(Note: this is outside my “all things education” brief, but squarely in my “most folks in the media simply don’t understand what diversity means anymore” zone, so it’s a wash.)
I enjoyed this movie far more than I expected based on the rapturous reviews, which promised a scathing satire on race relations in America cloaked in a horror film an exquisite comedy of manners, an alarming portrayal of white racism. As is so often the case, the movie’s creator doesn’t come near to achieving his stated goals. Jordan Peele isn’t the compleat observer of American mores that he–and many others–think he is, so his movie fails to uncover the “insidious qualities” of white liberals. This is just a nice, tight horror film with some clever touches and a few non-fatal flaws.
The revealed plot (do not read if you have not seen):
Dean and Missy, a neurosurgeon and his hypnotherapist wife, have developed a means of personality transfer, probably at the instigation of Dean’s father. Missy can submerge an individual’s personality to “the sunken place”, suppressing his or her ability to control his body or mind. The helpless host is then surgically implanted with an invader’s brain matter, giving the invader’s personality full control.
Dean and Missy’s two children, Jeremy and Rose, procure the hosts. Rose serves as honey pot, taking several months to woo a new lover and then “bring him home to the family”, which includes Walter and Georgina, the family’s “servants”, and always takes place the same weekend as the family’s yearly party, conveniently enough. Except Walter and Georgina are actual hosts for Dean’s parents, who invaded the bodies when their own wore out, and the party guests are actually bidders for the new host.
Jeremy brutalizes and kidnaps his victims off the street. There’s no fake party, no need for Walter and Georgina to pretend to mow the lawn and make the beds. Rose’s method seems unnecessarily time-consuming; I don’t see why they don’t just send Jeremy out twice as often.
The plot is revealed through the eyes of Rose’s new unsuspecting prospect, Chris, a young photographer with mommy issues. He avoids his fate because his cellphone uses a flash, his best friend is a TSA agent, and because once aroused, he is capable of ferocious self-defense.
Notice how easy it is to describe this story without ever mentioning race. The tale hangs nicely without knowing that Jeremy only kidnaps, Rose only entraps, black people. It doesn’t suddenly make more sense, closing some puzzling plot loophole.
In fact, the interpretation as offered up by Jordan Peele and his following in elite circles makes the movie absurd.
Given a surgical procedure that implants their consciousness into another body, guaranteeing virtual immortality, rich white people would say “Great! Now find me a cute/buff white body that no one will miss.” (They’d also demand a plastic surgeon get rid of the scars.)
Rich white people do not want to be black. Nor do they want to be Hispanic, southern or eastern Asian, of course, but Peele’s horizons don’t extend that far.
Happily, the movie itself makes no such claims. The movie portrays members of this weird, creepy organization who want to be black. The (largely pointless) video forcefed to Chris makes no mention of race. We only learn that the Armitages limit their procedures to black folks through Chris’s discovery of Rose’s photo album, coupled with Jeremy’s takedown of Dre. Jim (the only authentic rich white guy to be found in the film) confirms that only black people are hosts, and he makes it clear that the “organization” has some sort of fetish on the topic.
That these particular white folks aren’t normal is supported by the party scenes themselves. Look, I worked almost exclusively for rich white people as a tutor for four years, including for folks who have been at one time or another on the Forbes 400. Rich white liberals from the boomer generation on down just aren’t that gauche. The Armitage guests are creepy, touching hair, feeling biceps, asking about his sexual prowess. Their cars are all wrong, too. But my experience isn’t necessary here. Only idiots with critical faculties completely removed would see these cultists as typical rich white folks.
And here’s the thing: the movie thinks so, too. What else is the point of Jim Hudson, played by the always note-perfect Stephen Root? Jim isn’t a cultist. He’s the real thing: a rich white bastard in all his authentic, heartless glory. He says so expressly in the video, but we don’t need to be told. At the “party”, Jim is the only one who treats Chris like a human. He’s a rich white bastard, but he’s no racist. More importantly, he’s not a cultist.
