how Myths and Mindsets are created and how they can negatively impact individuals and culture (PLATO, 5th century B.C.E.) and denigrate others beyond the power circle (Fascism, Nazism, American Slavery). Peele juxtaposes these ideas with the more empowering concept of Xenophanes (6th century B.C.E.) that individuals and communities are the creators of their own myths and that their imaginations create the gods (and by extension, the culture) they / it desire or deserve, and often at others’ expense.
In tandem with this grand dialogue, the movie explores the many dynamics of violence–physical, psychological, emotional– along with their sexual contingents in funny and ultimately horrifying ways. Wisely presenting all this in the context of what is becoming a more and more everyday situation, Director Peele imbues his narrative involving an inter-ethnic couple* with the natural emotional and psychological dynamics of our age heightened by the devices of psychological sci-fi. Ingenious! Sometimes he presents the conflicts with a wink and a smile, other times with outright indignation. Bravo Mr. Peele for a very fine film! I came away with insights such as the many ways HATRED and PREJUDICE are not only rooted in FEAR but in uncanny levels of ENVY. Sadly, much of these remain present among the relationships among African Americans and Americans of European and Latin American (and other) descent.
As for the particulars: the very fine cast led by Daniel Kaluuya in an affecting performance is well supported by Allison Williams, Catherine Keener, Bradley Whitfords, Caleb Landrey Jones, Marcus Henderson, Betty Gabriel and many others. Kudos to the Casting Director Terri Taylor! All the other elements of film-making are in fine form including the Music by Michael Abels whose work imbues thrills and humor sometimes simultaneously. The highest honors go to Mr. Jordan Peele, who proves to be a most excellent auteur! He’s made a better film than THE STEPFORD WIVES and THE SKELETON KEY with which GET OUT shares some common genre dynamics. Moreover, it is a more important film because of its multi-layered themes.
GET OUT reminded me of the recently released I AM NOT YOUR NEGRO documentary by James Baldwin. In this cinematic essay, Baldwin exposed the many ways America’s achievements, myths and legends degrade ethnic minorities, particularly but not exclusively African Americans, and revealed with both honesty and humility how even the American Dream oppresses us when not confronted with the terrifying, violent realities of our collective history. GET OUT engages us in the same realities albeit in a very different way. It deserves to be seen and hopefully will–especially by the Young Adult demographic that tends to relish the sci-fi and thriller genres. But I would urge other adults attend as well to help keep these themes and ideas in conversation in both public and private spheres. We’ll all be the better for it.
*Note: As I am becoming more and more sensitive to the power of words and images, I would like to invite us to move away from using the word “RACE” when referring to different ethnic groups. For in truth, we are one race – THE HUMAN RACE – and our differences are best qualified in terms of Ethnicity, Nationality and Culture. To be explicit: “RACE” is a technical term historically used to distinguish three types of peoples (Caucasoid, Negroid and Mongoloid) but no longer helpful. African-Americans and Asians are as equally and fully representative of humanity in its fullness, grandeur and fallibility as any Caucasian/Anglo/Western/Eastern European. It’s time to advance our vocabulary.