One of the most unlikely hit films of 2017 has been Get Out, a low-budget horror movie from a comedian, Jordan Peele (of Key & Peele fame), making his directorial debut in a story with a socially conscious message. That doesn’t exactly scream “box office gold,” but in an era of increasing ideological division amongst Americans, it seems to have struck a chord with those seeking insight on race relations. And boy, have they sought. Like eager English majors dissecting a Kafka novel, fans of the film have dug in deep below the surface to find hidden messages and symbolism (intended or not) that reinforce the story’s overall themes. Peele, who also wrote the movie, has expounded on some of the tidbits hidden in the production, while others have yet to be confirmed. Here are some of the most intriguing nuggets in Get Out that are worth digging up.
Suffice it to say…MAJOR SPOILER ALERT!
15. “Liberal Racism”
On the surface, Get Out is about a young black man named Chris (Daniel Kaluuya) accompanying his white girlfriend, Rose (Allison Williams), on a visit to see her “well-to-do” parents, only to find them involved in some mad scientist-type shenanigans in which aging white people hijack the bodies of black people by having their consciousness transplanted so they can have a newer, younger self. Peele has explained that the premise is actually a metaphor for a subtle form or racism – one that comes from the outwardly more liberal-minded folks who proclaim their love for people of color so much that they objectify them while keeping them at arm’s distance. The villains in the film actually want to become black because they sense they are somehow “cooler” and naturally more physically gifted. This shows us we don’t have to be a robe-wearing, cross-burning bigot to be driven by racial prejudice.
14. Teacup And Spoon
In Get Out, the first step in the “hostile takeover” of Chris’ body is a seasoning stage in which he’s hypnotized by Rose’s mother, Missy (Catherine Keener), so that his consciousness can be suppressed. She does this without him realizing by casually stirring her tea in a teacup. The steady, repetitive sound of the spoon hitting the sides of the cup acting like a swinging pocket watch, puts him into a trance. Peele has said that the teacup is symbolic in that slave masters used to summon house slaves using teacups. It’s one of several references to the legacy of slavery that can be detected in the movie. And the use of a silver spoon can certainly be seen as meaningful, as the term “born with a silver spoon in one’s mouth” is a well-known saying to indicate that someone comes from a wealthy family (like Rose’s and the people the film is satirizing).
13. Title Song
In Get Out, the opening title sequence plays over an ominous song by composer Michael Abels called “Sikiliza Kwa Wahenga.” Fusions explains that the title means “Listen to (Your) Ancestors” in the East African language of Swahili, another reference to slavery and racial identity. Peele stated to GQ Magazine that he wanted the music to be “distinctly black” and with an “absence of hope.” The lyrics reveal even more; after chanting “Brother, brother,” in English, the Swahili lyrics translate as a warning, loosely “Something bad is coming. Run!” It’s an affirmation of the title Get Out and the foreboding sense that something bad is going to happen. According to Peele, it also reflects a tradition of African-American viewership to talk back to movie screens during horror movies, admonishing characters for taking actions that put themselves in danger rather than just getting the heck out of Dodge.
Considering Get Out is a movie about color, it shouldn’t be too much of a stretch to interpret Peele’s use of color in the film. Although he himself has yet to confirm it, it’s been noted that at the party in which Rose’s family friends get to ogle the “merchandise” (i.e., Chris), BuzzFeed points out that most of the guests seem to be wearing some form of red clothing, while Chris is notably clad in a blue shirt. This reinforces his status as an outsider amongst the group, and in this era of political divisiveness, if we want to take it a step further, we could read it as representation of Republican “red states” versus Democratic “blue states.” Chris’ blue shirt is particularly striking when juxtaposed next to Rose’s red-and-white striped shirt, forming a human American flag that could be seen as a personification of American race relations.
11. Childish Gambino
After the Swahili title song during the opening credits, Get Out cuts to scenes from Chris’ life set to the song “Redbone” by rapper-singer Childish Gambino (AKA actor-writer-director, Donald Glover). Peele chose this song in part because of the lyric in the chorus that says “Stay woke,” which is slang for being aware of not only one’s surroundings (in Chris’ case, the intentions of Rose’s creepy family) but also what’s going on in the world (as reflected in the party guests’ fascination with and objectification of his blackness). Additionally, returning to the African-American tradition of desiring characters who don’t run TOWARDS the creepy sound in horror movies, Peele tells Hip Hop DX, “Stay woke” reflects his intention to “make sure that this movie satisfied the black horror movie audience’s need for characters to be smart and do things that intelligent and observant people would do.”
