Under Your Skin
By Jordan Peele
2017’s Get Out was Jordan Peele’s directorial debut. The cast includes Daniel Kaluuya, Allison Williams, Lil Rel Howery, Bradley Whitford, Caleb Landry Jones, Stephen Root, and Catherine Keener.
Photographer Chris Washington (Kaluuya) reluctantly faces a romantic rite of passage: accompanying his girlfriend Rose Armitage (Williams) to a family get-together. What would be stressful in any circumstances is even more so in this case, because Chris is African-American while Rose is white.
Rose assures Chris that her family is not racist but still, any number of unpleasant surprises may await Chris. And do.
At first glance, the Armitages seem to be well-meaning white liberals, the sort whose comments and actions suggest their beliefs are not quite as enlightened as they think. Being surrounded by fawning white people is better than being surrounded by violent racists, but it is still not fun. Still, it’s the price of loving Rose.
As more (old and white) attendees arrive for the Armitage soiree, the more off-notes accumulate. The Armitage circle includes young, fit, black people, but oddly no old African-Americans. The African-Americans Chris meets are oddly reserved, and their speech patterns curiously atypical of people of their age and background. When Chris takes a picture of Logan King, the black man reacts violently, screaming at Chris to get out. This is explained away as an epileptic seizure.
While Chris has no idea who Logan really is, Chris’ friend Rod (Howery) recognizes the man in the photo Chris sends him. “Logan King” is Andre Hayworth, who vanished mysteriously months ago. Already convinced that Chris’ visit to Rose’s family is a bad idea, the TSA agent’s finely honed paranoia kicks into high gear. There can be no good reason why Hayworth would present himself under an assumed name.
When Chris stops calling Rod, when Rose actively prevents Rod from contacting Chris, Rod’s suspicions are confirmed. The TSA agent sets out to save his friend from whatever horrible thing has befallen Chris. Unfortunately for Rod and Chris, all Rod’s pleas to the police manage to do is inspire laughter.
Back at the Armitage’s, Chris learns exactly what it is about him Rose and her family value so much. They truly believe Chris is gifted. They just don’t see why those gifts should be wasted on a black man when a little inspired neurosurgery could give those gifts to someone more deserving. Someone rich and white.
Maybe this week’s theme isn’t meddling kids, exactly. People learning horrible truths about their world may be closer to the mark. Although note that Rod, while unclear on some of the specifics, had a pretty good idea that something bad was up at the Armitage spread. Rod got confirmation, not revelation. It’s Chris who learns how misplaced his faith in a specific subset of humanity is.
Rod being the comic relief, it may seem odd that’s he’s so right. There are a few reasons why this is: the first is he’s a wise fool: he can be right because nobody will listen to him when it matters (the serious version of the wise fool is the Cassandra). As well, Rod has grown up in a country where granting white people the benefit of the doubt could get him murdered by a bored cop. The question is how Chris managed to be so naïve. But then, there’s a selective pressure there: only people gullible enough to fall for Rose’s stories end up at the Armitages’.
If you’re the sort of reader who likes to be eased into new science fiction by having it compared to older SF, think of this as I Will Fear No Evil from Eunice’s perspective. Body stealing in pursuit of immortality seems so harmless at first glance, but it turns out that from the donor’s perspective, there are problematic aspects to having one’s brain scooped out and one’s body handed to a monied appropriator.
Peele does a masterful job of misdirection, presenting the viewer with what seems to be a 21st century reply to Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner? before taking his tale in an entirely different direction. The slow build-up as Chris becomes aware that something is very wrong, and the horror as the full extent of his situation is explained (once the Armitages believe Chris can no longer do anything about it) is quite effective, as is the catharsis that follows.
Get Out is available on Netflix and from other sources.