Spoilers ahead. Mostly in the second half.
Y’all, see this movie.
I do not like scary. To sit down deliberately in front of something explicitly designed to make me tense and to stay there for two hours is not my idea of a good time. I’m high-strung, highly suggestible, and easily startled, and I typically spend the duration of scary movies covering my face. This is amusing to some of my friends. My boyfriend enjoys being the person I cling to in a jump scare. In the right company, therefore, and for the purpose of bonding over that interaction, I will watch one occasionally. Otherwise, nope.
I had no intention of seeing Get Out when I first saw the trailers. Creepy smiles? Doom music? Daniel Kaluuya crying through horror face? No fucking thank you. The moment Kaluuya holds a fist out and the other Black man tries to shake it is the moment that made me wonder if I would in fact be watching this eventually. Clearly there is race stuff here. I’m trying to learn about race stuff. Let’s see how it goes. Also, I do not know what to call that fist bump greeting.
This is the conversation that made me realize I should watch Get Out. If you read nothing else on this movie, and assuming you might enjoy a couple intellectuals dissecting its layers on layers, please read this: https://medium.com/@SonofBaldwin/get-the-fuck-outta-here-a-dialogue-on-jordan-peeles-get-out-831fef18b2b3#.rhh4z4mrq
Among other things, its introduction includes this line: “The film is multilayered and speaks quite deftly to the terror of being black in the United States.” I follow a few different Black writers and sites on facebook, and I started seeing the same sort of talk from them. This is an important movie, I was hearing. This movie is smart. This movie is funny. This movie is enraging, and scary, and full of truth.
So, okay. I’ve gotta see this movie.
I went last night with a white friend of mine, the same one who suggested I start making up details for Black strangers to combat my unconscious bias. (For amplification: between books: what I see.) I went in pissed off about unrelated work things, so I was not really primed to relax into the experience. Fortunately, the Get Out experience is engrossing. It didn’t really care whether I was ready for it. It just sort of swallowed me whole.
I did spend a lot of the movie curled up onto my seat hiding my face either in my hands or behind my knees, but that’s not to say Get Out is full of jump scares. There were a few. Most of the horror that I could feel during the movie came from the just not-rightness of what was happening to our protagonist. I could tell that shit was not right with this white family. (That’s no special insight of mine. Peele made it quite clear.) There were all kinds of layers I couldn’t feel, though. I could identify with our Black protagonist, but really, I was identifying with him as if he were white: strange house, strange family, strangely robotic behavior from semi-outsiders to the family, a long way from home. The specific horrors that a Black man might experience that would be different from mine went straight over my head.
One of the men in the dialogue I linked above said this: “I saw this film with a mostly black audience. They were talking to the film as we are wont to do, but this time the conversation was about how he was waking to a dangerous situation racially. In other films, the things one thinks is: “Why are you going down those stairs? Why are you in the woods?” etc. In this case, the statements centered on awareness of racialized danger: “Why are you playing along with these white folks? Why are you laughing that off?” Peele gives us a protagonist who is just as unwise as the protagonists in your typical horror film, but his problematic actions stem from a desire to enter into this white world — which, to me, was fascinating. The few interracial couples I sat near shifted uncomfortably throughout the entire first half.”
I didn’t catch that. I caught (some of?) the gabillion microagressions, and I felt angry on Chris’s behalf that he had to field that nonsense all day. I caught the sense of menace when a police car showed up. In fact: the whole mostly-white audience in my theater went, Oh, no at that moment and held our breath, and the whole mostly-white audience went Oh, thank God and melted sideways in our seats when it turned out not to be the police. I realize this movie was not for us, but I also would like to note that that was masterfully done. Every single one of us was afraid for Chris when we saw that light bar, and that may be the first time in my little white life I’ve ever viscerally connected police presence with the powerlessness of danger danger stop please no.
But I didn’t catch Chris’s complicity. I caught none of the horror of his letting things slide. It seemed to me like it might not be worth it to pick a fight with his girlfriend’s brother over such racist garbage as his being likely to be good at sports. To me, that felt like one of a hundred places I wouldn’t pick a fight with someone important to my partner over their repellent social politics. (At least not the first time I met them.) The idea that being untrue to himself to fit in might be dangerous to Chris in a way I can’t even fathom– I didn’t get that just from watching the movie.
I also didn’t catch the resonance of The Sunken Place with aspects of “fitting in” to a white world.
One of the men in the linked dialogue says, “I interpreted it as many things: W.E.B. DuBois’ “double consciousness,”code-switching, cultural appropriation, what Whiteness does to the black mind and psyche, but most of all, the desire to be white and what must happen to the black parts of yourself in order to make that journey. Just the pure visual of it was horrifying and sublime.”
The other: “I read that through a Jungian lens. A kind of black collective unconscious wherein we hide our pain from ourselves. Going to that place and being lost with none of the beauty that comes with being black (community, art, love) is a terrifying idea.”
(Please go read that entire article. Seriously. For one thing, I’ve removed some explanatory links in my quotations. For another, that whole conversation is more informative and informed than anything I could possibly say about this movie. My perspective is still saddled with “am I trying too hard to be an ally?,” for heaven’s sake!)
Back to the point: I didn’t get the racial element of the Sunken Place. If the protagonist had been a white woman who was working hard to fit in with, say, some benevolent misogynists, then maybe it would have been obvious. I’ve smiled and said nothing a thousand times to comments about how naturally nurturing women are, or how much we talk in relationships (affectionate elbow), or how we’re pretty when we’re angry. I know exactly how it feels to pocket my rage and toe the feminine line. The visual of sinking, of being alone, of being distant from any ability to say what I really thought, might have felt as natural to me as the sun: this is what I feel like when I swallow who I am to please. Watching it happen to Chris, though, I didn’t feel it. I imagined, this is how it would feel to be controlled.
I might have to watch this movie again.