10. The Sunken Place
In Get Out, when Chris is hypnotized, his consciousness is pushed down into what Missy calls “the Sunken Place,” a dark area in his brain where he has no control over himself. Peele has stated that this place is representative of several different things. Peele told USA Today, that first, it reflects “the suspended animation of how we look at race in America,” a nation that grew out of the increasing belief that once Obama was elected President, the nation had overcome racism and had become “post-racial.” He also sees the Sunken Place as embodying the lack of representation of black characters in the horror genre (at least, ones who aren’t immediately killed on screen). Finally, the Sunken Place even has parallels in Peele’s mind to the mass incarceration of African Americans, which has been described as a sort of modern slavery.
9. Voice Of Reason
In Get Out, comedian Lil Rel Howery appears as Chris’ best friend Rod, who serves not only as the film’s comic relief, but also as its voice of reason. Throughout the story, he warns Chris about going on the trip and about what Rose’s family’s intentions are – with surprising accuracy – and he even comes to the rescue at the end. For Peele, he tells Hip Hop DX that this harkens back to the African-American tradition of interacting with movies; for him, Rod is “saying the things that we’re yelling at the screen.” It’s also reflective of the fact that African Americans tend to make up a higher percentage of the audience than of the characters on screen. As he explained to USA Today, “We’re a loyal horror movie audience, but we’re relegated to the dark theater to scream at the protagonist: ‘Get out of the house! Call the cops! Do the smart thing!'”
8. That Asian Guy
In the party scene in Get Out, some might have noticed that amongst the white partygoers is an Asian gentleman named Hiroki Tanaka. Some might not have thought his presence meant anything in particular, but some might argue its significance.
Asian cultural critic, Ranier Maningding stated to Next Shark that it’s reflective of the fact that “While Asians may not play a lead role in white supremacy, our willingness to participate in anti-blackness makes us a supporting character.” He cites University of California Irvine political science professor Claire Jean Kim’s theory of racial triangulation, which suggests that Asian Americans occupy a social status below white Americans but above black Americans. However, as the theory goes, they are still perceived by white Americans to be more “foreign” than African Americans, and thus, some might say they are constantly striving to be accepted by white America as “true Americans.” As evidence of this, in the film, Tanaka asks Chris, “Do you find that being African American has more advantage or disadvantage in the modern world?” He’s trying to decide if it’s worth giving up his perceived social status for a greater perceived citizenship.
7. Abandonment Issues
A recurring theme in Get Out is that of abandonment. Chris suffers from the childhood trauma of his mother’s death, feeling that had he called 911 when she didn’t return home instead of watching TV all night, she could’ve been saved as she lay by the side of the road after being hit by a car. When he hits a deer early in the film, he gets out to check on it because it reminds him of how his mother died. Later, after having his fill of Rose’s creepy family, he decides against leaving her there because he doesn’t want her to feel abandoned. Then, as he’s escaping, when he accidentally hits Georgina with his car, he stops to pick her up, because again he sees the parallels to his mother. At the end of the film, Rod likewise doesn’t give in to abandonment, diligently tracking down Chris and rescuing him. Peele stated to NBC News that this theme represents the need for black people to support one another and to discuss issues affecting them as a whole, such as mass incarceration.
6. Froot Loops And Milk
Near the end of Get Out, Rose is shown sitting in her bedroom clad in a white horse riding (or hunting?) ensemble, blissfully listening to music – “(I Had) The Time of My Life” from Dirty Dancing (which Peele tells the LA Times, that it reflects her “emotionally stunted” mentality) while searching (hunting?) online for her next target and munching on Froot Loops and milk…separately. That is, she eats the cereal dry and takes sips from the milk in a glass. It’s just weird enough that some viewers have read into this as a representation of the racial divide – keeping white separate from colors. Peele has stated to the LA Times this was not the intended message (although he likes the interpretation), but it does interestingly feed into the increasing use of milk as a symbol of white supremacy. Hate groups recently have latched onto the beverage because of its color and because of the high rate of lactose intolerance in certain non-Caucasian races and ethnicities.
