Jordan Peele's Oscar-winning Get Out is not just a horror film; it's a treasure trove of subtle symbols, cool homages

Get Out is a worthy Best Original Screenplay winner as Jordan Peele peppers the story-driven film with Easter eggs, homages and really clever writing.

Utkarsh Srivastava March 07, 2018 17:43:30 IST
Jordan Peele's Oscar-winning Get Out is not just a horror film; it's a treasure trove of subtle symbols, cool homages

Spoiler alert: This article discusses key plot points and twists in the movie Get Out. It is best read after watching the film.

If there is one thing the 90th Oscars taught us, it is that consensus is impossible to achieve. In a year when the Academy finally got around to nominating the best of cinema and not the best of cinema that old white guys like, there was enough debate over the nominees to fill an Internet or two.

However, while practically all the other winners can be argued against, the Best Original Screenplay Oscar could have only gone to one film. Jordan Peele’s Get Out is a path-breaking piece of cinema which had everything going for it. It had the narrative, it found a place in the zeitgeist and quite simply, it was a brilliant piece of writing.

It also benefited from the particular line of co-nominees it had. Lady Bird and Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri would simply not work without Saoirse Ronan and Frances McDormand respectively while The Shape of Water needed Guillermo del Toro’s magical direction to bring out its brilliance. This left The Big Sick as the only other nominee which was purely story-driven and it would have been tough to pick a love story over a satire on race relations which is actually a horror film.

It also helped that Get Out is a gift that keeps on giving. While it is extremely enjoyable in the first viewing, subsequent viewings reveal the strength of the script. It has layers on layers of meaning with Easter eggs hidden throughout. There are homages to classic horror films and the context in which the film was conceived is something not many would have expected.

Without further ado then, let’s jump into this magnificent movie.

A reaction to the idea of a post-racial world

When most people saw Get Out in 2017, it seemed like a reaction to Donald Trump’s rise to the presidency. In today’s extremely polarised world, it was natural to see a satire on race relations as a pushback to Trumpian politics.

Except the actual inspiration of the movie actually came from the Barack Obama era. In particular, Peele speaks of the idea of the post-racial America, wherein people believe that racism is over just because the country elected a black president, a thought which is simply incorrect. And to prove this, Peele took a different route to exposing racism. Instead of portraying overt racists, he took aim at people like the Armitages who profess to look beyond race but are still guilty of racism.

Jordan Peeles Oscarwinning Get Out is not just a horror film its a treasure trove of subtle symbols cool homages

Get Out's director and writer Jordan Peele. Twitter @GetOutMovie

Multiple setups and payoffs: the breadcrumbs laid out through the film

Like any good horror film, Get Out keeps the twist a surprise, but drops some breadcrumbs along the way which the audience realises only after the movie ends. Some of these are overt, others not so much.

The first hint comes from the song which plays during the credits. In Swahili, the song warns Chris, “Brother, Listen to the ancestors. Run!” The song is haunting enough without knowing its meaning and the translation adds to the eeriness some more. Also, Jeremy is listening to a song called “Run Rabbit Run” as he kidnaps Andre in the opening scene. There is one other musical nudge in the film as Childish Gambino’s "Redbone" plays in the scene where we meet Chris and Rose. The song is about “staying woke” (staying alert) which is what the movie is warning Chris to do.

Next up is Rose’s lack of empathy towards the deer she hits with her car. She uses an expletive when she sees the damage to the car but even as Chris goes to check on the deer, she is not bothered at all by what happened to the animal. The deer theme plays a continuing role in the movie as a couple of scenes later, Dean goes on a rant against deer. The deer have been interpreted as symbolising black people whom the Armitages like to collect, much like the deer head on the wall above the TV which is used to explain what was happening to Chris. There is a satisfying end to the deer symbolism as Chris uses the deer head to kill Dean while escaping.

The deer-hit scene also gives the audience the first glimpse of how Chris is affected by car accidents, a reaction explained later to be because of his mother’s death in a hit-and-run where she died even as Chris watched TV at home. Later in the movie, Chris hits Georgina with a car and stops to save her, an action which eventually leads to Walter and, (possibly) Rose and Georgina’s deaths.

