Get Out is the first great movie of the Trump Era.
I’m sure it didn’t mean to be. If Hillary Clinton had been elected president, Get Out still would have been a great film. Perhaps critics living under President Hillary might have taken deeper dives into the film’s apparent challenging of “well meaning liberals” as represented by – well, most of the film’s white people.
Actually, most critics don’t connect the film to Clinton or Trump. However, I’m here to tell you that the film’s entirely justified rapturous praise and surfeit of think pieces exist not only because of its politics, as some have noted, but because the film twists and makes funny the dominant condition of the Trump Era: the truth behind the lie behind a truth. Some of these lie-truths are noted here.
Sure, other films use the truth-behind-the-lie-behind-the-truth, but rarely as exquisitely as Get Out. Consider the early scene where a white cop talks to Chris and Rose, after they have pulled over because of hitting a deer on their way to Rose’s parents house. The cop asks for Chris’s ID, and Rose objects. As they drive away, Rose tells Chris, “nobody messes with my man.” This feels like a truth, as first-time viewers understand it. It turns out to be a lie, but a more clever one than, say, “I love you and no one will ever hurt you,” because THAT would have been a “pure” lie. Instead, there’s a truth behind Rose’s lie: to her, Chris IS her man in the way Cecil the Lion belonged to that dentist asshole who “bagged” him. And “nobody messes” may mean more than you think: this cop might have wanted Chris’s ID specifically because he’s been noticing black men disappearing in the area, and he wants a chance to memorize Chris’s details specifically to google him and help him, if necessary. Rose may have been preventing a paper trail. In this sense, the cop’s ostensible racism may have been a lie hiding a truth.
The dream sequence is also truth hiding a lie hiding the truth. We’ve all seen movies in which our character wakes up from a vivid dream that we had thought was real: a truth revealed to be a lie. Most times, that’s the end of it, except for what it says about our dreamer’s character. But in Get Out, somewhat like a Freddy Krueger film (yet with far less have-it-both-ways-ism), the lie turns out to be a lot more true: hypnosis happened to Chris, all right, and its full extent is a truth he’s only beginning to untangle. These aren’t merely lies that say something about “character,” as we see with falsehoods in most other films; these are lies that very carefully build up a horrifying truth that threatens Chris’s life and soul.
Most things that Rose’s dad, Dean, says are truths hiding lies hiding truths, starting with his confession that his father lost to Jesse Owens in a time trial and missed the Olympics. True enough, but Dean permits the implicit lie that the father’s descendants have gotten over it, hiding the truth that, uh, they haven’t. (Walter’s big night sprint is a lie in that he’s not actually charging Chris, but it’s a truth in that “Walter” is still trying to beat Jesse Owens.) As Rose warned, Dean tells Chris he would have voted for Obama a third time if he could have. This is a truth that hides the lie of their presumed hatred of Obama, but also hides the truth: a third Obama term actually would help Dean’s nefarious goals, in the sense of probably getting more black men to trust Rose. Dean tells Chris he hates the way having black servants looks. Seems true, but it’s a fabrication. Yet not a straight-up lie like “I haven’t performed surgery in years” would have been. Instead, it’s a whopper – they’re not his servants, they’re his parents – that conceals the fact that Dean truly doesn’t like the way the situation looks. The apparent black servants make Chris suspicious and on his guard right away, which doesn’t help Dean’s goals; furthermore, Dean’s wife must remain out of his bed at midnight just to begin the hypnosis ASAP.
Hypnosis is its own sort of truth-telling-within-lying-within-truth-telling. Closely related is gaslighting, as the country has been finding out lately. The bingo game is an elaborate lie that hides the truth of Chris’s auction. Camera-phones are positioned as the one device that can cut through the surface truth, through the lie, to the real truth, and that feels very post-Ferguson.
And then there’s Rose. In every other film narrative in which a white woman is this racist, she ain’t sleeping with no black men; that would be considered something close to sleeping with an animal. But Rose, we learn, is living a lie with every black man she seduces, hiding a major truth that most racist white women never deal with: they want black men. They are obsessed with them. They probably fantasize about hard black masculine bodies when they sleep. Why the hell else would Rose keep all these photos in a box that this season’s “catch” can easily discover? Why keep the framed photos on her wall? It’s because Rose isn’t lying to Chris out of self-loathing, or because her Mom hypnotized her into this. Rose lies to Chris while hiding the truth of her scary-deep obsession with him.
And this, of course, is close to the film’s attitude about race, which is about as twisted, and yet clear-eyed, as you’ll find in any movie in 3000 theaters. Everyone, including the president, claims that they’re the least racist person you’ll ever meet. This is a major lie: we’re all racist, and anyone who doubts it can go take the test here. But our lies about tolerance and “color-blind”-ness hide a significant truth: we’re somewhat obsessed with race. We care, even when we say we don’t. We’re all a lot more like Rose – and Chris – than most of us will ever admit.
Even the title of the film is a truth behind a lie behind a truth. (Let’s hope that “Behold the Coagula” was never seriously considered as a title; that would have been nothing particularly clever.) When I hear “Get out!” I imagine Julia Louis-Dreyfus playing Elaine, pushing Jerry Seinfeld, and there’s a certain truthful disingenuousness to that trope: she’s telling him to get out of there, which is at least a character lie, hiding the truth that she probably would prefer to be alone. Anyway, in the movie, the surface meaning: Chris, GET OUT of this house. The reason that’s a lie: we need Chris to destroy this family forever. The deeper truth: blacks and whites can’t get along (apparently). In all these think pieces, I’m still not sure: is Get Out really about white control of black people, black animosity toward whites, or a rebuke to any black man who has seeked to “improve his station” by dating a lighter woman?
In the end, all of these may be the “real” truth – or none. As several of these think pieces have noted, the film’s writer-director, Jordan Peele, is an African-American with a white mother and white wife. Probably he doesn’t really believe the film’s sour take on race relations – or does he? Peele proved himself an outstanding actor on “Key & Peele,” and what is acting, except telling the truth by lying? In a way, you can compare Peele’s debut film to recent columns by New York Times conservative Ross Douthat, who is prepared to think outside the box – while turning the box inside out. Some psychologists call that “projection.”
That brings us back to the guy they used to call The Donald. To his supporters, 45 is just telling hard truths that liberals can’t handle. To the majority of the country, most of what he says – about millions voting illegally, his record victory, climate change is a hoax, immigration fears, and about 100 other things – are easily disprovable lies. But then, they do hide truths, don’t they? They’re not lies like “Sacramento isn’t the capital of California” would be. As with Dean and Rose, Trump’s lies don’t hide the truths that Trump thinks they hide – millions didn’t vote illegally, he didn’t score the biggest landslide since Reagan, or any of that. But they do hide, or perhaps reveal, certain projected truths related to this president’s paranoia and rapacious motives. The problem is that his barrage of lies make us question if anything is true other than motivations and “feels.” And that’s the horror movie we walk into when we walk out of Get Out. Perhaps Trump’s lies hide the truth of why we’d rather Get In to see Peele’s masterwork again.