5. Cell Phones
In Get Out, Chris discovers an unexpected tool that’s able to break the control of the interloping white consciousness and free the black host’s mind from the Sunken Place: a flash from a cell phone camera. Intended or not, this seems like a reflection of the how incidents of potentially racially motivated police brutality have increasingly been captured on camera in recent years, thanks to the prevalence of this modern technology. In the film, the camera is literally exposing the racism, just as in real life, cameras have repeatedly exposed incidents of racism. Notably, there’s a scene early in the movie in which Chris is harassed by a policeman, and at the end of the movie, when a police car arrives at the scene to find Chris and a bunch of dead bodies, the audience instinctively fears the cop’s actions. Tellingly, Chris immediately puts his hands up in a “don’t shoot” gesture.
4. Cotton Pickin’
As previously mentioned, references to slavery abound in Get Out in order to reinforce the racial element of the movie, and one of the most intriguing examples of this plays a vital role in Chris’ escape near the end. After having been “won” at the secret auction during the party – mirroring the meat market that was slave auctions – he awakens to find his wrists strapped to the arms of a leather chair. He manages to dig his fingers into the stuffing and lower his head to his hands so he can jam the stuffing into his ears to prevent further hypnosis. It’s been pointed out by BuzzFeed that he’s in essence “picking cotton” in order to survive – just as slaves (or sharecroppers, after the end of slavery) did in the Southern United States.
Did anyone else know that Jordan Peele makes a cameo appearance in Get Out? Well, at least his voice does. Late in the movie, as Rod is growing increasingly worried about Chris, he visits Chris’ apartment to feed his dog. After trying unsuccessfully to reach his friend by phone, he sits down in front of the TV to do some research on his laptop in an effort to figure out what the heck happened to Chris. At the beginning of this scene, we hear the tail-end of a commercial emanating from the TV that states, “A mind is a terrible thing to waste.” That’s Peele, doing his best Morgan Freeman. The phrase serves double duty. First, it’s the long-running slogan of the United Negro College Fund, which provides college scholarships to black students – reaffirming the film’s “stay woke” theme. It’s also a clever pun that’s particularly relevant to Chris’ situation, since his mind is literally up for grabs.
2. Horror References
Apart from all of the references to race and prejudice in Get Out, Peele throws in several nods to classic horror movies as well. Telling Hip Hop DX, his film is a “throwback,” he cites Rosemary’s Baby and The Stepford Wives as major influences to Forbes. In Rosemary’s Baby, the protagonist feels a growing sense of paranoia over the plotting of those around her – including her significant other (mirroring Chris’ increasingly suspicious mind state) – culminating in a party full of upper-crust, older Caucasian guests who view her as a valuable commodity in their twisted plans. Sound familiar? The Stepford Wives, meanwhile, provides a commentary on gender expectations (paralleling Get Out‘s take on racial expectations) by presenting seemingly perfect people who act in unnatural, robotic ways that make the protagonist suspicious (like Rose’s family’s servants). Peele also recognizes the influence of Night of the Living Dead, whose African-American lead lent heavy racial connotations. Additionally, the scene in which Chris is forced to watch a video on TV has shades of similar events in A Clockwork Orange.
For all the dark scheming and seemingly dismal portrayal of race relations in America, Get Out actually shows a sliver of optimism. It turns out, Peele revealed to a podcast that there were several endings written that were much more bleak, and the one Peele was originally going to go with had the police showing up to find Chris surrounded by dead bodies and arresting him for murder (similar to Night of the Living Dead‘s ending, in which the black hero survives the zombies, only to be killed by the authorities). However, once the highly publicized incidents of African-American deaths at the hands of police began to proliferate and the mainstream public became more aware of the issue, Peele felt that the increasingly “woke” and on-edge nation needed an ending “that gives us a hero, that gives us an escape, that gives us a positive feeling.” Thus, the arresting police officers were changed into TSA agent Rod, whose arrival proves to be a welcome relief not only for Chris, but also for the audience as a whole.