I kept wondering throughout why so many critics–and Peele–invoked the Stepford Wives until I realized that they were referring to the cheerful black servants Walter and Georgina. Just as the men of Stepford turned all their womenfolk cheerful, sex-ready, and compliant by making them all robots, so too did Dean and Missy turn black people into servile peasants, eager to please their masters.
But Walter and Georgina aren’t servants. They’re just pretending to be servants for Chris. Walter and Georgina are Grandma and Grandpa, pretending to be servants to fool Chris. They are fully empowered players in this horrific game, welcoming the bidders to the new auction, messing with Chris’s phone, doing everything they can to kill Chris when he escapes. All we’re seeing is the facade. Homage to Stepford, certainly, but Walter and Georgina aren’t even remotely parallel.
Of course, the entire “servants” fakeout is a giveaway of itself. Rich white people don’t employ blacks as servants. That’s what they have Hispanics for, and why so many white elites resist any sort of immigration restriction. Maybe people were so eager to see racism that they missed the obvious, but I was instantly skeptical. Liberal white guilt about black servants reigns supreme; no Obama liberal would have them. By the time Walter was chopping wood–I mean, really. Chopping wood? For what, exactly? –I’d called the plot twist. Walter was a white guy in a black man’s body. Betty Gabriel, singlehandedly responsible for every jump-scare in the film, impeccably represents as a little old white woman who can’t quite get comfortable around “colored people”.
So I already had the plot figured out 30 minutes in, which left me plenty of time to wonder not only where the Hispanic maid was, but where the Hispanics were, period. The Northeast, where I’m told this movie takes place, has more Hispanics than blacks. New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, even New Hampshire have a higher percentage of Hispanics than blacks. Yet there isn’t a Hispanic to be found onscreen, not even in the police station. Maybe one walked by the TSA guy and I missed it.
At least there’s a Japanese guy bidding for the right to invade Chris, but that seems to be just one more homage to Rosemary’s Baby. Besides, Asians bidding for the right to be black? Look, I can believe in a cult of weird rich white people with a black fetish. (Cf Rachel Dolezal and Shawn King.) But Asians, particularly “fancy” Asians , are racist to levels that your average neo-Nazi can’t even conceive of.
But that’s all beside the point. The movie was fun and the performances note perfect. None of Peele’s ideological agenda made it on the screen. Race just adds a delightful, even gorgeous, frisson of subtext. The cops laughing at the worried friend are all black, although how this casting does anything but make a joke of Peele’s grand designs is left for better minds than mine. Best of all is Peele’s use of the “black boyfriend”, with Chris constantly worried about making the wrong impression, overreacting to seeming insanity–maybe this is how white folks do things. Then the finale–oh, the finale. I don’t enjoy watching violence, but Chris’s escape is ferocious righteousness that simply wouldn’t have played as well with any other race.
As for flaws, Everything Wrong with Get Out in 15 Minutes or Less picked up most of the flaws I found with the actual movie, as opposed to my complaints about the absurd interpretations. I’d add that Alison Williams would have been considerably more terrifying if she’d maintained her loose, “all American” persona after the reveal, rather than becoming a freakazoid terminator. How scary would that have been, coming after you with a shotgun?
Another nit: Richard Herd, playing Roman Armitage, was born in 1932, just the right age to be Bradley Whitford’s dad, but just four years old when Jesse beat the Germans in 1936. A Jesse Owen contemporary would have been 60 years old when son Dean was born, and unlikely to be alive when the grandkids were born, much less old enough to lure unsuspecting African Americans into sexual relationships to bring them home for invasion.
Why not Harrison Dillard? He won in 1948, tied the existing world record just like Jesse Owens did. And he’s alive. Using Dillard as a plot point would have been more realistic, less trite, and maybe even brought the spotlight to a neglected black athlete.
So Jordan Peele may have had lofty goals for his little horror film, but thankfully they aren’t to be found in the actual movie, at least not for most white viewers, at least not for those who live in more racial diversity than the average reporter or movie critic. But Steve Sailer was uncharacteristically harsh; he seems to have seen the movie Peele wanted to make. (I totally don’t see the Alvy Singer parallels). Mine is–as always–a minority view.