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Sinking into the Sunken Place: The Cultural Significance of GET OUT

An early sign that 2017 has been one of the best years in film was Jordan Peele’s horror masterpiece, Get Out. Mainly known for his acting roles on the classic sketch show Mad TV, and as one half of the comedy power couple that is Key & Peele, Get Out, was Jordan’s freshman run at writing and directing a feature film. Currently sitting at 99 percent on Rotten Tomatoes, (and having flipped its $4.5 million budget into a $175,484,140 total domestic gross), I think it’s safe to say that Jordan Peele has proven himself a very capable writer and director. Horror films are known for taking something from our world – be it a mundane activity, painful memory or terrifying phobia – and turning it into something unanimously horrific for all the anxious butts in those theater seats. Horror can make our fear of child predators as tangible as clowns hiding in sewer drains, turn an anxiety of airborne epidemics into a zombie apocalypse, or transform that lingering feeling of someone sneaking through the corridors of your house, into a home invasion movie. The power of horror can be as educational as it is frightening, because that’s often what the truth really is. In the case of Get Out, Jordan Peele makes the real world horror of racism into the true monster of this movie.

"Do they know I’m black?"

This is the question photographer Chris Washington (Daniel Kaluuya) asks his girlfriend, Rose Armitage (Allison Williams), before setting out to meet her parents after dating for four (or maybe five) months. Rose playfully dismisses Chris’s worries, saying that her parents wouldn’t care, that her father would elect Obama for a third term if he could. Once Chris and Rose arrive at her parents house it’s not exactly clear whether or not her parents are okay with the color of Chris’s skin. Her parents don’t treat Chris badly upon meeting him; in fact, they’re almost overwhelmingly nice. It just seems that the only thing they see in Chris, is what’s on the outside. Their conversations seem to orbit around the subject of race, almost as if they have an odd obsession, or are enthusiasts of the skin tone. The question Chris asks Rose in that first scene is integral to the film because of its implication. The ideas of “casual racism,” or “micro aggressions” against Chris as the film progresses, eventually grow and grow, creating tension that rises as each of these transgressions worsen. The first chunk of the movie, dealing with Rose’s parents explores this casual side of racism: the type of discrimination that sits just under the surface, rearing its ugly head so quickly, that you have to question whether it is what you think it is.

The middle portion of the film expands on this idea with a party. The Armitage parents tell Chris and Rose that some of Grandpa’s old friends are coming over the house; it’s an annual party that of course just happened to land on the same weekend that Chris came to visit. The party attendees seem to be no better than Rose’s parents. For every white person Chris meets, he is only reminded of his own skin color. A conversation about golf instantly moves towards Tiger Woods. A couple literally tells Chris that fair skin is no longer in fashion, but black is. Though these comments aren’t as vile or aggressive as some examples of modern day racism, what they do is ‘other’ Chris. The partygoers make it clear: they don’t see him as one of them. As the racially fueled comments continue to become less subtle, the casual racism bubbling under the surface turns into surreal ignorance, his identity being suffocated by white people who do not see him as just another person, but instead, as a black person. The party scene culminates in the auctioning off of Chris – a scene reminiscent of slave auctions – revealing the true sinister intentions of these partygoers. The Armitages belong to a cult of white folk who wrangle black people into their clutches, and then perform a surgery they call, “the Coagula,” a procedure where they take the brain of the auction winner and then place it into the body of the captured black person. Chris eventually escapes the Armitages, laying waste to the family and the horrors that lie within their home.

Peele mentions in a few interviews that he started writing Get Out during the beginning of the Obama administration. The election of a black man into the White House ushered in what Peele calls, “the Post-Racial Lie.” The notion that since we finally had a black president that racism was, of course, finally over as well. This, of course, is not the case. Racism is still a powerful beast that stomps all over the world and especially our nation. Peele describes racism as a demon, the American monster. This is why Get Out is so satirically subtle with its comments on race. Clearly it’s there, but there’s no character being overtly in-your-face-racist because that isn't the type of racism that is most prevalent in our society today; the dominant form is subtle, it’s under the surface, but it’s there like roots in the earth.

The “Sunken Place,” is a major plot point of Get Out. Missy Armitage, (Catherine Keener), uses hypnosis to put her victims into a state of “heightened suggestibility.” By using the rhythmic clinking of stirring her tea against the cup, she can render someone paralyzed and put him or her into the “sunken place.” Visually, this place is like sinking into the depths of your own mind, floating downwards, so far away from your vision that you look upon what you see like a television screen hovering above you. You become trapped in your own mind while your body is paralyzed. Kind of like sleep paralysis, but totally worse and lasting forever. This is to give the Armitages the opportunity to combine the captured black person within the brain of a white person. This works on a terrifying horror movie level, but it speaks to the many themes of the film as well. This is a type of institutionalized slavery, keeping the black mind caged, so that a white mind can use the person’s body for its own needs and wants.

In an interview with Daniel Kaluuya, he said what drew him to the project was that the script accurately described what it feels like to be in a racist environment. This is perhaps the most important theme of the movie and this article. Us: the audience, the viewers, coming from diverse backgrounds to see this movie, is Chris, the protagonist, as we watch this film. We all feel othered, we all sink into the sunken place, we all question why these weird white people are telling us that black is in style and that they know Tiger Woods. We all scream at the screen, “GET OUT OF THIS HOUSE DUDE, THEY’RE TRYING TO DO SOME WEIRD SHIT TO YA BRAIN!” The greatest gift Jordan Peele gives us with this film is experiencing the feeling that he and many other black men and woman feel on a daily basis. Everyone can say, “Racism is bad,” it’s not hard to spot injustice, but to feel it? That is something else entirely.

The best thing about film and stories is that they’re trying to impart something with you as you walk away from the theater. Sometimes you just want to feel entertained, to escape for a while. But there are times when the artist is trying to communicate a feeling that cannot just be articulated, a feeling that they need three acts and a budget to convey. Jordan Peele used the horror genre to make audiences all over the country experience what many citizens across the country already feel on a daily basis, and he made it scary. Racism is a demon, it is the American monster, and it’s movies like this that can help slay it.


Robert Anderson

Robert has a degree in Screenwriting and Playwriting and works in multiple genres. He's just your typical man-child who enjoys most things nerd culture. You can follow him on Twitter @RoBaeBae




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