By LaReeca Rucker
One of the cool things about teaching a college introduction to mass communications class is that you get to discuss the history of media, including books, magazines, newspapers, television, radio, music and movies. We also look at current events that relate to all of these mediums, and this semester, we watched a couple of current movie trailers, including “The Handmaid’s Tale” and “Get Out.”
While I heard many students say they enjoyed “Get Out,” I didn’t have a chance to watch it until last night when I saw it on pay-per-view. All I knew initially was that it was a horror/thriller movie that seemed to have a theme about racism.
As a fan of “American Horror Story,” the trailer seemed comparable to an AHS plot. After all, the real horrors in “American Horror Story” are not the ghosts, vampires, zombies, etc. As I stated in an earlier column, the true horrors are the historical injustices that America once accepted and ignored – such as the way mentally and physically challenged people were treated in this country, the horrors of slavery, and the evils of addiction, to name a few underlying AHS messages. Humans are always the scariest monsters.
I think there are sociopolitical messages in “Get Out,” just as there are in many horror/thriller films, but I initially felt the story fell apart at the end. However, after giving it more consideration as a metaphor, I began to like it more.
“Get Out” begins with a young, 20-something couple. Rose is played by actress Allison Williams, of HBO’s “Girls,” whose dad is former NBC News anchor Brian Williams. Chris, her boyfriend, is played by actor Daniel Kaluuya.
Rose is planning to bring Chris home for the first time to meet her parents. Chris tells her he’s concerned her parents may be surprised when they show up because Rose has not told them Chris is African American, and she is white. Rose assures Chris this won’t be an issue, and they take a road trip to her secluded family home in the woods of a lakefront community.
When Chris arrives, he learns Rose’s father is a neurosurgeon and her mother is a psychiatrist. He soon discovers something is amiss with the two African-American staff members the family employs to help with the household. Rose’s brother seems unstable. Her mother hypnotizes people, generally to help them quit smoking. There’s also a big event that happens every year on the same date in the community.
Spoilers: As a person who has watched thrillers throughout my life and frequently writes about them on this blog, I initially thought this movie was going to adopt The Lottery as a plot device.
The Lottery is, of course, a classic short story about townsfolk who gather annually to draw names in a lottery that ends in a human sacrifice. So I first thought Chris, a photographer, had been lured to a community of racists as a Lottery sacrifice. I further believed this when we see the large group playing bingo.
In “Get Out,” I also saw elements of a terrifying French thriller (that I won’t name, because it pushed my scary movie limits) in which a subversive community of elite, wealthy, cult-like people mysteriously gather for sinister reasons.
A tweaked adaptation of The Lottery concept would have made the film more frightening to me, but instead, the movie transforms from a plausible thriller into a far-fetched science fiction horror story that reminded me a little of “The Skeleton Key,” another “body-swap” movie.
The people who are lured or forcibly taken to this community are all African Americans. Their bodies are being used, and their minds are discarded, replaced or hidden in a “sunken place.” They are part of an experiment and are often chosen because they have gift, an intellect or a physicality that others covet. There is also the idea that the horrors that are occurring are known by the entire community, and the residents are compliant and secretive.
As a Mississippian, I sighed when Rose’s murderous brother began using the word “Mississippi” to count while trying to take Chris down in the end. However, mentioning the state’s name did add another layer to the film that people who like symbolism and metaphor can ponder.
I enjoyed the film, and it can make you think. My first reaction was that it could have been stronger if the sci-fiction neurosurgery element and the over-exaggerated hypnotic effects were replaced by a more realistic and historical American horror – mob mentality.
However, after thinking about the film metaphorically a while, I think all elements work well. As with all thrillers, I’m sure there are many metaphors about American society to reflect on after viewing this film. The most obvious message the director may have trying to convey is a belief that African Americans have been hypnotized or brainwashed to see life through the lens of white culture until a light is shined, and they are awakened or “woke.”
I’d love to hear other interpretations. Post a comment.