Finally, in another bit of smart writing in the deer-hit scene, it is assumed that Rose doesn’t want Chris to show his ID to the police because she thinks the cop is racist. However, it could very well be that she didn’t want a paper trail in place for when Chris went missing. It has also been suggested that maybe the cop knew of black men disappearing in the area and was suspicious. This is probably not Peele's intent though, as he wants to plant the idea of racist cops in the audience’s mind so as to give us a scare in the final scene. In that scene, when the police lights flash, everyone’s first thought is that it is the police and Chris will certainly be held for the Armitage’s murder. Except Peele goes for a happier ending.

In Dean’s self-praising liberal-credentials-proving tour of the house, he points out that his father, Roman, lost to Jesse Owens in the qualifying round for the Berlin Olympics and says that “he almost got over it”. Roman hadn’t gotten over it though, as he uses Walter’s body to run faster as he tries to beat Owens' time, while also catering to the stereotype that black people run faster. Dean also says they keep a piece of his mother in the kitchen even as the camera points at Georgina in one of the biggest hints Peele drops in the movie.

Symbolism abounds everywhere

In the hypnotism, Missy uses a silver spoon — a symbol of privilege — to imprison Chris in his own mind. This is a nod at the centuries of slavery where white people were able to use black people because of the privilege they were born into. She also tags the first time Chris speaks of his mother’s death with three taps of a spoon as she recognises the weak point she will exploit later.

The symbolism of “the sunken place” is interesting too and has been addressed extensively. Peele addressed it via tweets where he compared it to the system which silences us no matter how hard we scream. He said that everyone’s sunken place looks different but its effect is always oppression and marginalisation.

The “get-together” has drawn comparisons to a slave auction where the white people examine Chris like something they would like to buy. They ask about his golf swing, his sexual prowess and even reveal why they are interested (“black is in fashion”) before literally bidding on him.

The movie also hints at Grandma Armitage being in a constant tussle with Georgina as she loses control twice when she's near Chris. The first time as she is pouring ice tea, she goes into a sort of trance suggesting a fightback from Georgina. The no, no, no scene (where Betty Gabriel gives a masterclass in acting) is another example of Georgina fighting to regain control of her body and warning Chris.

It is also to be noted that all the victims of the surgery (Andre, Walter, Georgina) wear hats or wigs to hide the scars of the surgery. We see these scars later on after the secret has been revealed.

Finally, Chris escapes by picking cotton, a symbol of slavery (black slaves were used on plantations to pick cotton) thereby flipping that symbol on its head.

Homages and Easter Eggs galore

Peele has listed Rosemary’s Baby and the original Stepford Wives as his inspiration for the movie. And their influence is easy to see in Get Out as we see an unsuspecting victim being lured into an unfamiliar setting in order to exploit their body. Peele acknowledges his homage to Rosemary’s Baby by pointing to the Asian man who shows up at the Armitage’s party:

“There’s also a party sequence in Get Out that pays homage to the Japanese character who turns up at the end of Rosemary’s Baby. It’s a scary turn in that film because when you see that guy, you realise this is not just a group of run-of-the-mill, Upper West Side devil worshippers. It’s an international cult.”

But the initial premise of Get Out itself is taken from Guess Who's Coming to Dinner, a movie about a white woman bringing her black fiancé to dinner with her white “liberal” parents.

The film has a lot of Easter eggs as well. One which Peele has confirmed is the number 237. We hear a flight 237 being announced in the background in one of the scenes where Rod the TSA agent is worried about Chris. This is a nod to The Shining where the haunted room was numbered 237. Get Out’s opening scene also has Andre talking about a hedge maze, the same place Jack Nicholson’s character dies in The Shining.

Just before the no, no, no scene, there is also a Modern Family-esque trick where we see one of the posters seems to be saying “Chris is dead”. A wider shot later reveals that the poster in fact says “Chris Craine Disco Is Death”

Both Rose and Dean mention that Dean would have voted for Obama for a third term if he could. Interestingly, Bradley Whitford (who plays Dean) played a political operative on The West Wing who got Matt Santos (a character modelled on Obama) elected as President.

Alternate ending

Finally, the first ending that Peele shot was a much darker one in which the police show up instead of Rod, and Chris is incarcerated for the Armitages’ murders. He seems to have given up on getting acquitted and the movie ends on a tragic note. Thankfully Peele changed his mind and we got a happier ending instead.

Get Out is one of the smartest movies to make it to the big screen in recent times. The immense rewatchability shows off the smart writing Peele put into a script he stopped writing 20 times. A good original screenplay must incorporate a good original story with clever details throughout. Peele has given us a masterclass in writing a fun film while also managing to get his message across.

In essence, the movie is a well-deserved Oscar winner and it simply must be watched again and again.

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